If you were to compile a list of the biggest health fads of the 21st century, there’s no question that “detox” would be high on that list. “Apple cider vinegar detox” might be there as well.
“Body detox” is an umbrella term and can mean several things. It can require a special solid or liquid diet, drinking nothing but water, taking specific minerals or supplements, or even stuff we don’t like to think about. (OK, we’re talking about diuretics and enemas, but please don’t make us go into the details.)
The idea behind a body detox might seem to make sense logically, even if the medical evidence behind the concept is dubious at best.  The goal is to cleanse the body of accumulated toxins like alcohol, cigarette smoke, harmful ingredients in foods like saturated fats  and heavy metals , and environmental pollutants .
The organs in healthy bodies are designed to eliminate most toxins from the body, but that doesn’t always happen in people with serious issues affecting the kidneys, liver, lungs or other important systems. There are medically-recommended ways to help compromised organs perform their job , but some prefer to go the “detox” route.
There are also many who want to – or have been convinced to – take matters into their own hands by pursuing approaches which allegedly “detoxify” the body, whether or not it’s capable of accomplishing the task on its own. Some also opt for a body detox just because they’ve been told it will help them lose weight.
In most cases a detox involves a special drink or diet. And one of the most popular in recent years is the “apple cider vinegar detox” regime.
Does it help in any way – or can it actually hurt?
Let’s find out.
The Truth About Detox
A comprehensive survey in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health postulates that “the reality of the contemporary world is that toxicants are ubiquitous, and while avoidance is central to any management strategy, toxicants are not entirely avoidable…the recent onslaught of anthropogenic substances poses new challenges…”  In other words, toxins are basically unavoidable.
The research study goes on to examine a number of possible approaches to “natural” detoxifications, including:
- Sweating – A potential method for eliminating heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in the body 
- Medications – Some medications contain chelating agents (substances which bind to toxic substances) which have been shown to aid in the elimination of heavy metals 
- Herbs or Natural Supplements – These include the curcumin in turmeric, certain plant flavonoids, naturally-occurring organic acids, dietary fiber and some antioxidants , which can act in a variety of ways to prevent absorption of toxic substances, help in their removal or prevent them from doing damage.
However, the Journal article makes it clear that most of these approaches have only shown promise in animal testing, and that human variables make it difficult – if not impossible – to draw comprehensive conclusions.
It’s even more important to recognize that, historically, “detox” has referred to removing specific hazardous or life-threatening substances from the body. As the term is now popularly used outside of the medical community, though, it focuses on a whole-body approach to removing all substances believed to be toxic, and relieving a number of non-critical symptoms like bloating, depression and body pain. A detox regime often promises substantial weight-loss benefits as well.
In most cases, these modern “detox” methods call for liquid diets, sometimes with juices but usually with an often-complicated series of liquids for a set period of time. Some people follow them simply to “detoxify” their body, while others do it as a precursor to making a switch to a healthier diet or even because they believe claims that the detox will help them burn fat.
One of these detoxes which has been around for decades but recently promoted by numerous celebrities is the Master Cleanse. It’s a 10-day (or longer) regimen of drinking salt water, laxative tea, and a bizarre mix of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper which is euphemistically referred to as “lemonade.”  Some other popular “detox” regimens are targeted more specifically at the intestinal tract or other systems.
Proponents of these detox methods usually don’t specify which toxicants the diet is designed to remove. For instance, the creator of the Master Cleanse, Stanley Burroughs, talks about “eliminating every kind of disease…simplify[ing] the cause and the correction of all disorders, regardless of the name or names…as we eliminate and correct one disease, we correct them all…” 
Does it work? There’s very little scientific evidence proving that it does. A small number of research studies have claimed detox diets may help detoxify the liver  and eliminate some environmental pollutants from the body, but those studies were done with very few subjects or animal subjects, and exhibited flawed methodology.  And a review of studies on whether detox diets can lead to weight loss found that they could – but also that subjects tend to gain weight again after the diet is stopped. 
A question which may be just as important: even if detox regimens don’t help, do they hurt? The National Institutes of Health has itemized a number of possible harmful side effects from detox diets.
- Most cleanses are severely limited in calories (the Master Cleanse specifies 650 calories per day) and may deprive the body of needed nutrients.
- Not eating for days and detoxing with the assistance of laxatives can cause electrolyte imbalance, and the laxatives can cause severe diarrhea which leads to dehydration.
- Detox drinks containing juice may not be pasteurized or processed properly, potentially harming those with compromised immune system or the elderly. And some juices used in detoxes, like beet juice and spinach juice, can increase the risk of kidney problems when drunk in large amounts.
- Many detoxes can be dangerous for those with diabetes.
- Colon cleanses can cause serious problems for those with a history of gastrointestinal, heart or kidney disease, or for those with hemorrhoids. 
