Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • B vitamins, baker’s yeast, chromium-rich brewer’s yeast, Cr supplements, ergosterol, faex medicinalis, folate, folic acid, glucose tolerance factor (GTF), glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenases, glycoprotein gp200, high-chromium brewer’s yeast, levure de bière (French), lithium, medicinal yeast, nicotinic acid, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, sterol, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6.

Background

  • Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a yeast used to make beer. It has also been used as a dietary supplement, as it contains nutrients, including chromium, B-complex vitamins, and selenium.

  • Brewer’s yeast may benefit people with diabetes. The yeast contains chromium, which is similar to insulin and may improve insulin sensitivity. Brewer’s yeast may decrease blood sugar levels. However, further research is necessary in this area.

  • Brewer’s yeast may increase levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL). Brewer’s yeast is rich in lithium, and preliminary evidence suggests that it may help improve mood in recovered drug users.

  • Brewer’s yeast is different from baker’s yeast and nutritional yeast, which are both low in chromium.

Scientific Evidence

Uses

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

High blood sugar/glucose intolerance

Brewer’s yeast contains chromium, which may help lower blood sugar and improve sensitivity to insulin. However, there is not enough evidence to make a firm conclusion for or against the use of brewer’s yeast in improving blood sugar control.

Cholesterol levels

Preliminary evidence shows that brewer’s yeast may increase levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL). However, there is not enough evidence to make a conclusion for or against the use of brewer’s yeast in improving cholesterol.

Mood enhancement (in former drug users)

Brewer’s yeast contains lithium, which may enhance mood in former drug users. However, more evidence is needed to make conclusions for or against the use of brewer’s yeast as a mood enhancer.

*Key to grades:

Tradition

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Acne, boils, colitis (intestinal inflammation), colon cancer, diarrhea, digestive aid, energy enhancement, fever reduction, galactagogue (breast milk stimulant), hair growth, influenza, loss of appetite, lung infection, nail problems, nutritional supplement, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), weight loss, wound healing.

Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older)

  • Daily supplementation with six grams of brewer’s yeast has been used.

  • To improve blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, 5-30 grams of brewer’s yeast has been used for 8-10 weeks.

  • To improve cholesterol, 5-20 grams of brewer’s yeast has been used for 8-12 weeks.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for brewer’s yeast in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to brewer’s yeast or other yeasts. Brewer’s yeast contains B vitamins, which may cause rare allergic reactions.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Brewer’s yeast is likely safe when taken by mouth for up to four months.

  • Brewer’s yeast may cause gastrointestinal problems, atopic dermatitis (itchy and scaly skin), migraines, bloating, stomach discomfort, inflammation, gassiness, and lung problems.

  • Brewer’s yeast may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in people with diabetes or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

  • Brewer’s yeast contains large amounts of tyramine. Tyramine-containing foods may cause dangerously high blood pressure when taken at the same time as agents that have properties similar to monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs). These include protein foods that have been aged or preserved. Specific examples of these foods are anchovies; avocados; bananas; bean curd; beer (alcohol-free or reduced-alcohol); caffeine (large amounts); caviar; champagne; cheeses (particularly aged; processed; or strong varieties); chocolate; dry sausage, salami, or bologna; fava beans; figs; herring (pickled); liver (particularly chicken); meat tenderizers; papaya; protein extracts or powder; raisins; shrimp paste; sour cream; soy sauce; wine (particularly chianti); yeast extracts; and yogurt.

  • Use cautiously in people with a history of headaches, and in those taking lithium or antifungal agents.

  • Avoid brewer’s yeast in people with Crohn’s disease and in those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs).

  • Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to brewer’s yeast or other yeasts. Brewer’s yeast contains B vitamins, which may cause rare allergic reactions.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • There is currently a lack of scientific evidence on the use of brewer’s yeast during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

  • Brewer’s yeast contains large amounts of tyramine. Tyramine-containing foods may cause dangerously high blood pressure when taken at the same time as agents that have properties similar to monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs). These include protein foods that have been aged or preserved. Specific examples of foods are anchovies; avocados; bananas; bean curd; beer (alcohol-free or reduced-alcohol); caffeine (large amounts); caviar; champagne; cheeses (particularly aged; processed; or strong varieties); chocolate; dry sausage, salami, or bologna; fava beans; figs; herring (pickled); liver (particularly chicken); meat tenderizers; papaya; protein extracts or powder; raisins; shrimp paste; sour cream; soy sauce; wine (particularly chianti); yeast extracts; and yogurt.

