Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar: Fact And Fiction

For a liquid solution that’s clearly good for you, there’s an amazing amount of controversy surrounding apple cider vinegar.

There’s nothing new about using apple cider vinegar (ACV) to treat health issues. You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Hippocratic Oath, the oath that doctors take before they are admitted to the medical profession. But Hippocrates, the Greek “father of modern medicine” who developed the Oath, was using vinegar to treat 17 different health problems – back in the 5th century B.C. (1)(11)

ACV had been used well before that era, and healers and physicians have employed it to treat various ailments ever since. Apple cider vinegar has been proven to have significant antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and there’s ample research showing that it helps regulate blood sugar in prediabetics and diabetics.

So why do so many medical experts raise questions about the medical benefits of apple cider vinegar?

It’s because their major concerns are with some of the other claims made about ACV’s medical power – most notably, the hype that it’s a magic bullet for those desperate to lose weight – which either haven’t yet been proven, or have been pretty much debunked.

What’s important to realize is they’re not criticizing ACV or its use. They’re really criticizing proponents of the “apple cider vinegar diet,” or overblown claims about ACV’s supposedly miraculous ability to cure cancer.

Here’s the truth: doctors, homeopaths and experts all agree that apple cider vinegar has a number of important health benefits, when used properly and for the right reasons.

“When Used Properly”

That phrase in the last sentence must be highlighted before we dig more deeply into ACV’s health benefits.

The key ingredient in apple cider vinegar is acetic acid, which makes ACV acidic. Even if you remember very little from high school science class, you probably know from experience that acids can be corrosive. That’s the primary reason why this vinegar has to be used properly.

In a nutshell, “properly” means that ACV should never be consumed unless it’s been diluted first, and it should only be used in small amounts. Those who hear about ACV diets or the solution’s ability to heal wounds sometimes don’t realize how acidic the solution is – and that it can damage tooth enamel (leading to cavities), cause irritation or even burns to the throat and stomach (or the skin if used topically). It also may interfere with medications that treat heart disease and diabetes. ACV can even block the work of diuretics and laxatives, and lower the body’s potassium levels.

So the key takeaway is: when used properly, apple cider vinegar can be a powerful tool to help with a number of health issues. Otherwise, its side effects can be harmful.

Now, let’s move on.

Why is ACV Good For You?

Apple cider vinegar is made from crushed apples or apple juice, fermented and turned into alcohol after the addition of yeast, and then fermented even further by the addition of bacteria. The end product is ACV with a high content of acetic acid, usually 5-6%. (2)

If apple cider vinegar is good for you, then obviously acetic acid must be good for you since it’s the key active ingredient in ACV. It is. We’ll look at why, shortly.

But if you’re buying the good stuff – raw, unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar – acetic acid isn’t the only healthy component. Raw vinegar contains “mother.”

Mother of vinegar forms as the apple juice is fermented, thanks to the combination of acetic acid and the bacteria used in the process. It’s a cloudy film which is safe to eat or drink, although commercial producers usually filter it out to make the vinegar look better. Unfortunately, they remove much of ACV’s health benefits when they remove the mother.

This mysterious substance has been found to have important bioactive ingredients. (3)

To get the maximum medicinal benefit from apple cider vinegar, always look for unpasteurized, raw ACV, sold by companies like Bragg.

Proven Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

No one is certain how much of ACV’s benefits are solely due to the presence of acetic acid, or whether the mother adds potency to the acid’s effectiveness. Either way, there are several health benefits of apple cider vinegar which are beyond dispute.

Blood Sugar Control

Multiple studies confirm that consuming a small amount of ACV after meals can limit or minimize the fluctuations of blood sugar and insulin that normally occur after eating. (4) That’s particularly important for those with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, who must manage their glucose levels and insulin levels carefully. It’s believed that acetic acid (we told you that we’d get to it!) blocks enzymes that help the digestive system break down carbs; in turn, that prevents rapid spikes in blood sugar levels after eating a starchy meal.

