The world is bitterly divided into two types of people: those who enjoy Marmite, and those who don’t. What if we told you it boosts your brain?
If you’re a pro-Marmite person, you may have more people converting to the side of the tangy British spread, thanks to unexpected support from none other than brain science.
Experiments involving the love-or-hate spread found the people who ate a daily spoonful of the dark-brown yeast extract displayed higher levels of a key neuron chemical – a chemical linked to healthy brains.
Researchers hypothesize Marmite’s lofty levels of vitamin B12 could be responsible for its positive influence on the brain.
In the study, psychologists at the University of York, England, divided 28 people into two groups, having one eat a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, while the other swapped the Marmite for peanut butter.
After the month-long trial, the volunteers were outfitted with non-invasive skullcaps harbouring electrodes to monitor brain activity. They gazed at visual stimuli – in this case, a large stripey pattern that flickered at a regular rate.
The Marmite-filled group showed significant reduction – 30% – in response to the stimulus in comparison to the peanut butter folk.
The work, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, illustrates how diet can affect brain activity, the researchers say.
How Marmite worked was not clinically investigated. Researchers have a hunch, however: Marmite appears to boost levels of a vital neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Think of it as a braking system for over-anxious brain cells; it binds to neurons, reducing their activity, creating balance in the brain.
Scientists speculate that GABA reduces fear and anxiety, which are results of over-stimulated neurons.
“This study suggests that eating Marmite is potentially good for you in that it seems to increase a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain 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.”
Since they’re scientists and not clinicians or dieticians, the pair won’t provide any recommendations on what a healthy amount of Marmite is for consumers.
“However, there is no evidence that normal consumption of Marmite has any negative effects,” they said.
Going back to the study, comparing to the same amount of peanut butter, the research team discovered that Marmite had roughly 116 times more vitamin B12, three times the amount of vitamin B6, and nearly twice the amount of glutamate as peanut butter.
So the quintessential British spread, one that’s been subject to tongue-in-cheek campaigns on social media to abolish the condiment, may have a purpose after all.
But, we don’t think there’ll be any shortage of Marmite jokes in the immediate future: “I was in a good mood last week. I entered a competition and won a year’s supply of Marmite — one jar!”