Apple cider vinegar proponents argue that the tangy liquid can be used for all sorts of health benefits, from weight loss and blood sugar control to fighting infections – but are there many evidence to support these lofty assertions?
Apple cider vinegar is simply vinegar made from fermented apple juice. Vinegar is produced by converting simple sugars into ethanol (aka alcohol) using yeast, then converting ethanol into acetic acid using Acetobacter bacteria. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the sugar comes from apple juice.
In short, it seems that most (but not all) of the touted benefits of apple cider vinegar are largely unsubstantiated or based on very small and flimsy studies in obscure journals. Still, eating these foods is relatively low risk, so there’s no harm in sprinkling your salad with an apple cider vinegar dressing to spice it up.
Here are some of the most widely promoted benefits of consuming apple cider vinegar and what the evidence (or lack thereof) says.
One of the most researched medicinal uses of apple cider vinegar is for weight loss. For this claim, the evidence is mixed, but not too unconvincing.
A 2018 study, reported in the Functional Foods Journal, conducted a randomized clinical trial in which a small group of human subjects drank 15 milliliters of apple cider vinegar at lunch and dinner, while eating 250 calories less than their estimated daily requirement. A control group just cut calories without the vinegar shots.
After 12 weeks, the control group lost an average of 2.2 kilograms (5 pounds), but the apple cider vinegar group lost an average of 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds).
This may sound promising, but it was a relatively short and very small study with less than 40 participants. Additionally, the researchers suggested that this effect was due to the way apple cider vinegar affected their appetite. Another one study previously speculated that the appetite-suppressing effect of apple cider vinegar might simply be due to the highly acidic summoning that makes people nauseous.
Some have suggested that apple cider vinegar could help prevent cancer and potentially even be a viable cancer treatment. It is simply not true.
This dangerously misleading claim appears to stem from studies showing how acetic acid can kill cancer cells in a petri dish. However, that is quite different from saying it fights cancer – drinking bleach will kill cancer cells, but we don’t recommend injecting it as it will likely kill you too.
A splash of vinegar is unlikely to kill you, but using it instead of proven treatments is risky.
One of the main attractions of apple cider vinegar is its supposed gut-friendly properties. As a fermented food, apple cider vinegar is teeming with good bacteria, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir. Bottles of good quality apple cider vinegar will often still contain “the mother”, which is essentially just a giant microbial culture.
This property, in theory, could help replenish and support a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for many aspects of health and well-being. For exemple, a 2019 study on mice found that apple cider vinegar can help reduce levels of bad gut microbes known as firmicutes.
However, some specialists believe that apple cider vinegar is not technically a probiotic because there is no evidence that these bacteria survive transit through the digestive system, while others argue that the probiotic effects of apple cider vinegar may be minimal. Again, there is not much scientific literature on the subject.
Apple cider vinegar is sometimes advertised for its ability to manage blood sugar. A number of small studies have investigated this claim and the evidence is not too convincing.
A 2004 studyinvolving less than 30 people, found that taking 20 grams of apple cider vinegar with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small glass of water may help people with type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar levels after a carbohydrate-rich meal by improving insulin sensitivity.
Another one study in 2007 found that drinking apple cider vinegar at bedtime helped moderate blood sugar upon waking. However, this was another small study, involving only 11 participants.
Overall, the results are interesting, but certainly not enough to give up on your standard diabetes treatment.
Many people boast that diluted apple cider vinegar works wonders for the skin, clearing up pimples and serving as an all-natural exfoliator. Some even think it can be used to treat eczema. There is very little solid scientific evidence to support these ideas, but it does seem to stem from the very real antimicrobial and antifungal properties of apple cider vinegar.
Keep in mind, however, that you should always be careful rubbing your delicate face with any acidic liquid that is not specifically formulated for use on the skin, as it is likely to cause irritation, damage the skin barrier and cause a slight chemical burn.
Acetic and malic acid in apple cider vinegar provide exfoliating properties – but as with many natural remedies, the concentration of active ingredients is not standardizedso acidity could be inconsistent from batch to batch, making effects unpredictable.
The National Eczema Association came up with some ideas on how people with eczema can use apple cider vinegar, but they add that it’s not strictly evidence-based and should only be done after talking to a doctor .
It’s a similar story for dandruff. Although no studies prove that apple cider vinegar can treat dandruff, it does have some antimicrobial and antifungal properties that might back up these claims. One of the main causes of dandruff is an overgrowth of fungi. However, like many of the bold claims that surround apple cider vinegar, no scientific studies have properly addressed this topic.
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