Research has found that Marmite improves healthy brain function.
What?! You might say "That black sticky stuff for breakfast?" Yes! Marmite, the quintessential condiment at the breakfast tables of Great Britain and all its colonies where the sun never set.
Marmite has been found to have a significant effect on the activity in the brain.
Research by the University of York has found that the high level of vitamin B12 found in Marmite increases levels of a specific neurotransmitter – known as GABA –associated with healthy brain function.
GABA inhibits the excitability of neurons, cutting down the volume of responses in order to regulate a delicate balance of brain activity. Imbalances in GABA have been linked with neurological disorders including epilepsy, autism and depression. These findings are significant because they suggest alternations in diet could potentially be used to increase GABA concentrations, and, in turn, reduce symptoms such as seizures.
With just one teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, brain activity is significantly stabilized up to 8 weeks after the end the study.
Marmite has around 16 times more vitamin B12 than peanut butter, as well as three times more vitamin B6 and 1.85 times more glutamate.
“All three substances are implicated in GABA production, but we can't say which is the most important (though we suspect it is B12). Our next study plans to investigate this in more detail,” Dr Daniel Baker, lecturer in the department of psychology and senior author of the paper.
"Although GABA is involved in various diseases, we can make no therapeutic recommendations based on these results and individuals with a medical condition should always seek treatment from their GP,” he added.
Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer’s Research UK said the idea particular foods may influence brain activity was "interesting" but added she was unclear if or how this could translate into long-term benefits against particular brain diseases. She said the study also fails to tell us whether Marmite could be beneficial for our memory – a lack of B12 has previously been linked to memory deficiencies – or affect the onset of dementia.
“While a healthy, balanced diet has been linked to a healthy brain as we age, no one particular food or supplement has been shown to be most effective at reducing dementia risk,” she continued.
Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders at the University of York and the Leverhulme Trust.
The findings could lead to breakthroughs in future, helping scientists understand more about neurological conditions that are linked to GABA, however given the limited study and questions raised by the outcome, the scientists stress further research is required.
(Link to the original study DOI: 10.1177/0269881117699613)