A yeasty spread that stands as the stalwart of the breakfast table in many British homes has been linked to enhanced brain function.
Marmite - the perennially contentious toast companion - has been found by scientists to increase levels of a specific neurotransmitter known as GABA in the brain.
GABA is referred to as "nature's Valium" because of its soothing effect. As an amino acid supplement, it is sometimes used as a natural alternative to Valium or Diazepam to treat conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and seizures.
Researchers at the University of York discovered that participants who ate a teaspoon of marmite every day for a month showed a substantial reduction of around 30 per cent in their brain’s response to visual stimuli.
This was compared to a control group who consumed peanut butter every day.
Scientists recorded the electrical activity of volunteers' brains using a method called electroencephalography.
They believe the prevalence of vitamin B12 in Marmite increases levels of GABA, a chemical that inhibits the excitability of neurons in the brain.
This works to "turn down the volume" of neural responses, better regulating the delicate balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain.
Marmite = a brain booster?
"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," says Anika Smith, PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology and first author of the study.
"This is a really promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes."
Love it or hate it, evidence points to the fact that Marmite is bursting with nutritional benefits. A serving contains around 50% of your recommended daily intake of folic acid, which is particularly useful for pregnant women as it promotes fetal development. Folic acid also supports the heart, normal cholesterol levels and neural health.
Additionally, Marmite is high in vitamin B which works to enhance liver and kidney function, and supports the nervous system.
Marmite was discovered by accident in the late 1800s by a German scientist, who realised brewer's yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. Original recipes for it contained spices and celery, and it was a popular ration item for soldiers during both world wars.