Marmite For Brain Function

Here is yet another interesting article by Honor whiteman telling us how to boost our brain function. In the U.S. Marmite is far from one of the most popular foods and many Americans are unlikely to have heard of it.  It has been suggested by a new study that when it comes to boosting brain function, Marmite takes the upper hand over peanut butter.  This is a British brand of food paste that is made from yeast extract, a food additive created from brewer’s yeast.

Marmite is one of the most popular sandwich spreads in the United Kingdom but not everyone is a fan.  The distinctive and powerful flavor is so divisive that the manufacturers, Unilever, even launched a “Love It or Hate It” campaign in the mid-1990’s.  This slogan has followed the brand ever since.

Through a new study Marmite hatred might just be reversed, after finding that the yeast extract may actually increase levels of a neurotransmitter associated with healthy brain function.  In the U.K. the researchers from the University of York found that adults who ate a teaspoon of Marmite every day experienced a reduced response to visual stimuli, which is an indicator of increased levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.  This is a neurotransmitter responsible for inhibiting the excitability of brain cells.  It also helps to restore the optimal balance of neuronal activity that is required for healthy brain functioning.  Simply put, GABA calms the brain.

The low GABA levels have been associated with an increased risk of numerous neurological and mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism and epilepsy.  Because of this, researchers have been investigating ways to boost GABA levels in the brain.  This study was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and suggests that dietary modulation may be one way to reach this feat.

Colleagues and senior author Dr. Daniel Baker of the Department of Psychology at York enrolled 28 adults to this study and then randomly allocated them to one of two groups.  The first group was required to eat one teaspoon of Marmite every day for 1 month and the other group (control group) was required to eat 1 teaspoon of smooth peanut butter daily.

It was noted that Marmite is high in vitamin B-12 that previous studies have associated with increased GABA levels.  All subjects underwent electroencephalograph at the end of the 1-month.  This measured their brain activity in response to visual stimuli in the form of flickering lights.  GABA heavily influenced responses in the visual cortex and they point to a previous study that found responses to visual stimuli increased by 300% after a GABA inhibitor was administered in rats.  This effect should provide a clear index of GABA availability in cortex, as increasing GABA concentration should reduce the neural response evoked by visual stimuli to below normal levels.

When the brains of participants who consumed peanut butter were compared, the brains of subjects who ate Marmite demonstrated a 30% reduction in responses to visual stimuli, indicating an increase in GABA levels.  The responses associated with Marmite intake persisted for about 8 weeks after the study ended and the high concentration of vitamin B-12 in Marmite is likely to be the primary factor behind results showing this significant reduction in responsiveness to visual stimuli.

They believe the findings indicate that dietary changes may have a long-term impact on brain function and is a promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes.  This research paves the way for further studies into how diet could be used as a potential route to understanding this neurotransmitter, even though they are unable to make any therapeutic recommendations based on these findings.

Dr Fredda Branyon