Tag Archives: vitamin B 12

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.


(Protect The Brain.) What Was The Role Of Methylcobalamin In The Alzheimer’s Study?

Mom's hollyhocksReversal of cognitive decline:  a novel therapeutic program is a recent, small Alzheimer’s study reporting some treatment success using a multi-faceted regimen which addresses sleep, stress, nutrition, and supplements.  I enthusiastically encourage lifestyle change, particularly regarding food, to address health, and many of the things done in this study, my husband and I adopted about two and a half years ago into our lifestyle–with fantastic health results. I’ve been an evangelist ever since.  (It’s not the stuff they bombarded me with in pharmacy and medical school, by the way.)  Somebody who read that Alzheimer’s-related post posed a question regarding why methylcobalamin was used as a supplement:

Hi Terri, thanks for your great post. I love hearing about diet and lifestyle changes reversing disease. Lately I read about coconut oil and its usefulness in Alzheimer’s – Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?  Terri, can you tell me why the methylcobalamin and CoQ10 were used?  What were their specific roles?”

In the study (follow the link above), there is a nice table listing all the specific interventions taken and why the researchers chose them.  If you are interested, I think it’s a good read.  There’s not too much detail, so today’s post on methylcobalamin and the last post regarding Co Q 10 definitely elaborate on a deeper level.

And let me tell you before we get started and I lose you to the jibber-jabber, these people were not eating breakfast cereal and drinking juice as part of the plan.  And neither should you or your kids.  My kids will never see a Pop-Tart again.

I see the researchers used methylcobalamine.  Why didn’t they just use the kind of vitamin B 12, cyanocobalamin, I have in my multi-vitamin?

Take 1
Because your vitamin sucks.  That’s why.
Take 2
Because cyanocobalamin is cheaper.
Take 3
My apologies.  There are different forms of vitamin B 12.  The vitamin B 12 commonly in our vitamins or in our injections is called cyanocobalamin and is not naturally occurring, but man-made.  The vitamin B 12 used in this study is methylcobalamin and is one of the forms active in our bodies.  Let’s talk about the differences in these two entities using an analogy about hats.

On hats
Sometimes you wear a hat.  You might wear a baseball cap.  Or a top hat.  Or a cowboy hat.  If you’re going to a formal restaurant with a great reputation and you wear a baseball cap, you won’t fit in.  In fact, you may not even be let in!  Well, cyanocobalamin, a synthetically made vitamin B 12, is wearing the wrong hat to the body’s party.  To change its cyanide (whoa) side-chain group to an appropriate hat requires lots of steps by the body.

On Methylcobalamin
Methylcobalamin is also a kind of vitamin B 12, and it is wearing the right hat to the body’s party!  Specifically it is vitamin B 12 with a  methyl group on it instead of a cyanide (whoa) group and has more success getting into the central nervous system than cyanocobalamin.  The vitamin B 12 in most Walgreen’s or CVS supplements is likely to be cyanocobalamin, the synthetic vitamin B 12.  (Man. I worked for CVS during medical school as a pharmacist to make money to cover Indian food and a movie.  I worked so hard there, I swear they were trying to kill me.  Made medical school feel like a breeze.)  Anyhow, here we go again (remember my folate posts), a synthetic vitamin supplement that needs converted by multiple steps to the active form.  Not a good idea if the active form is absorbable, effective, and not too cost prohibitive.

In an Alzheimer’s patient (heck, any of us for that matter!!!), oxidative stress (see last post for an oxidative stress easy explanation) is rampant and taking a toll on the biochemical pathways of the body.  Providing the active form of vitamin B 12 bypasses the reactions that have become broken and faulty due to oxidative stress.  (And providing dense nutrition and well-placed supplements can allow these broken and faulty reactions to be restored, like in the Alzheimer’s study.)  In addition, Alzheimer’s patients probably, being older patients, have low stomach acid, a condition which decreases vitamin B 12 absorption orally.  They may also be on the diabetic medicine metformin or the proton pump inhibitor Prilosec and thus have low stomach acid, exacerbating vitamin B 12 deficiency.  A GREAT REASON to change your diet and see if you can get OFF those medicines!

