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Love it or hate it – Vitamin B12 may give the brain a boost

Published on 13/04/17 at 08:53am

Trying to explain to someone outside of the UK or Australia and New Zealand what Marmite is can be a little tricky – the savoury spread has the consistency of tar and tastes like a mixture of salt and bark. However, there may be a big reason now to encourage those uninitiated to taste the yeasty spread and that is the potential vitamin B12 has to give the brain boost.

A new study by researchers from York University, presumably all big fans of the spread, found that the high concentration of vitamin B12 and glutamate in the product increases the levels of gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) chemicals in the brain. GABA chemicals are thought to protect the brain against neurological disorders.

The study tested a sample of 28 volunteers by randomly allocating them to either to take a teaspoon of marmite or of peanut butter as part of their everyday diet. The groups were then tested to judge their neurological response to the visual stimuli of flickering images.

The test measured the groups’ ability to estimate the difference in contrast between two wave forms. The volunteers were all aged in their twenties and none had epilepsy.

The results of the experiment found that the group that had consumed Marmite displayed a 30% reduction in neurological response to the stimulus compared with the control group. It is not known exactly what caused this reaction but GABA chemicals are known to act to dampen over-active brain cells, reducing symptoms of anxiety or fear. GABA activity is already harnessed in anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine, which functions by bolstering GABA efficacy.

Research emerging last month has also suggested that children with lower levels of vitamin B12 struggled on cognitive tests. The tests included completing puzzles, recognising letters and interpreting other children’s feelings.

The major caveat to the research is that funding came from the Wellcome Trust and Leverhulme Trust. Leverhulme Trust was set up by the Lever Brothers, a company that later went onto become Unilever – the multinational company that produces Marmite. It should be taken with a handful of salt that research funded by the company that produces the product would find it beneficial for health. However, the findings into the impacts of vitamin B12 intake and the reaction of the brain could still provide a platform for further research.

It is not yet known whether the researchers will have to stand before an ethical committee after designing a study that encouraged the participants to eat a teaspoon of unadulterated Marmite.

Ben Hargreaves

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