It’s a little bit ironic. When we think of “natural” health and nutrition, often the first thing we do is reach for manufactured, processed and refined vitamin supplements. Some argue that the extra vitamins are just excreted by the body wasting time, money and effort. Others question just how well vitamin pills are absorbed by our digestive tract in the first place.
The best way around this nutritional irony is to eat an unprocessed, healthy, balanced diet. With a good diet, most people get all the necessary vitamins and minerals, no pills needed. But as we all know, our fast-paced and busy lifestyle makes that kind of diet a challenge. Sometimes, because of special health concerns, extra supplements really are needed over and above what a healthy diet provides. Instead of isolated, processed vitamins, there are wholesome natural plant (or in this case, fungus) sources for the extra vitamins and minerals we sometimes need. Brewer’s yeast is an example.
Brewer’s yeast has been helping mankind for literally thousands of years. Beer was made in Egypt as early as 5,000 BC. After the beer making process is done, the inactive yeast that is left behind is still a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Natural Healers have used this specific form of yeast for fatigue, constipation, skin conditions, overweight and poor nutrition for almost as long as mankind has been using it for. Modern science has discovered the reasons for its usefulness. Brewer’s Yeast is rich in B-complex vitamins (but not B-12, so it isn’t useful for vegans looking for a non-animal source of B-12). It also has a variety of minerals, including iron, selenium and chromium.
Its chromium content has won brewer’s yeast a lot of attention lately. In 2011, a controlled, scientific study was done with type 2 diabetics. Their medicine, exercise, and diet were all kept the same except for one change: half of the group was given natural brewer’s yeast with its natural chromium intact, and the other half was given “debittered” (slightly processed) brewer’s yeast that had the chromium removed. The group that received the chromium-containing version showed much improved blood sugar control. (Chromium group HbA1c reduced from 9.5 to 6.8, while the non-chromium group decreased less than 1 – if you want to be technical about it). The cholesterol slightly improved in the chromium group as well. Granted, this is just one small study, but it goes to show how helpful chromium in brewer’s yeast can be, and how processing can muck things up with vitamin supplements.
Consider chromium in its highly processed, chemically bound form, chromium picolinate. This is the form used in most scientific studies, and this is the form with the most adverse results. Focus is beginning to shift from chromium to the picolinate part of the compound as being the real cause of the problems. To the best of my knowledge so far, natural brewer’s yeast has few adverse effects other than stomach upset and gas in some individuals. Because the non-picolinate version is so helpful with blood sugar, individuals with diabetes should only use brewer’s yeast (or any form of chromium) under a doctor’s supervision. Brewer’s yeast should not be used by anyone who also takes demeral or a MAOI inhibitor type of medication. Of course anyone with a known yeast allergy should avoid it.
If you would like more information about brewer’s yeast, University of Maryland Medical Center has a detailed page of information and a long list reliable, peer-reviewed sources on the topic. It provided much of the information for this post and the link is provided in the source list below.
The down side: You can’t get brewer’s yeast by raiding the kitchen cupboard. Bread-making yeast is a different strain of yeast, is still living or “active” and doesn’t have the same proteins, vitamins and minerals as brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast. “Nutritional” yeast is in between the two. It is inactive, and has plenty of B vitamins and protein, but not quite the chromium or minerals of the brewer’s version. Brewer’s yeast is available as a powder or in tablet form in health food stores and the dietary supplement sections of many grocery or department stores. You have to be careful to avoid the “debittered” version if you want the benefits of chromium.
The up side: Brewer’s yeast is natural, inexpensive, rich in B-vitamins, iron, selenium, chromium and other trace minerals. Some small, preliminary scientific studies show that non-debittered brewer’s yeast can improve sugar metabolism, possibly cholesterol levels too. The B-vitamins in either form can help energy levels as well as contribute to general health.
The really up side: It tastes vaguely like beer. Kind of like a nice, dark, hoppy extra stout if you ask me.
If you want to get some extra vitamin support, the closest bottle of multi-vitamins may not be the best choice. Eating well is the best option. The next best choice would be to choose a supplement that is as whole, natural and unprocessed as possible. Brewer’s Yeast is a perfect example of just such a supplement.
- www.wikipedia.org “History of Beer”
- Abstract: “Beneficial effect of chromium supplementation on glucose, HbA1C and lipid variables in individuals with newly onset type-2 diabetes” Sharma, S., Agrawal, R., Chaudhary, M. et al, Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology,http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0946672X11000472 accessed 1 June 2013