OK.  But what does the methylcobalamin do?

Some studies show that Alzheimer’s patients have low vitamin B12 levels.  A low vitamin B 12 level can lead to damage of myelin, the protective coating of our nerves.  Improving vitamin B 12 status can help in myelin regeneration.  That’s likely to be important, but what they say they were after in this study was lowering homocysteine levels.  Homocysteine, an amino acid, can be elevated in Alzheimer’s disease.  High homocysteine is destructive in the brain.  It overactivates receptors in the neurons known as NMDA (glutamate) receptors and leads to cell death.  It leads to DNA damage and programmed cell death.  It keeps the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA from doing its job.  It interferes with the important blood brain barrier.  High homocysteine levels are implicated in dementia and just overall decline in thinking ability (cognitive decline).

Low vitamin B 12 and high homocysteine levels can be linked.  A low vitamin B 12 level can result in high homocysteine levels.  Vitamin B 12, specifically methylated vitamin B 12–methylcobalamin, is necessary to take this homocysteine and turn it back into something called methionine.  Methionine then starts a cascade of reactions which provides necessary protection from oxidative stress, which we talked about in the last post.  Oxidative stress is prevalent in Alzheimer’s disease (and most people eating  sugar and grain-rich diets).

Extra credit paragraph:  Converting homocysteine to methionine requires methylated vitamin B 12 (methylcobalamine) AND a methyl group from 5-Methyl THF or “folate.” (Folate post 1 and folate post 2.)  (Eat real food.  Eat your greens and broccoli.  Eat your meat.)  From methionine, SAM is formed, which goes on to assist in many methylation reactions.  For those of you who are getting started in this alternative health area, you may have went googly-eyed over the forums where people start talking about methylation and methylation pathways.  You wanted to pull your hair out and tell them to stop it.  This homocysteine to methionine is a methylation process.  And don’t feel bad.  I used to stop reading right there too.  I didn’t want to go through those pathways again by choice!  But it’s all an onion.  Layer by layer by layer we learn if we persist.


Methylcobalamin was used as part of a multi-faceted approach to reverse symptoms and brain changes in Alzheimer’s dementia.  There was some preliminary success!  Many of the changes we can implement in our own lives and our children’s lives, without popping a pill!  Methylcobalamin helps lower homocysteine and power our “detoxification” systems.  Food sources are mostly, if not entirely, considered to be meats.  Liver is king.  If you are vegan or vegetarian, I encourage you to read up on vitamin B 12 so you do not get deficient.  Also, if you don’t like meat, you pop prescription medicines which could interfere with B 12, or you eat a crummy diet.  This is important.  It is your brain we are talking about here.

And just some last ideas to chew on.  Vitamin B 12 absorption decreases as we age.  Acid reflux medicines can interfere with vitamin B 12 absorption.  Vitamin B 12 lab values can be in normal range and a patient still be vitamin B 12 deficient.

Be diligent.  Don’t use the internet as your doctor.  My blog posts are not meant to be medical advice or treatment advice.  I stay at home and fold laundry, while reading “Go, Dog, Go” all day; don’t trust me.  Discuss all health changes with your favorite doctor.




1.  The Neuropsychiatry of Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Elderly Patients.  Christian Lachner, M.D.; Nanette I. Steinle, M.D.; William T. Regenold, M.D., C.M.  The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2012;24:5-15. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.11020052


2. Low vitamin B-12 status in confirmed Alzheimer’s disease as revealed by serum holotranscobalamin.  H Refsumi, AD Smith.  J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2003;74:959-961 doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.7.959


3.  Methylcobalamin Facilitates Collateral Sprouting of Donor Axons and Innervation of Recipient Muscle in End-to-Side Neurorrhaphy in Rats.  Wen-Chieh Liao,  Yueh-Jan Wang,  Min-Chuan Huang,  Guo-Fang Tseng.  September 30, 2013.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076302