Growing up, your parents probably told you that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Turns out, apple cider vinegar may do just the same. From weight loss to cold and cough remedies to insect repellent, this superfood seems to be good for, well, just about everything. People put it in food and salad dressings, and they even drink it straight.
But is apple cider vinegar truly a superfood? Or is it a superfad? And how many of the so-called benefits are backed by scientific evidence?
In this article, we take a deep dive into this popular home remedy to help you separate the facts from fiction.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Vinegar has been used for over 5000 years for various purposes, such as to preserve food, combat infection, and treat illnesses.
Traditional vinegar is produced in a 2-stage fermentation process that first involves mixing a fermentable carbohydrate source such as apples, pears, or malt with yeast. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the yeast converts the simple sugars in apples to ethyl alcohol, or ethanol.
During the second stage of the process, acetic acid bacteria called Acetobacter are added to the ethanol, which is converted into acetic acid with a little bit of help from oxygen in the air.
The traditional fermentation process takes about one month. Although current manufacturing practices have accelerated this process, the longer process allows for the formation of the mother, a gelatinous substance composed of yeast and bacteria.
The mother of vinegar is harmless, and many people claim that it provides many health benefits.
Apple cider vinegar has relatively low acidity compared to some other types of vinegar, containing about 5% acetic acid. It also contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Now let’s dig into how this household condiment gained so much attention and examine the top 10 benefits of apple cider vinegar.
10 Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits (ACV benefits)
1. Apple Cider Vinegar and Weight Loss
If you’re like most Americans, weight loss is probably one of your new year’s resolutions. Perhaps a friend or family member told you to drink some apple cider vinegar to help you lose weight. Well, they might be right.
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar has been shown to reduce body fat and prevent liver lipid buildup in mice fed a high-fat diet. Some researchers believe that acetic acid is taken up by the brain, eventually leading to appetite suppression and eventual weight loss.
The weight loss effect has also been shown in humans. In a clinical trial, the participants who drank 30 mL of apple cider vinegar every day for 12 weeks along with a restricted calorie diet had significantly reduced body weight and body mass index, or BMI.
However, the use of vinegar as an appetite suppressant has been challenged since the clinical trial. The investigators reported that vinegar simply enhanced the feeling of satiety by causing the trial participants to feel nauseated, not by suppressing their appetite.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar and Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas to balance sugar levels in your blood after a meal. Blood sugar control is especially important for people with diabetes, who either don’t produce enough insulin (type 1) or have reduced sensitivity to insulin (type 2).
A small study published in the the Journal of American Diabetes Association showed that apple cider vinegar raised insulin sensitivity in participants with type-2 diabetes and significantly reduced fluctuations in both blood sugar and insulin levels.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar and PCOS
Apple cider vinegar’s effect on insulin sensitivity might also be of particular interest to women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), one of the main causes of irregular menstruation. Although PCOS can have many causes, insulin resistance may be one of them.
In a small study, 7 women with PCOS took 15 grams of apple cider vinegar daily for 90 to 110 days. Ovulatory menstruation was observed in 4 out of the 7 women within 40 days, which suggested that apple cider vinegar may be able to restore ovulatory function in PCOS patients.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar and Blood Sugar Levels
Similar findings from other clinical trials confirmed that people who consumed apple cider vinegar daily for 8 to 12 weeks showed modest reductions in their blood sugar levels, which would in lead to reduction in insulin demands. The reduction in blood sugar may be due to a delayed gastric emptying rate, which helps people feel fuller for longer.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar and Cholesterol Levels
Another study involving diabetic rats showed that participants whose diets were supplemented with apple cider vinegar had lower serum triglyceride levels and higher high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (also known as HDL-c or the “good” cholesterol) levels. High levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in your blood, can not only lead to diabetes complications, but can also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and pancreatitis.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar and Cardiovascular Benefits
About 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. With such alarming statistics, improving and maintaining good cardiovascular health should be a high priority for everyone. As look for the next big thing to help you live a healthier and longer life, don’t overlook apple cider vinegar.
