Despite its divisive flavour, one daily teaspoon of Marmite could be seriously beneficial to brain health.
That’s according to a new, albeit small, study which discovered that vitamin B12 found in the spread increased levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain, associated with healthy brain function.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the manufacture of red blood cells. It also supports the normal function of nerve cells.
The study by researchers at the University of York looked at the brain activity of 28 men and women using electroencephalography (EEG) scans.
The participants were divided into two groups: one group was asked to eat a teaspoon of Marmite every day while the others ate a teaspoon of smooth peanut butter. Aside from this, they continued with their usual diets.
After one month, the volunteers had another brain scan and the results showed a reduction of roughly 30% in the brain responses of those who had been eating Marmite.
Scientists believe this “calmer” response is because the B12 in Marmite fuels production of GABA, which inhibits the excitability of neurons in order to regulate the balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain.
“We suspected this beforehand, which is why we performed the study. We wanted to find a food that boosts the brain’s main neurotransmitter,” said Dr Daniel Baker, lecturer in the Department of Psychology and senior author of the paper.
First author Anika Smith, PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology, added: “These results suggest dietary choices can affect the cortical processes of excitation and inhibition – consistent with increased levels of GABA – that are vital in maintaining a healthy brain.
“As the effects of Marmite consumption took around eight weeks to wear off after participants stopped the study, this suggests dietary changes could potentially have long-term effects on brain function.”
In response to the findings and commenting on headlines that the spread ‘could help prevent dementia’, Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society told The Huffington Post UK: “There’s no way to say from this study whether eating Marmite can affect your dementia risk.”
However he added: “The study does give us a deeper understanding of how certain aspects of diet could affect the function of nerve cells in the brain.
“Along with eating a healthy diet, the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia are to exercise regularly, avoid smoking and keep your blood pressure in check.”
It’s not the first time Marmite has been hailed for its health benefits, a previous study found that high doses of niacin (vitamin B3) in the spread could help the body protect itself against staphylococcus bacteria.