Marmite may be brain food, study says

April 5, 2017
Credit: Wikipedia

In a world bitterly divided into pro- and anti-Marmite factions, lovers of the tangy British spread have found support from an unexpected quarter: brain science.

Experiments found that volunteers who ate a daily spoonful of the dark-brown yeast extract seemed to have higher levels of a vital neuron chemical associated with a healthy brain.

The reason could lie in Marmite's high levels of vitamin B12, the investigators say.

In a study published on Wednesday, psychologists at the University of York in northern England recruited 28 volunteers and divided them into two groups.

One group ate a teaspoon of Marmite each day for a month; the other ate a daily teaspoon of peanut butter.

The volunteers wore non-invasive skullcaps fitted with electrodes to monitor while they looked at a screen with a visual stimulus—a large stripey pattern that flickered at a regular rate.

The Marmite group showed a substantial reduction of around 30 percent in response to the stimulus compared with the peanut butter group.

The work, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, sheds a powerful light on how diet can affect brain activity, the researchers say.

How Marmite worked was not clinically investigated.

But the presumption is that it boosts levels of an important neurotransmitter called gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA).

GABA acts as a kind of brake on over-excited brain cells. It binds to neurons and reduces their activity, helping to provide balance in the brain.

Scientists have previously theorised that GABA helps to dampen fear or anxiety, which happens when neurons are over-stimulated.

The anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine, for instance, works by beefing up GABA's effectiveness, and abnormal levels of GABA have been associated with epilepsy.

"This study suggests that eating Marmite is potentially good for you in that it seems to increase a chemical messenger associated with healthy function," lead authors Daniel Baker and Anika Smith told AFP.

"There could potentially be beneficial effects for people with some neurological disorders linked to GABA."

The pair said they were not clinicians or dieticians, so were unwilling to make any recommendations about what would be a healthy limit for eating Marmite.

"However, there is no evidence that normal consumption of Marmite has any negative effects," they said.

Compared with the same quantity of peanut butter, the team found that Marmite had around 116 times more vitamin B12, three times more vitamin B6, and nearly twice as much glutamate as .

The new study appears in a specialist peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Deemed a quintessential British food, Marmite has been the subject of a "love it or hate it" debate that has rumbled on for years, including a tongue-in-cheek campaign on social media to abolish the condiment.

One joke put around by detractors is thus: "I was in a good mood last week. I entered a competition and won a year's supply of Marmite—one jar!"

Explore further: Major research project provides new clues to schizophrenia

Related Stories

Major research project provides new clues to schizophrenia

March 14, 2017
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet collaborating in the large-scale Karolinska Schizophrenia Project are taking an integrative approach to unravel the disease mechanisms of schizophrenia. In the very first results now presented ...

Study helps explain how zebrafish recover from blinding injuries

March 9, 2017
Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee have discovered that in zebrafish, decreased levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) cue the retina, the light-sensing tissue in the back ...

Increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brains of depressed mice has antidepressant effects

November 8, 2016
Experimentally increasing the activity of a subclass of nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) has antidepressant effects similar to pharmaceutical antidepressants in depressed mice. ...

Sleep apnea takes a toll on brain function

February 12, 2016
One in 15 adults has moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which a person's breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep—as many as 30 times per hour.

Recommended for you

Unwanted or unplanned babies likely have more troubled close relationships

August 15, 2018
Findings appearing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships show people who believe they resulted from unwanted or unplanned pregnancies tend to have more insecure relationship styles as adults.

Researchers link animosity in couples to inflammation, bacteria in bloodstream

August 15, 2018
Married people who fight nastily are more likely to suffer from leaky guts—a problem that unleashes bacteria into the blood and can drive up disease-causing inflammation, new research suggests.

Potent psychedelic DMT mimics near-death experience in the brain

August 14, 2018
A powerful psychedelic compound found in ayahuasca can model near-death experiences in the brain, a study has found.

How we explain the behavior of others depends on our beliefs about their 'true selves'

August 14, 2018
Why did they do that? It's a question we ask every day in attempting to understand the behavior of others and make meaning of the world around us. How we answer the question, however, varies depending on our moral attitudes ...

The science behind rooting for the home team

August 14, 2018
Young children often observe society dividing its members—by ethnicity, religion, gender, or even favorite sports team. But a review by a Yale psychologist published August 14 in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences ...

When head injuries make life too hard, suicide risk may rise

August 14, 2018
(HealthDay)—Traumatic brain injury can trigger a daily struggle with headaches, neck pain, dizziness and thinking problems that may drive some to suicide, researchers report.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Apr 05, 2017
As brits are chronically malnourished from eating blood pudding and meat pies all the time, I should think that any food with actual nutrients in it would have a positive effect.

Perhaps if they mixed this goop with vegemite they might even grow to a proper height.
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Apr 06, 2017
Vegemite and Promite are similar products...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.