New research suggests that eating a teaspoon of Marmite a day may improve brain function and potentially ward off neurological disorders.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, monitored the brain activity of 28 volunteers using electroencephalography scans. The researchers, from York University, found that eating a teaspoon of the yeast extract a day for a month improved the brain’s response to visual patterns by 30 per cent.
It is the presence of vitamin B12 in Marmite which appears to increase levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The researchers also found that Marmite contains 116 times more B12 than peanut butter. B12 supplements have been suggested by some medical bodies as a way to protect the ageing brain.
Dr Daniel Baker, the study’s senior author, said: ‘Since we’ve found a connection between diet and specific brain processes involving GABA, this research paves the way for further studies looking into how diet could be used as a potential route to understanding this neurotransmitter.
‘You could say it calmed the brain, and we think this is because the B12 vitamin in Marmite fuels production of GABA. We suspected this beforehand, which is why we performed the study. We wanted to find a food that boosts the brain’s main neurotransmitter.
‘Deficiencies in it have been linked with a host of neurological disorders. Even dementia has been suggested.’
The researchers are now hoping to carry out similar trials on patients with existing neurological disorders.
Marmite’s high levels of B vitamins and folic acid led to it being temporarily banned in Denmark. Bridget Benelam, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said this was an over-reaction. ‘It’s possible to overdose on vitamin supplements,’ she told The First Post. ‘But the B vitamins present in Marmite, B6 and B12, are water soluble, so if you have too much, your body just flushes them out.’
Before we all rush off to stock up on yeast-based products we need to look at this study in a little more detail. As with much research exploring avenues in treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s, this is only a potential area of interest, not a proven one. Far more work needs to be done in following it up, including by studying patients with neurological conditions (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease), to see if eating Marmite helps improve any aspect of their health. The theory is that eating Marmite may boost the level of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain, a deficiency of which has been linked to neurological problems.
The study was tiny — 28 people only — and only looked at responses to visual stimuli, so it is of course impossible to say from this if dementia risk could be altered. The research certainly adds to the evidence as to how certain dietary factors can influence the function of brain nerve cells.
What we know is that a healthy diet, along with regular exercise, controlling blood pressure and not smoking, is the cornerstone of brain health advice.