Several studies have shown that the acetic acid from apple cider vinegar can help reduce hyperlipidemia (high lipid levels in blood), hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and hypertension (high blood pressure), all of which benefit heart health.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar’s Antimicrobial Activity
Perhaps one of the most well-known benefits of apple cider vinegar is its antimicrobial activity.
We live in a world where antibiotic resistance is becoming increasingly common. Antibiotics can also be ineffective at reaching the intracellular structures in which their targets can hide.
I have written many times about the devastating long-term (if not permanent) effects antibiotics can have on your gut microbiome, which can then lead to leaky gut syndrome and anxiety and depression. As a functional medicine physician, I recommend that patients take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Finding alternatives to antibiotics should be a global priority.
The good news is, due to their acetic acid content, apple cider vinegar and other types of vinegar may be viable alternatives to antibiotics.
In other words, vinegars kill bacteria.
A recently published study reported that apple cider vinegar can have antimicrobial effects on cultures of several species of common pathogenic bacteria and yeasts, E. coli, S. aureus and C. albicans. The minimum dose of apple cider vinegar required to restrict the growth of these microbes were as follows:
- Candida albicans – undiluted (5% acidity)
- Staphylococcus aureus – ½ dilution (2.5% acidity)
- Escherichia coli – 1/50 dilution (0.1% acidity)
Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to be remarkably effective at eradicating bacterial biofilms, which are glue-like substances produced by bacteria to help themselves adhere to the surface of their choice and “put down their roots,” so to speak.
The establishment of biofilm is extremely advantageous to microorganisms because it protects them from stress and may even help them develop antibiotic resistance. While antibiotics may treat the symptoms of the infection released by the biofilm, many are not able to eliminate biofilms.
As you might expect, bacterial biofilms allow bacteria to re-infect the host over and over. However, apple cider vinegar has been shown to eradicate the biofilm of Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes recurrent tonsillitis.
Apple cider vinegar was also shown to be as effective as 5% sodium hypochlorite (a.k.a. bleach) at killing C. albicans and Enterococcus faecalis, which can cause life-threatening infections in humans. Because it does not have the negative side effects and toxicity of sodium hypochlorite, apple cider vinegar may be an effective alternative treatment for these infections.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar and Anti-Inflammatory Activity
Many people believe that apple cider vinegar has anti-inflammatory benefits, which may help with arthritic pain.
However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims. Other than helping people control their weight (which can help alleviate some symptoms of arthritis), one study from 1984 concluded that apple cider vinegar was ineffective for arthritis. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation lists apple cider vinegar as a food myth for arthritis.
Not all hope seems to be lost, though.
A study from 2004 has shown that while apple cider vinegar might not be effective for acute pain and inflammation, it may be for chronic pain and inflammation. Apple cider vinegar contains vitamin B complex, which researchers found may help with inflammation. The investigators of this mouse study speculated that the significant benefits observed may have been partially due to the presence of vitamin B complex in apple cider vinegar.
9. Apple Cider Vinegar for Skin and Hair Health
Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy for skin and hair issues. Many popular sites claim that apple cider vinegar restores the proper pH of your skin and scalp. Apple cider vinegar can also act as an all-natural astringent.
Some people even advise using it on your sunburn. Again, there are many anecdotes online about the wonders of apple cider vinegar for your skin, but very little of it has been backed by science.
Although there haven’t been any research studies using apple cider vinegar specifically for hair care, the results of one study indicated that shampoo and conditioner formulas must have a final pH no higher than 5.5 to prevent damage to the scalp and to avoid a significant increase in static electricity that causes frizziness in hair. With its acidic properties, apple cider vinegar may be a valuable addition to your hair care regimen.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar’s Antioxidant Properties
The results of one study indicated that apple cider vinegar not only lowers lipid levels in your blood, but that it also has a protective effect on your red blood cells, kidneys, and liver against oxidative injury. This suggests that apple cider vinegar can increase antioxidant and vitamin levels in your body.
