Brewer’s yeast (also referred to as nutritional yeast when deactivated) has a profound effect on our health. In fact, this type of yeast can benefit our health in at least five ways.
What is Brewer’s Yeast?
Brewer’s yeast is a species of yeast named Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It has been used for baking and brewing purposes for many centuries. As a result, this and related species of yeast has been coexisting within the human body for a long time. Research has confirmed that it thus has probiotic properties. This means it can commingle within our digestive tracts with beneficial effects.
Live Brewer’s yeast is typically used for brewing or baking. Live yeast can also be taken as a probiotic supplement.
Yet Brewer’s yeast can also benefit our health if it is heat-killed first. Brewer’s yeast that is heat-killed or deactivated is typically called Nutritional yeast. This means the yeast microbes are not alive when they are consumed. (For the purpose of this article, we’ll call both “Brewer’s yeast” because they come from the same yeast species.)
There are also some Brewer’s yeast-derived extracts. Most of these also come from deactivated yeast. One of these, as we’ll discuss, is EpiCor.
One of Brewer’s yeasts’ medicinal qualities outside of its probiotic benefits is that it contains a significant quantity of beta-glucans. (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-D-glucans to be more precise. These are large polysaccharide molecules also found in many medicinal mushrooms. Other research has found that mushrooms also stimulate the immune system. Researchers have concluded that mushrooms’ beta-glucan content is a significant contributing factor for this immunity stimulating effect.
Besides its beta-glucan content, brewer’s, baker’s and nutritional yeasts will contain numerous nutrients such as amino acids, B vitamins and minerals.
A related beneficial yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii. This is often referred to as Saccharomyces boulardii, but it is still a strain-variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. So this is for all tense and purpose, also brewer’s yeast. In fact, many bakers and brewers use Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii instead of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Brewer’s yeast reduces colds and flu
German researchers confirmed that a beta-glucan supplement derived from Brewer’s yeast can reduce a cold’s duration by more than 25%, confirming other studies on yeast with similar findings.
The study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition. The research was conducted within seven German clinics during the winter months. A total of 162 healthy human adults were given either 900 milligrams of a yeast supplement daily or a placebo.
The subjects’ were monitored and analyzed at the beginning and then every two months. Their cold episodes were reviewed and documented as well.
The yeast group had 25% fewer cold episodes during the study compared with the placebo group. And when they did have a cold, the yeast supplement group had 15% less cold severity as gauged by symptom scores. The group taking the yeast supplement also had significantly better sleep during their colds than did the placebo group.
The researchers concluded:
“The present study demonstrated that yeast beta-glucan preparation increased the body’s potential to defend against invading pathogens.”
The supplement used is called Yestimun, a European beta-glucan extract from brewer’s yeast – a culture of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species. Similar commercial supplements have extracted the beta-glucans from baker’s yeast – also typically from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species.
Other research has also found that a Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast extracts reduce cold and flu duration.
In a 2008 randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical study from the University of Michigan’s Medical Center, 116 adults were given either 500 milligrams of EpiCor (a dried Saccharomyces cerevisiae supplement) or a placebo. After twelve weeks, the yeast supplement group experienced fewer sick days of cold and flu. The researchers also found that:
“Participants receiving the yeast-based product had significantly fewer symptoms and significantly shorter duration of symptoms when compared with subjects taking a placebo.”
In this last study, interestingly, those taking the yeast supplement also had “a more favorable safety profile compared with subjects receiving placebo.” This of course runs contrary to most pharmaceutical studies, where patients must deal with a variety of adverse side effects.
Brewer’s yeast improves sleep
Two 2016 studies have now confirmed that supplementing with Saccharomyces cerevisiae can significantly improve sleep. Both studies were from Japan.
In one of these researchers tested 68 healthy adults. They took either 500 milligrams of S. cerevisiae yeast tablets or a placebo an hour before going to bed for four nights. Electroencephalogram analyses found the yeast supplementation increased delta wave sleep and increased growth hormone secretion. They also found the subjects who took the yeast were more rested and less sleepy the next day after taking the supplement.
The researchers concluded:
“Given these benefits and the absence of adverse effects during the study period, it was concluded that sake yeast supplementation is an effective and safe way to support daily high-quality, deep sleep.”
Brewer’s yeast improves irritable bowel syndrome
Researchers from France’s Lille University tested 179 adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They were divided into two groups. One group was given 500 milligrams of Brewer’s yeast in a capsule and the other group was given a placebo. After eight weeks of supplementation, the yeast supplement group had significantly less abdominal pain and discomfort compared with the placebo group.
