Marmite may boost brain and help stave off dementia
Marmite may boost brain power and could even help stave off dementia, research suggests.
A study has shown that those who ate just a teaspoon of the yeast extract each day saw changes in the electrical activity of their brain.
Researchers from York University said the high concentration of Vitamin B12 in Marmite increases levels of chemicals which are thought to protect against neurological disorders.
The study found that those who consumed a teaspoon a day for a month showed a 30 per cent decrease in their brains’ response to visual patterns, compared with those who were given peanut butter.
Scientists said the changes in the Marmite group appeared to reflect increased levels of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain.
The chemical is known to inhibit the excitability of neurons in the brain, acting to “turn down the volume” of neural responses in order to regulate the balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain.
Researchers said the study was the first to show that dietary changes may affect GABA levels, which are associated with neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it calms the brain, and opposes the action of neurotransmitters, which fire it up.
It is sometimes known as 'nature's Valium' because drugs that increase its levels have been found to soothe anxiety, induce sleep, and calm nervous conditions.
In the study, the brain activity of 28 young men and women was tracked using electroencephalography (EEG) scans.
The study found that Marmite contains 116 times more B12 - which makes red blood cells and protects the nervous system - than peanut butter.
Dr Daniel Baker, Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and senior author of the paper, 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.
Dr Baker said that when the test subjects sat in front of flickering patterns on a computer screen at the end of the trial, those eating the Marmite had less excitable neurons.
He said: "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,” he said.
First author Anika Smith said: "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 that dietary changes could potentially have long-term effects on brain function.
"This is a really promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes and a great starting point for exploring whether a more refined version of this technique could have some medical or therapeutic applications in the future."
Following the study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers are hoping to study patients with neurological disorders to see if eating Marmite improves their condition.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer's Society, said that as the study only looked at responses to visual stimuli, it could not demonstrate the impact of Marmite on dementia risk.
"The study does give us a deeper understanding of how certain aspects of diet could affect the function of nerve cells in the brain," he said.
"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."