Yet another interesting finding was from a rat study that investigated the effect of apple cider vinegar on nicotine toxicity. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that apple cider vinegar exerted significant antioxidant properties, which helped protect the rats’ liver from nicotine’s harmful oxidative damage.
Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects
Because I always aim to present information in a balanced manner, here are a few potential side effect of apple cider vinegar worth noting.
As mentioned above, apple cider vinegar can slow down your stomach emptying rate. This could cause a problem for patients with type 1 diabetes, 30-50% of whom already have a slower stomach emptying rate. Because people with type 1 diabetes depend on insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels after a meal, an even slower rate can make it difficult to predict when the blood sugar will rise.
Diabetic patients taking apple cider vinegar are advised to monitor their blood sugar levels closely and frequently.
Consuming too many acidic beverages can cause irreversible damage to your tooth enamel, which is the tough outer surface of your teeth. In one study, researchers incubated tooth enamel in various types of vinegar. After 8 hours, they noted an approximately 20% loss of minerals from the teeth. Yikes!
It’s important to remember that this study was done in a laboratory setting. In your mouth, your saliva works to keep a balanced pH. Still, there’s enough evidence that drinking lots of undiluted vinegar can cause dental erosion.
If you are thinking of drinking apple cider vinegar daily, you should always drink it diluted. Read below for more tips on how to add apple cider vinegar to your diet.
As I mentioned before, there haven’t been any large-scale studies on the benefits of topical apple cider vinegar for skin health. Instead, there have been a few published clinical cases (here, here, and here) in which individuals suffered topical chemical burns after following protocols found online.
People who take certain medications, such as potassium-lowering drugs, should avoid consuming apple cider vinegar. Since apple cider vinegar also has a potassium-reducing effect, your potassium levels could become too low.
When taken over a long period of time, apple cider vinegar may cause osteoporosis or bone loss. In one case study, a 28-year-old woman who consumed a large volume of apple cider vinegar daily for six years was hospitalized due to low potassium levels and other abnormalities in her blood chemistry. She was also diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition of weak, brittle bones believed to be related to apple cider vinegar’s acidity.
How Should You Take Apple Cider Vinegar?
Overall, apple cider vinegar is safe. Like most things, however, there are pros and cons to apple cider vinegar. Here are some quick tips to add apple cider vinegar to your diet:
Start small: The easiest way to take apple cider vinegar is to add a small amount to your salad. If you prefer to drink it, start off with 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces of water.
Based on your tolerance, you can increase the amount later, but you should always dilute it with water and spread out the doses throughout the day. Do not take more than 2 tablespoons a day, or it could cause nausea.
Rinse your mouth: Damage to your tooth enamel may be prevented by rinsing your mouth after drinking apple cider vinegar. You can also drink it through a straw.
Test on a small area of skin: When using apple cider vinegar topically, always apply it with a cotton ball. It is best to start off by testing a small area of skin, and feel for any burning sensations or other negative reactions. If any burning occurs, rinse immediately.
Talk to your doctor: Apple cider vinegar may not be appropriate for you, especially if you have certain medical conditions. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.
More research with human subjects is needed to precisely measure the pros and cons of apple cider vinegar. The truth is, animal studies don’t always translate well to human studies.
So while apple cider vinegar isn’t likely to replace your medications, many of these findings are significant enough to warrant further examination of apple cider vinegar as a way to manage some health complications.
The jury still seems to be out on all of the potential benefits of apple cider vinegar, but it may be worth adding apple cider vinegar to your diet.
Are you surprised to learn about all of the scientifically-supported benefits of apple cider vinegar? Who knew we could learn so much from a remedy that’s thousands of years old? Research shows us fascinating results on many remedies we often take for granted. Share this article with a friend who’s interested in natural remedies!