There are other small studies showing that two tablespoons of vinegar (some of the studies used apple cider vinegar, others used different types) before bed may significantly lower fasting blood sugar overnight (5), and that ACV can improve insulin sensitivity by as much as 33% after eating lots of carbs while also lowering triglyceride levels. (6) It’s important to understand, however, that a review of that research has concluded that the evidence of apple cider vinegar’s effect is, so far, insufficient. (13)

Anti-Bacterial Effects

We’ve previously mentioned the anti-microbial properties of apple cider vinegar, and one of the most important is ACV’s ability to fight bacteria. It’s been shown to be particularly effective against some of the most difficult organisms to kill, including E. coli and several forms of staph infections. (7)

It’s not just internal infections which may be treated effectively by including apple cider vinegar in the diet; ACV can be used as a preservative to help prevent bacteria from growing in food as well. And for millennia, vinegars have been used topically to clean wounds (that’s one of the conditions Hippocrates treated with ACV), and treat growths and parasites like fungus and lice.

Likely Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Researchers have found at least some evidence of other medicinal benefits believed to be associated with consumption of ACV. These uses have their origins in ancient or folk medicine, or in “natural remedies” your grandmother or a naturopath may have suggested. However, small studies have been done on animals or humans suggesting that there’s some science behind the beliefs.

Weight loss

This is the one you hear most about, and limited research reports that apple cider vinegar consumption (with a meal) made people feel fuller and eat less. It also shows that around 200 test subjects lost weight and belly fat when consuming ACV daily. (8) It was a relatively small amount of weight, however, which is why medical experts aren’t buying into the ACV diet just yet. Some also believe that drinking an ACV solution helps the body produce growth hormone which breaks down fat cells – since acetic acid helps break down protein into the amino acids needed to make the hormone.

Heart health

Only animal studies have been done in this area so far, but early indications are good. In those studies, acetic acid (the primary active ingredient in ACV) has been shown to have a positive effect on many of the risk factors for heart disease. It’s been shown to lower triglycerides and cholesterol pressure thanks to its antioxidant properties, (9) and lower high blood pressure as well.

You might also be interested in Apple Cider Vinegar For Heartburn Seems Crazy – Does It Work?

Possible Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

A number of other reputed benefits of ACV are based on anecdotal evidence, but many are backed up by scientific theory about why the vinegar “should” be able to work for certain medical conditions.

Skin Issues

For centuries, one of the most common apple cider vinegar uses has been applying it to dry skin as a moisturizer. Many also use it to treat problems like eczema, acne and dandruff. The theory is that the acid in ACV helps in two ways: restoring the skin’s natural protective barriers by balancing its natural pH level, and alleviating skin infections thanks to ACV’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Test outcomes are mixed and the National Eczema Association’s verdict is “possibly.” However, many people swear by their results, and there are even those who use diluted ACV to treat insect bites or as a deodorant.

You might also be interested in Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne: How It Works, How To Do It

Colds and Sore Throats

A popular home remedy for colds and sore throats is a mix of warm water, ACV and raw honey; another variation is a gargle made from water and vinegar. Do those apple cider vinegar drinks or gargles have any scientific basis behind them? Well, none that are proven by research, but the probiotic effect of the mother may boost immunity, and acetic acid may loosen the mucus that builds up during a cold. The vitamins in ACV may help, too.

To learn more, see Apple Cider Vinegar For Sore Throat: Pros, Cons And Science

Digestive System Issues

Again, there’s no definitive proof. But many people use apple cider vinegar (remember, always dilute it) to help with digestive issues like heartburn and acid reflux, indigestion and even more serious illnesses like ulcerative colitis. There’s a small amount of evidence suggesting that acetic acid might lower production of the stomach acid that causes reflux, and that it can reduce the inflammation in the colon related to UC. At least, that’s been demonstrated in rats. (10)

Other Purported Benefits

Some people believe that other apple cider vinegar benefits include curing yeast infections and whitening teeth. There are people who use it as the key ingredient in their skin toner or body detox drink, and others who add two cups of the vinegar to their bath. As long as the ACV is sufficiently diluted, there’s no harm in trying most of these approaches (except, perhaps, the yeast infection one). What about the claim that ACV can help cure cancer? A few studies show there might be some promise, but right now, it’s mostly wishful thinking.

How to Consume Apple Cider Vinegar

Experts say the best way to use ACV is to include it in marinades and salad dressings. Mixing it with ingredients such as olive oil and lemon juice will not only dilute the vinegar sufficiently, but make its harsh, acidic taste easier to take.

If you’re going to drink it with meals or before bed, the recommended combination is 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with a large glass of water. Just don’t overdo it; as we’ve mentioned, too much ACV can cause a number of side effects you really don’t want to experience.