Recently, I’ve been thinking about how nutritional supplements go in and out of favor almost as quickly as costume changes at a Britney Spears concert.
Sometimes a supplement gets a lot of attention only to quickly fade into yesterday’s news (Red Rice Yeast, anyone?). Sometimes a supplement is so inarguably powerful and important that it remains on the “best seller” list for decades (fish oil).
And sometimes a supplement fades from view almost as quickly as it became popular, especially when it becomes widely known that it’s either ineffective (octocosanol) or dangerous (ephedra).
I was thinking about all this because I recently took another look at a supplement that was a staple of my early days in the health field but that no one seems to talk about anymore.
I’m talking about Brewer’s Yeast.
When I first became interested in physical fitness and health, there wasn’t anyone I knew who didn’t take Brewer’s Yeast. This old warhorse doesn’t get a lot of attention in the nutrition press these days, but it’s definitely worth a revisit, and here’s why.
Brewer’s yeast is a particular variety of a single cell fungus/yeast known as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, the very same yeast that’s used for making bread. Most of us hear the word “yeast” and recoil in horror, associating it with yeast infections and Candida albicans. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Brewer’s yeast is deactivated yeast, and not at all related to Candida albicans or to yeast overgrowth. It’s called brewer’s yeast for the simple reason that it’s used for brewing beer. But beer makers remove the yeast and heat it to deactivate it. Then they dry it and make it into powder or flakes, and that’s the stuff you buy in the health food store.
Why should you care? Because while the yeast is in its active, living form, it virtually sucks up protein, minerals and vitamins from the material used to make beer. Those nutrients—which include a host of B vitamins—stay in the yeast even when it’s deactivated, and are part of what give Brewer’s yeast its value as a nutritional supplement.
With the exception of B-12, brewer’s yeast is a great source of B vitamins, and is vegetarian friendly. It’s also a terrific source of chromium which can be very useful in managing and controlling blood sugar. (Not for nothing is chromium known as “insulin’s little helper”.)
Best of all, it’s a terrific source of selenium, a mineral that almost none of us get enough of, and which has been found to be associated with lower rates of cancer. Selenium is needed to produce an important enzyme in the body known as glutathione peroxidase, which is vital for control oxidative damage.
According to no less a source than the Physicians Desk Reference for Nutritional Supplements, supplementation with high-selenium Brewer’s yeast over a period of several years was associated with significant reduction in the incidence of lung, colorectal, prostate and total cancer, as well as a reduction in total cancer mortality. And another compound found in brewer’s yeast called ergosterol has been found to inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells.
There’s also research suggesting that brewer’s yeast can increase levels of HDL– the so-called “good” cholesterol—and can improve the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. And that brewer’s yeast can reduce the risk of the common cold or flu in healthy people, as well as helping flu and cold symptoms resolve quicker. Brewer’s yeast may also decrease symptoms of PMS. And some research also suggests that brewer’s yeast can reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, undoubtedly due to the chromium content.
What’s more, brewer’s yeast may help support your immune system. It’s a good source of beta-glucans– a kind of sugar found in the cell walls of fungi, yeast, bacteria and certain grains such as oats. Beta-glucans exert potent effects on the immune system, stimulating both antimicrobial and antitumor activity.
The Brewer’s yeast I recommend is Twinlab Genuine Brewer’s Yeast. This old favorite continues to sell briskly despite not getting a ton of publicity, and the reason is clear: it works. It’s inexpensive, and widely available. If you’ve never tried it, maybe you should. And if you haven’t tried it in a while, well, it just may be time for a revisit!