In Search of the Perfect Brewer’s Yeast or Nutritional Yeast

256px-S_cerevisiae_under_DIC_microscopyToday’s post will highlight concerns regarding brewer’s and nutritional yeast.  They have the potential to offer great benefits, but they have some booby traps that I think we should all know about.  Because the line of distinction between brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast has been smudged and is no longer clear, I will refer to these products together simply as “supplemental yeasts.”  As always, a reminder that my blog and posts are stories of what I am learning, and they are not written for medical advice or treatment.

1.  Supplemental yeasts may be from genetically modified organisms (GMO) and/or may have been grown on GMO media. Yeasts can now be genetically modified, so it is possible that your supplemental yeast is a GMO.  Many supplement companies claim that their yeasts are GMO-free, and they may be.  After you verify the actual yeast is non-GMO, the next question on your radar will be, “Are the yeasts grown on GMO-free media?”  For example, both brewer’s and nutritional yeasts can be grown with molasses from sugar beets and sugar cane, two common GMOs.  (And if any grains were used, those can be GMOs too.)

2.  Supplemental yeasts may have synthetic vitamins added, particularly—but not only, vitamin B 12. Brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast intrinsically have LOTS of vitamins and minerals, even if they are not fortified.  Most of the vitamins and minerals come naturally from nutrients the yeast incorporates from the growth media (grain, sugar beet, or sugar cane products), but sometimes supplement manufacturers add synthetic vitamins and minerals to enhance their product.  The enrichment process can occur during or after the yeast growth period.

It is expected that nutritional yeast contains vitamin B 12 because vegetarians and vegans often rely on it for their vitamin B 12 requirements (thus their “nutrition” as in “nutritional yeast”).  Some brewer’s yeast brands can contain vitamin B 12 too, while others do not.  Yeasts have no need for vitamin B 12, so it must be added to the product in some way.  Synthetic cyanocobalamin is typically added and not the preferred methylcobalamin, an actual physiologic form.  Why is this a concern?  Well, some people do not convert cyanocobalamin well to the needed methylcobalamin.

(Tip:  As an aside that doesn’t really fit elsewhere, light can damage vitamin B 12, so supplemental yeasts should probably not be in a clear bag for maximal vitamin B 12 activity. )

Vitamin B 12 aside, each yeast brand will vary slightly in which vitamins and minerals it contains and how much of each vitamin and mineral it contains.  Content and amounts will depend on what the yeast is grown on (beer, grains, sugar beets, or sugar cane products), if any extra vitamins and minerals were added to the “broth” the yeasts were grown in, and if any vitamins and minerals were added at the end of the process as fortification.  By enriching the “broth” of the growth media, the yeast can be coaxed to take up some vitamins and minerals it doesn’t normally use much of, so sometimes manufacturers add vitamins and minerals to the growth medium.  The vitamin and mineral content of supplemental yeasts can be further enhanced by adding desired vitamins and minerals after growth.  I’m not a mycologist (person who studies fungus), but I would assume that any vitamins and minerals present in the culturing broth would be assimilated into the yeast in physiologic forms.  For example, folic acid would be converted to a form of folate.  However, if the vitamins and minerals are added after culturing, then the forms will be whatever forms the manufacturer chooses, much like a multi-vitamin.  Make sense?

Important note:  Many supplemental yeast labels which are NOT fortified list “folic acid” as an ingredient.  However, if the yeast is indeed not fortified, then the supplement in fact should contain “folate.”  The representative for Swanson’s brewer’s yeast informed me that they are not required to differentiate between folic acid and folate on labels.  Bummer.

3.  Supplemental yeasts may contain gluten. Some brands declare they are gluten-free, but other brands do not make that statement.  Because these supplemental yeasts, whether brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, can be grown on grains, sugar cane molasses, and sugar beet molasses, it is important to verify gluten-free status if you need to be gluten-free.  When I called Swanson’s, the representative could not verify gluten-free status; even though most of their providers grow their yeasts on sugar beets, it was possible that the yeasts came from other sources.