  • Brewer’s yeast may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. People taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary

  • Brewer’s yeast may also interact with agents that affect the immune system, alcohol, anticancer agents, antidepressants, antifungal agents, cholesterol-lowering drugs, chromium, lithium, and vitamin D.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Brewer’s yeast contains large amounts of tyramine. Tyramine-containing foods may cause dangerously high blood pressure when taken at the same time as agents that have properties similar to monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs). These include protein foods that have been aged or preserved. Specific examples of foods are anchovies; avocados; bananas; bean curd; beer (alcohol-free or reduced-alcohol); caffeine (large amounts); caviar; champagne; cheeses (particularly aged; processed; or strong varieties); chocolate; dry sausage, salami, or bologna; fava beans; figs; herring (pickled); liver (particularly chicken); meat tenderizers; papaya; protein extracts or powder; raisins; shrimp paste; sour cream; soy sauce; wine (particularly chianti); yeast extracts; and yogurt.

  • Brewer’s yeast may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.

  • Brewer’s yeast may also interact with anticancer herbs and supplements, antidepressants, antifungal herbs and supplements, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, chromium, herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, and vitamin D.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Anderson, R. A. Nutritional role of chromium. Sci Total Environ. 1981;17(1):13-29. View Abstract
  2. Bahijri, S. M. and Mufti, A. M. Beneficial effects of chromium in people with type 2 diabetes, and urinary chromium response to glucose load as a possible indicator of status. Biol.Trace Elem.Res. 2002;85(2):97-109. View Abstract
  3. Elias, A. N., Grossman, M. K., and Valenta, L. J. Use of the artificial beta cell (ABC) in the assessment of peripheral insulin sensitivity: effect of chromium supplementation in diabetic patients. Gen.Pharmacol. 1984;15(6):535-539. View Abstract
  4. Elwood, J. C., Nash, D. T., and Streeten, D. H. Effect of high-chromium brewer’s yeast on human serum lipids. J.Am.Coll.Nutr. 1982;1(3):263-274. View Abstract
  5. Ghoneum, M., Hamilton, J., Brown, J., and Gollapudi, S. Human squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue and colon undergoes apoptosis upon phagocytosis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the baker’s yeast, in vitro. Anticancer Res. 2005;25(2A):981-989. View Abstract
  6. Hayter, J. Trace elements: implications for nursing. J Adv.Nurs. 1980;5(1):91-101. View Abstract
  7. Jensen, D. P. and Smith, D. L. Fever of unknown origin secondary to brewer’s yeast ingestion. Arch.Intern.Med. 1976;136(3):332-333. View Abstract
  8. Li, Y. C. Effects of brewer’s yeast on glucose tolerance and serum lipids in Chinese adults. Biol.Trace Elem.Res. 1994;41(3):341-347. View Abstract
  9. Liu, V. J. and Morris, J. S. Relative chromium response as an indicator of chromium status. Am.J Clin.Nutr. 1978;31(6):972-976. View Abstract
  10. McCarty, M. F. Insulin resistance in Mexican Americans–a precursor to obesity and diabetes? Med Hypotheses 1993;41(4):308-315. View Abstract
  11. Offenbacher, E. G. Chromium in the elderly. Biol.Trace Elem.Res. 1992;32:123-131. View Abstract
  12. Rabinowitz, M. B., Gonick, H. C., Levin, S. R., and Davidson, M. B. Effects of chromium and yeast supplements on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic men. Diabetes Care 1983;6(4):319-327. View Abstract
  13. Rolls, R. Brewer’s yeast and diabetes. Br.Med.J. 4-2-1977;1(6065):905. View Abstract
  14. Saner, G., Yuzbasiyan, V., Neyzi, O., Gunoz, H., Saka, N., and Cigdem, S. Alterations of chromium metabolism and effect of chromium supplementation in Turner’s syndrome patients. Am.J Clin.Nutr. 1983;38(4):574-578. View Abstract
  15. Schrauzer, G. N. and de, Vroey E. Effects of nutritional lithium supplementation on mood. A placebo-controlled study with former drug users. Biol.Trace Elem.Res. 1994;40(1):89-101. View Abstract

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.