Eating Marmite could help to ease anxiety and depression
B vitamins found in the divisive spread could help the brain to produce calming chemicals.
Sorry haters, here’s yet another reason to love Marmite: Vitamin B6 – a nutrient found in abundance in the yeast extract – may help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, a study carried out by researchers at the University of Reading has found.
The team gathered together a group of nearly 500 volunteers aged between 18 and 58, 265 of whom had self-reported anxiety and 146 had self-reported depression. They then split them into three subgroups. One group was given 100mg doses of vitamin B6 supplements every day for a month, a second 1mg doses of B12 supplements, and a final group a placebo.
They researchers also had all participants complete questionnaires designed to assess mood and feelings throughout the study.
They found that the participants who took vitamin B6 reported feeling less anxious and depressed after taking the supplements.
While previous studies have suggested that consuming Marmite may help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, exactly which nutrients were responsible for the effect remained unclear.
The team found that the calming effect was likely due to vitamin B6 increasing the body’s production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain.
“The functioning of the brain relies on a delicate balance between the excitatory neurons that carry information around and inhibitory ones, which prevent runaway activity.
“Recent theories have connected mood disorders and some other neuropsychiatric conditions with a disturbance of this balance, often in the direction of raised levels of brain activity,” said lead author Dr David Field, of the University of Reading.
“Vitamin B6 helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect with reduced anxiety among the participants.”
Don’t worry if you fall into the haters’ camp. Vitamin B6 can also be found in foods such as tuna, chickpeas and many different fruits and vegetables.
However, the doses used in the study are much higher than the amount that could typically be consumed from food, the researchers caution.
“It is important to acknowledge that this research is at an early stage and the effect of vitamin B6 on anxiety in our study was quite small compared to what you would expect from medication,” said Field.
“However, nutrition-based interventions produce far fewer unpleasant side effects than drugs, and so in the future people might prefer them as an intervention.
“To make this a realistic choice, further research is needed to identify other nutrition-based interventions that benefit mental wellbeing, allowing different dietary interventions to be combined in future to provide greater results.”
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Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.