4.  Supplemental yeasts contain glutamic acid (glutamate): All the supplemental yeasts (both brewer’s and nutritional yeast) have glutamic acid, an amino acid, in them because it is a part of the yeast cell’s proteins.  Upon processing, the glutamic acid may become “free glutamic acid,” similar to MSG (monosodium glutamate).  Free glutamic acid can act to stimulate neurons in the brain, and some people are either very sensitive to them and/or they don’t break the glutamic acid down well in their GI tracts.  (We actually have enzymes to deal with glutamic acid in our GI tracts, and we can break down a certain amount.  Some people, however, do not have either enough or good enough function of these enzymes.)  The glutamic acid then can lead to uncomfortable reactions like headaches, irritability, fatigue, and other reactions.

Some yeast products are heated to high temperatures during processing, and these temperatures can further increase free glutamic acid.  Some companies state that their products are not exposed to such high heat  (low heat processed), but I could not find a supplemental yeast that was not heated to at least pasteurize it.  (This does not seem like a raw food to me.)  Whether or not the free glutamic acid content is significant in supplemental yeasts seems to be up for debate.  Some people say that the glutamic acid in supplemental yeast is not free glutamic acid and therefore not problematic.  Others say it is free glutamic acid.  I couldn’t find a definitive source.  Of interest, many processed foods contain “autolyzed yeast” and “yeast extract” for flavor enhancement.  These often take the leftovers from true brewer’s yeast made on hops, break down the cell walls of the yeasts with enzyme, and use the peptides and cell wall constituents (including the now free glutamic acid) for flavoring.  These are basically equivalent to MSG.

5.  Supplemental yeasts can cause cross reactions in yeast and/or mold-sensitive people. Some people ask if these supplemental yeasts will make their Candida and yeast infections worse.  No.  They are inactive yeasts and cannot.  However, if people’s immune systems and gastrointestinal systems are very sensitive to yeasts, they may have a negative reaction!  It’s not that the yeast is growing in them, but due to a cross-reaction.  The body has learned to react to the yeast proteins (epitopes) in say, Candida albicans, and there will be yeast proteins in the supplement which can mirror Candida’s proteins.  Usually, if a person does poorly with something like kombucha (remember from an earlier post, it is just a strain of the same yeast), there’s a good chance they’ll do poorly with these yeast supplements.

6.  Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis Concerns: Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients have antibodies to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, particularly Crohn’s patients, so they should practice caution in trying supplements from these supplemental yeasts.

7.  Monoamine oxidase inhibitors and Demerol drug interaction: Patients on monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs for depression (or other indications) and/or Demerol should avoid these yeasts.  Supplemental yeasts have high levels of the amino acid tyramine which can interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitor type medicines.

Closing:  Despite being the same type of yeast, each supplement is NOT the same!  Please know that you MUST treat each supplement, whether it is brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, on an individual basis.  And one supplemental yeast that is good for Tom will not be good for Joe.  No matter what anyone says.

Next post, I believe, will summarize the points in this post before I then move on to why people use these products and what I found to support or refute the touted benefits.

Sources to follow at end of the series.  There are a lot.  In the meantime, please, if you want to know a source—ask!  I don’t mind.  Questions, comments, and corrections welcomed.


12 thoughts on “In Search of the Perfect Brewer’s Yeast or Nutritional Yeast

  1. Leslie

    Can’t wait to read the next segment! Great info that is easy to understand. Thank you!

    Just a couple questions if I may. We know that at least 95% of our sugar beets are GMO, but I can’t find any data on GM cane sugar beyond that it was introduced in Indonesia several years ago. Is GM sugarcane used (or grown) in the US?

    Next – I LOVE liver. My mother’s recipe included washing it and then soaking it in milk in the fridge for several hours. (I sometimes begin soaking it the night before.) The enzymes break down the rubbery fibers and it becomes quite tender. Then she cut it into 1″x2″ pieces, dredged them in seasoned flour and fried it all up along with onions. I like to avoid fried foods so I have also baked it like this in a well oiled baking dish (turning or flipping the pieces over midway through cooking).

    But I stopped eating and feeding liver to my family years ago when I became concerned because the liver filters toxins from there body. I wondered if even organic liver could be a concern here? I’d love to know your thoughts.

    Warmest wishes!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Leslie, I am so happy you enjoyed the article and found it with good clarity! That’s my goal!

      I looked for the answer to the “GM cane sugar in the US” question. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck quickly finding a good article with facts to answer it. You probably found, like I did, that sugar cane in the US is “not GMO”–but nothing factual to latch onto to back it up with. So, purportedly, buying a product that said, “100% cane sugar” would get a person a non-GMO product in the USA. But don’t know for sure.