That doesn’t include the risks of specific diets. (Master Cleanse warns of the possibility of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, aches and pain during bowel movements, among other potential issues, and apple cider vinegar can damage tooth enamel or even cause burns to the mouth or throat). It also doesn’t factor in the fact that legal action has been taken against some who sell commercial detox products, for using harmful ingredients or making false claims.
We’ve already mentioned that the body detoxifies itself naturally, so there’s usually no need to take excessive steps to “help it along.” Most medical experts say that living a healthy lifestyle is generally all the help a normal body needs. Quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol but drinking green tea, exercising (and sweating) regularly, sticking to a healthy diet (preferably anti-inflammatory), and getting good sleep every night should deliver most of the benefits that a detox regime promises.
If you’re still curious about the apple cider vinegar detox, however, let’s move on.
Why Apple Cider Vinegar?
The whole concept behind a detox is to “reset” the body’s organs and systems. That makes the idea of an apple cider vinegar detox appealing to many, because of the litany of purported health benefits attributed to ACV. A few have been proven, most haven’t, but the list of supposed benefits of apple cider vinegar is certainly impressive:
- Helping to control blood glucose levels by increasing insulin sensitivity
- Fighting high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, improving heart health
- Helping with weight loss
- Rebalancing the body’s pH levels
- Promoting a healthy digestive system by rebalancing good bacteria and harmful bacteria
- Boosting vitamin C and potassium levels
The only benefits which have come close to being proven: vinegar can apparently help lower blood sugar levels before or after meals  (or possibly when drunk before bed), and may be able to lower cholesterol and triglycerides  and blood pressure  – although the latter studies were conducted on rats, not humans. There’s also limited research showing that the loss of body weight and body fat may be possible. 
That’s basically the rationale for an apple cider vinegar detox: if you’re going to detox anyway, why not use something that’s believed to have positive health benefits? The benefits that do exist, in case you’re curious, are largely due to the acetic acid that’s created when crushed apple and its apple juice are fermented with the use of yeast and then bacteria.
There are also those who believe the “mother,” a murky substance also formed during the fermentation process of apple cider vinegar, helps provide some health benefits and contains probiotics as well – although that’s one more claim that hasn’t been proven.
Since there’s no scientific evidence definitively proving the health benefits of any sort of modern detox regime, there’s certainly no research proving the health benefits of an apple cider vinegar detox. The only supporting evidence is anecdotal at best.
It’s certainly possible, however, to use ACV for its potential benefits of lower glucose levels, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and its possible ability to help you lose weight – without expecting the vinegar to bring about a miraculous transformation of your body from “toxic” to “shiny clean.”
In that spirit, here’s how proponents suggest doing an apple cider vinegar detox.
The Apple Cider Vinegar Detox
The basic recipe for the apple cider vinegar detox drink (some call it an apple cider vinegar cleanse) is simple.
- 1 cup of warm water
- 1-2 tablespoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (preferably fresh)
- Sweetener (maple syrup, organic honey, Stevia) to taste
Herbal tea can be used in place of the water, and optional ingredients for the apple cider vinegar drink include grated or ground ginger, cayenne pepper and ground cinnamon, either to flavor the drink to your preference or for variation.
Using organic ACV isn’t mandatory, it’s just the way to assure maximum quality. What is virtually mandatory is using raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, since it contains the “mother” believed to provide some of the vinegar’s health benefits. Bragg is the brand available most often, but the raw vinegars sold at farm stands, farmers’ markets or health food stores will also contain the mother.
There’s no fixed number of times the ACV detox should be consumed. Some guides specify once in the morning, others say several times throughout the day. There’s also no set length for the apple cider vinegar detox regimen; some say that it’s necessary for just a few days, while those praising it for its “weight loss benefits” suggest it should be used anywhere from 1-4 weeks.
Many detox approaches prescribe replacing meals with the detox drink. Most who try an apple cider vinegar detox, though, still eat regularly and drink the ACV mixture either 20-30 minutes before meals or with meals. That’s in keeping with some of the small research study results we’ve already discussed; they show that eating just before or with meals is the optimal time to consume vinegar, both because it makes you feel full (so you eat less) and because it provides optimal stabilization of blood glucose levels. 
While on the subject of eating, perhaps the best way to try an ACV detox is in conjunction with a healthy diet, and many proponents of the keto meal plan say it’s a perfect match with apple cider vinegar. A keto diet is designed to put the body into ketosis, so it burns fat instead of carbs to produce energy. Those proponents point to research that purportedly shows the acetic acid in ACV also helps the body burn fat, but those studies are small, dated and were only performed on lab animals.
However, if you’re determined to try an ACV detox, there’s probably nothing wrong with combining it with a keto diet – except, of course, for the fact that apples are prohibited on keto.
If you’re open to ideas other a detox drink, the proven and possible health benefits of raw apple cider vinegar can also be realized by including the vinegar in smoothies, using it to make salad dressings, or as an ingredient in marinades. It’s certainly a lot less arduous to consume ACV just once in a while when it fits into your daily diet, instead of committing to long period of drinking an apple cider vinegar detox concoction as many as three times a day.