Drinking apple cider vinegar might sound disgusting if you’re not already drizzling it on your salad or knocking back a shot a day to keep the doctor away. But people have long used apple cider vinegar as a home remedy in attempts to ease any number of maladies, such as obesity and dandruff. Reports of the health benefits of apple cider vinegar date back to the Bronze Age. The Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have prescribed it to his patients, and Civil War soldiers used it as a healing tonic.
These days, apple cider vinegar is a popular natural health product, and researchers and health bloggers tout the perks of this fermented apple concoction. But what is truth, and what is hype? And what might be hazardous to your health?
For the most part, the University of Chicago Medical Center says, apple cider vinegar has a vitamin profile similar to that of apple juice. The big source of its health benefits, though, is thought to be the “mother,” the cloudy stuff you see sitting at the bottom of a bottle of unrefined, unpasteurized and unfiltered apple cider vinegar. The mother is a combination of yeast and bacteria — think of it like a sourdough starter, says the Washington Post — that forms during the fermentation process, and it’s thought to be the source of apple cider vinegar’s benefits. There’s some truth to that, the University of Chicago Medical Center says, as the mother is a probiotic and contains polyphenols.
Some companies remove the mother before bottling and selling apple cider vinegar, but most health food brands retain it for its potential benefits. However, the University of Chicago Medical Center notes that the importance of the mother has not been established through research.
The Skinny on Weight Loss
The renewed interest in apple cider vinegar’s reputation as a cure-all health tonic seems to trace back to D.C. Jarvis’s 1958 book “Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor’s Guide to Good Health.” Jarvis thought that apple cider vinegar, when mixed with honey, could be used to cure many ailments, including arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Much of apple cider vinegar’s present-day popularity comes from the idea that it can help you lose weight; proponents believe that when combined with other compounds, apple cider vinegar can fool the body’s metabolism into burning fat faster.
In recent years, researchers have studied whether drinking apple cider vinegar helps people shed pounds. An April 2018 study published in the journal Functional Foods found that subjects who supplemented a reduced-calorie diet with 30 milliliters of apple cider vinegar each day for 12 weeks had a lower body mass index, less belly fat and reduced appetite than people who didn’t. It’s worth noting, however, that other research, such as a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, suggests that these effects might be because some participants were nauseated by drinking apple cider vinegar. So maybe don’t get rid of your gym membership just yet.
More Potential Health Benefits …
Drinking apple cider vinegar could prove especially beneficial to anyone looking to control their glucose levels, especially people with diabetes. According to the Harvard Medical School, apple cider vinegar’s ability to block the absorption of starch could help prevent blood sugar spikes. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine concluded that people who consumed apple cider vinegar for eight to 12 weeks showed a small decrease in their blood sugar. A 2017 study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice had similar findings, indicating that drinking vinegar could be useful as a method of improving glycemic control. However, a 2016 Pharmacy Today report asserts that evidence is limited and that there are potential risks to the gastrointestinal system and esophagus.
Research also suggests that apple cider vinegar could benefit your heart. Some studies suggest that drinking 15 milliliters a day can lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. This is likely because of the antihypertensive effect of acetic acid in apple cider vinegar, but there’s no evidence that it can or should be used as or instead of a blood pressure medication.
… But Potential Drawbacks, Too
Despite its potential health benefits, apple cider vinegar also comes with some drawbacks. Apple cider vinegar can be harmful to your teeth, according to the University of Chicago; the acetic acid in it can erode your tooth enamel. Weak teeth and oral irritation are also possible, and it can increase your risk for cavities. Apple cider vinegar can whiten your teeth if you apply a small amount of it to problem areas using a cotton swab, but the American Dental Association strongly discourages this, according to a CNN report.
Additionally, apple cider vinegar, because it’s acidic, could aggravate acid reflux, the University of Chicago says. It’s not advisable to drink it straight; it’s recommended to mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of it with 8 ounces of water. And applying it directly to your skin has been shown to cause burning and irritation, particularly when applied for long stretches. So if you use topical products that contain apple cider vinegar, such as shampoo and hair masques, make sure that it contains diluted versions of this substance.
The bottom line: The health benefits of apple cider vinegar are tangible and it’s generally safe, but it won’t work any miracles on its own. You’ll find a host of outrageous claims about apple cider vinegar on the internet, but many of these claims aren’t supported by science. And because everything has possible pitfalls — for instance, vinegar interacts with certain medications — it’s best to talk to a nutritionist or your general practitioner if you have questions.
Not sure if adding apple cider vinegar to your regimen is the right move? A Lahey Health nutritionist or physician can help.