Marmite for the mind?

Marmite, I bloody love the stuff. On toast, on crumpets, on scrambled egg (because I wasn’t keen on eggs as a child), on a teaspoon, as a hot drink. Love it. But I am under absolutely no illusion that it will prevent dementia. And to be fair, nor should anyone based on the ridiculously overblown media storm today (link).

I don’t want to accuse the authors of making false claims because they haven’t, but it seems that once again, the media has taken genuine research findings and twisted them horribly. This is the claim as stated in the abstract:

“we found that the neural response to visual patterns was reduced in individuals who consumed a yeast extract product rich in substances associated with the production of GABA (glutamate and B vitamins), but not in a control group who consumed a placebo substance (n = 14 per group)”

GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, i.e. it has a ‘calming’ effect on the brain. Alcohol binds to GABAreceptors, so do benzodiazapines such as valium. The reason I say that this story is not news is that vitamin B12, present in high levels in yeast extracts like Marmite, is known to increase GABA levels (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9249572), so the findings of this study should come as no surprise. It is perhaps more interesting that they managed to produce a placebo version of Marmite (apparently they used peanut butter, which in my opinion is no sort of substitute).

What is a surprise are the outlandish claims in the press claiming that this would have any affect on dementia, apparently not even mentioned in the research paper. As a scientist I find the misreporting of research really frustrating as it diminishes the impact of genuine scientific breakthroughs and leads to confusion and mistrust by the public.

Marmite is a fantastic food, but it is certainly no medicine for treating dementia.

By the Nourishment Network’s Katie Heath PhD – Biomedical scientist and pedant. Obsessive about the importance of evidence based medicine.

8 thoughts on “Marmite for the mind?

  1. Name & Shame !

    Why don’t you post links to the dodgy newspaper articles? Then we (your readers) can complain about them. Sometimes they might just be stupid writers, but in other cases I feel they are deliberately trying to mislead – this latter case needs complaints to make them stop doing it.

    I also suggest you keep a league table of offenders which you could publish.

    1. Good point. There is a link to the article in the Telegraph that you can click on but the story was in pretty much all of the national press with the exception of the Guardian. Without even doing the stats I’m sure that the Daily Mail would win, but it’s a nice idea.

    1. Well I’m not a fan of milk chocolate so it doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve tried the Marmite cheese, the rice cakes and the crisps and they’re fine but I would rather have the jar of the real stuff tbh.

  2. what an excellent article , I really enjoyed reading it and also I totally agree with you .
    Well done Katie !

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