The researchers concluded:
“Saccharomyces cerevisiae is well tolerated and reduces abdominal pain/discomfort scores without stool modification. Thus, Saccharomyces cerevisiae may be a new promising candidate for improving abdominal pain in subjects with irritable bowel syndrome.”
Another clinical study of 35 IBS patients with diarrhea showed that live Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii significantly aided the patients compared with the placebo group. The researchers stated:
“S. boulardii with ispaghula husk was superior to placebo with ispaghula husk in improving the cytokine profile, histology, and quality of life of patients with IBS-D. These preliminary results need to be confirmed in a well-powered trial.”
Brewer’s yeast helps prevent heart disease
Researchers from Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine studied 12 adults for eight weeks. They were given blood tests for heart disease markers and then given 5.6 billion CFUs of Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii per day. After the 8 weeks, the researchers found that levels of remnant lipoprotein particles (RLP-P) fell by an average of 15.5%. RLP-P has been linked in other research with a higher risk of coronary artery disease. The researchers concluded:
“In this pilot study, 8 weeks of daily supplementation with S. boulardii lowered remnant lipoprotein, a predictive biomarker and potential therapeutic target in the treatment and prevention of coronary artery disease.”
Brewers yeast helps reduce oxidative damage
Researchers from Brazil’s Federal University of Paraiba tested healthy adults for 60 days. After 30 days of supplementation, the extracted yeast supplement significantly reduced the men’s levels of malondialdehyde (MDA). MDA is a marker for oxidative stress.
Oxidative damage causes a number of degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, arthritis and others. The researchers concluded:
“The results showed for the first time that CM-G may act as an adjuvant in preventing oxidative damage in healthy humans.”
Monoi N, Matsuno A, Nagamori Y, Kimura E, Nakamura Y, Oka K, Sano T, Midorikawa T, Sugafuji T, Murakoshi M, Uchiyama A, Sugiyama K, Nishino H, Urade Y. Japanese sake yeast supplementation improves sleep quality: a double-blind randomised controlled clinical trial. J Sleep Res. 2016 Feb;25(1):116-23.
Ryan JJ, Hanes DA, Schafer MB, Mikolai J, Zwickey H. Effect of the Probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii on Cholesterol and Lipoprotein Particles inHypercholesterolemic Adults: A Single-Arm, Open-Label Pilot Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 May;21(5):288-93. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0063.
Nakamura Y, Midorikawa T, Monoi N, Kimura E, Murata-Matsuno A, Sano T, Oka K, Sugafuji T, Uchiyama A, Murakoshi M, Sugiyama K, Nishino H, Urade Y. Oral administration of Japanese sake yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae sake) promotes non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice via adenosine A(2A) receptors. J Sleep Res. 2016 Dec;25(6):746-753. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12434.
Abbas Z, Yakoob J, Jafri W, Ahmad Z, Azam Z, Usman MW, Shamim S, Islam M. Cytokine and clinical response to Saccharomyces boulardii therapy indiarrhea-dominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized trial. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Jun;26(6):630-9. doi: 10.1097/MEG.0000000000000094.
Pineton de Chambrun G, Neut C, Chau A, Cazaubiel M, Pelerin F, Justen P, Desreumaux P. A randomized clinical trial of Saccharomyces cerevisiae versus placebo in irritable bowel syndrome. Dig Liver Dis. 2015 Feb;47(2):119-24. doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2014.11.007.
Costanza AC, Moscavitch SD, Faria Neto HC, Mesquita ET. Probiotic therapy with Saccharomyces boulardii for heart failure patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial. Int J Cardiol. 2015 Jan 20;179:348-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2014.11.034.
Auinger A, Riede L, Bothe G, Busch R, Gruenwald J. Yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan helps to maintain the body’s defence against pathogens: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicentric study in healthy subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Jan 23.
Araújo VB, de Melo AN, de Souza NT, da Silva VM, Castro-Gomez RH, Silva AS, de Souza EL, Magnani M. Oral Intake of Carboxymethyl-Glucan (CM-G) from Yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum) Reduces Malondialdehyde Levels in Healthy Men. Molecules. 2015 Aug 14;20(8):14950-8. doi: 10.3390/molecules200814950.
Moyad MA, Robinson LE, Zawada ET Jr, Kittelsrud JM, Chen DG, Reeves SG, Weaver SE. Effects of a modified yeast supplement on cold/flu symptoms. Urol Nurs. 2008 Feb;28(1):50-5.
Moyad MA, Robinson LE, Zawada ET, Kittelsrud J, Chen DG, Reeves SG, Weaver S. Immunogenic yeast-based fermentate for cold/flu-like symptoms in nonvaccinated individuals. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Feb;16(2):213-8.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.