By Gene Bruno, MS, MHS – Dean of Academics, Huntington College of Health Sciences.

With the enormous variety of sophisticated products currently available in the dietary supplement industry, you might take pause to consider where it all started. What were the very first dietary supplements? One of these first supplements was Brewers’ Yeast or Nutritional Yeast.

Nutritional yeast is rich in many basic nutrients such as the B vitamins, chromium, sixteen amino acids, fourteen or more minerals, and seventeen vitamins (not including vitamins A, C and E). Yeast is also high in phosphorus. (1) (2) There are two primary sources from which nutritional yeast is grown: 1) Brewer’s yeast is grown from hops (a by-product of brewing beer), and 2) Primary grown yeast is grown from whey, blackstrap molasses or wood pulp. Nutritional yeast should not be confused with live baker’s yeast which can deplete the body of B vitamins and other nutrients.

Nutritional yeast is an excellent high protein/high energy food. In past years, brewers’ yeast was used extensively by fitness enthusiasts in preparing a blended energy protein drink (often in combination with a protein powder, juice and/or fruit). Non-athletes also used nutritional yeast products as a natural “pick-me-up” for energy purposes. As a matter of fact, early nutrition authors such as Linda Clark and Carlton Fredericks used to sing the praises of nutritional yeast for this purpose. (3) (4) One author even recommended that brewer’s yeast be mixed in with your dog’s or cat’s food to help prevent fleas (5) (As odd as this may sound, I’ve tried it with my dogs and it works!).

In addition to anecdotal reports of benefits from nutritional yeast, there have actually been a few published scientific reports as well. The first was associated with the Spanish Civil War. During the second winter of the war (1937‑38) most of the patients showed a picture of classic pellagra (a vitamin B3 or niacin deficiency disease) as well as a number of neurological disorders. Although supplemental niacin effectively treated the pellagra, it did nothing for the neurological disorders. Improvement was noted, however, following the administration of brewer’s yeast. It was concluded that the neurological manifestations were not due to a niacin deficiency, but to the deficiency of some component of the vitamin B complex which was found in the brewer’s yeast. (6)

In a study conducted in Australia, children with phenylketonuria (an in-bourn metabolic error in converting the amino acid phenylalanine into tyrosine) were found to have low blood levels of the important antioxidant mineral selenium, as a result of the special phenylketonuric diet they had to follow. When the children were given a brewer’s yeast supplement for six months that provided 50 mcg of selenium daily, their blood selenium levels significantly increased. (7)

In another study, elderly subjects, including eight mildly non‑insulin‑dependent diabetics, were fed either chromium‑rich brewer’s yeast. The results were that with both the diabetic and non-diabetic subjects, glucose tolerance improved significantly and insulin output decreased after supplementation. Cholesterol and total lipids fell significantly after supplementation as well. An improvement in insulin sensitivity also occurred. (8)

Nutritional yeast has an extensive history of anecdotal (and sometimes scientific) use in humans. If you’re interested in trying this well-established dietary supplement, you may experience energy-enhancing benefits as a result.

Posted April 27, 2011.


  1. Whitney E, Cataldo C, Rolfes S. Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, Fifth Edition (1998) Wadsworth Publishing, Belmont, California.
  2. Dunne L. Nutrition Almanac, Third Edition (1990) McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York.
  3. Clark L. Know Your Nutrition (1973) Keats Publishing, New Canaan, Connecticut.
  4. Fredericks C. Dr. Carlton Fredericks’ New & Complete Nutrition Handbook (1976) Major Books, Canoga Park, California.
  5. Mindell E. Earl Mindell’s Vitamin Bible (1979) Rawson, Wade Publishers, New York.
  6. Grande Covian F. Vitamin deficiencies during the Spanish Civil War in Madrid: a reminiscence. Acta vitaminologica et enzymologica (1982) 4(1‑2):99‑103.
  7. Lipson A, et al. The selenium status of children with phenylketonuria: results of selenium supplementation. Australian paediatric journal (1988) 24(2):128‑31.
  8. Offenbacher EG, Pi‑Sunyer FX. Beneficial effect of chromium‑rich yeast on glucose tolerance and blood lipids in elderly subjects. Diabetes (1980) 29(11):919‑25.