      I think it’s so interesting that some people “love” liver! I wish I did. I eat it, but I still don’t “love” it! I’ve never tried soaking it in milk since we have some dairy issues in the family. I’ve often wondered if that makes a difference in the strong taste. And how did it turn out baking it?!?! I fry it with tons of cumin, onions, and bell peppers. That suffices to hide the taste. 🙂

      The liver does not store toxins. It doesn’t act like a true filter! When you pull the filter out of your heating unit, it’s nasty! The liver isn’t like this. It has the enzymes used to convert the “toxins” to less “toxic” substances. That’s how it “filters”–by changing the toxins chemically. It attaches different chemical moieties onto “toxins” so they can then go out through the kidneys, intestines, sweat, etc. It doesn’t keep them locked up inside. I still eat organic. Is it good enough? Well, it’s the best I have for now. Till I have my own farm. 🙂

      Warmest wishes to you! Take care and have a happy Easter!!!


      1. Sylvia P Onusic, PhD, CNS, LDN

        Great articles! Even if it is not GMO sugarcane, farmers in the U.S., Brazil, and other sugar producing countries, use glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up Ready (used on the GMO soy beans, etc ), before and after harvest. A carcinogen. You’re getting the glyphosate in the sugar. In fact, the Pernambuco region of Brazil, the area which had the highest number of children with small heads (microcephaly), is a center for the production of sugar cane. And in addition to the glyphosate which is sprayed on the site of cultivation heavily every year through a few cycles of production, other chemicals are used in connection with the sugar cane growing and sprayed by plane on the population. The water system is heavily polluted. On top of that now spraying other carcinogenic chemicals to kill mosquitoes (because of Zika).

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Dear Dr. Sylvia Onusic,

        Thanks for contributing a comment. I’ve read some on glyphosate, but not enough to discuss it, agree with, or refute your comments. However, I will keep them in mind as I continue to make time to learn and read. I believe the more we apply pressure to food companies, the more they will listen.

        My dad is an American farmer and uses Round Up Ready beans. When I ask him about it, he tells me of all the chemicals that he needed to drench the fields with prior to Round Up. He feels Round Up is better than all of that. I present him with the idea of different crops more suited to his land and environment (fertile Indiana, USA), and that is just a new idea to him. Farmers do as has been done. Just like the rest of us. It will take pressure and staying power to reach the goal of safer food for all of us.

        Let’s stay talking! Let’s effect change!


  2. Victoria

    My son has MHTTP mutation
    I am looking for nutritional yeast with methylvitamin B12
    Any idea where I can find it? What brand?
    The same goes for folic acid
    Thank you

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Victoria,

      Did you see this post I wrote later?

      It has links to several brands I looked at, but more importantly, it also has some comments from people on some different brands they looked up. Off the top of my head, I cannot name a brand with the methyl form of B12. That is a tough component to come by in brewer’s yeast/nutritional yeast. Most will be cyanocobalamin. So I’d definitely check with the manufacturer for any listed B12 before using.

      Finding one with “real” folate is easier because the bacteria can produce that. Not really the case with methylcobalamin.

      Is there a reason that brewer’s yeast couldn’t be used and then supplemented with methylcobalamin, particularly in a sublingual type form? (Of course, anyone reading should also know that these things can be obtained via food too. If you need guidance here, ask, and I’ll list foods.)

      Good luck. With something like that mutation, call those manufacturers and make sure you’re getting what you need. These formulations seem to change so fast it’s not even funny (or right).


  3. James

    Hi Teri, do you know if Swanson’s Brewers yeast is fortified? I assume it isn’t. What do you think of the product ? I’m happy with it so far.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hello! From my talks with them, I feel like the nutrients listed come from the yeasts themselves, and the powder is not supplemented. I have tried to get more specific and ask about if the “slurry” the yeast is grown in had supplemental vitamins/minerals and also if there was any chromium. The people I talked with couldn’t tell me that. I’ve tried to get someone who would know there to call me back some time ago, but they never got back. I still use it. I like the taste, texture, and I suppose I am content even if it was supplemented in the slurry, as long as the supplementation isn’t after. I tease my family that I don’t get sick because I liberally use the brewer’s yeast. They roll their eyes at me. 🙂

      1. Anonymous

        Thanks for your insights and research! I took a ton of it for the first time yesterday and felt amazing. Definitely part of my daily routine now.

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