Apple Cider Vinegar – Helpful or Just Hype?

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is probably one of the most widely known “natural cures” on the market today.  I started drinking it to help with upset stomachs, and continued because of the reputed health benefits.  Several friends use it to treat heartburn and swear by it, and these are not the types of people who normally try “natural” remedies.

Despite centuries of use, there has been very little research on apple cider vinegar.  Evidence of its benefits are almost entirely anecdotal, leading many to question its use.  An internet search produces endless results for ACV, with suggested uses ranging from practical and plausible to questionable, and even dangerous.

It’s hard to sort through the hype, but there are a few areas where ACV seems to stand out consistently.  Some these benefits are even backed by supporting research!

ACV Helps with Weight Loss

I’m guessing you’ve heard about ACVs “amazing” ability to help dieters drop weight quickly.  Proponents recommend consuming 1-2 tablespoons in a glass of water 15 minutes before meals.  While there is research to support these claims, the actual results are modest.  Over twelve weeks, research participants lost between 2 and 4 pounds and showed a reduction in belly fat as measured by decreased waist circumference.  While it is something, it is certainly not a “weight loss miracle.” (1, 2)

Apple cider vinegar has been shown to increase feelings of fullness, leading to lower caloric intake, and gradual weight loss.  In addition, ACV helps lower glucose levels which may also contribute to weight loss. (3)

ACV Decreases Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

Apple cider vinegar has shown effects on both glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.  Research indicates that the acetic acid in vinegar interferes with enzymes responsible for the digestion of starches, slowing their digestion and resulting in a less intense sugar surge after a carb-heavy meal.

Vinegar also increases insulin sensitivity, which results in increased glucose uptake and decreased blood sugar.  Some athletes rely on these benefits when carb-loading before endurance events – it helps store more glucose for later release as energy. (4)

Increased insulin sensitivity is also important for decreasing the risk of developing insulin resistance – a growing problem in our society.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body produces insulin, but cannot use the insulin effectively.  High levels of insulin remain in the blood, along with excess glucose.  Insulin resistance is a precursor to Type II Diabetes and one of the risk factors identified in metabolic syndrome.  It is also directly linked with heart disease, arteriosclerosis, fatty liver, and skin tags.  By allowing the body to more effectively use the insulin it produces, both glucose and insulin levels are reduced.

Vinegar has shown these effects in healthy subjects as well as those diagnosed with insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes. (5)

ACV Aids Digestion and Relieves Heartburn

Alleviating “stomach” issues is one of the reasons many give for consuming ACV.  While there is not a lot of supporting research, it seems to be an effective remedy for both nausea (including nerve-induced “butterflies” in my experience) and heartburn.  I can’t say that I understand how it works, but there are a few theories.

One is that ACV increases the acidity of the stomach, which decreases our own production of acids resulting in a more “settled” feeling and less reflux.  ACV seems to be particularly effective for those who do not find relief from traditional antacids.  Interestingly, the same study indicates that ACV is less effective in those who respond well to traditional antacids (such as Tums). (6)

Another theory is that the increased acidity improves digestion, resulting in faster emptying of the stomach and therefore less reflux.  A final theory is that vinegar may “shock” the lower esophageal sphincter, making it difficult for acid to work its way into the esophagus.

Please be aware that vinegar is NOT recommended for those with erosive heartburn or other erosive GI issues, as it will aggravate these conditions.

ACV Relieves Pain from Arthritis and Gout

The internet abounds with testimonials regarding ACV’s ability to effectively reduce arthritis pain, with many users reporting substantial relief within hours or days.  This includes the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

It is suggested that some of the enzymes in ACV, particularly antioxidants, are responsible for its anti-inflammatory actions.  In addition, some argue that because ACV turns “alkaline” when it is metabolized in the body, it results in a less acidic overall pH.  This leads to reduced systemic inflammation which then leads to reduced painful swelling in the joints.

Many believe that ACV’s ability to break up uric acid crystals and reduce levels in the blood further contributes to its effectiveness in treating gout.

There are no scientific studies to support these claims, but I thought it worth mentioning because so many do find ACV to be an effective treatment for these conditions.  It’s worth googling…

Various Other Uses

Like any vinegar, ACV is a potent antimicrobial/antiseptic.  It may be useful in fighting off or preventing colds, flus, and GI bugs.  In addition to it’s internal benefits, it can be used as a soak for athlete’s foot or other fungal infections.  Many people use it as an effective, non-toxic household cleanser and disinfectant.  It can also be used to safely wash fresh produce.  The odor fades quickly!

Many people find it effective for treating skin irritations including sun burns and bug bites.  I haven’t tried it on a sunburn (ouch!), but it does help with bug bites.  ACV is also used as a hair rinse, to soften and condition while bringing out shine by removing residue.  Honestly, the smell did not dissipate quickly enough for me to try this a second time!

What is the “Mother?”

When purchasing apple cider vinegar, you should look for unfiltered, organic varieties with the “mother.”  The mother is the culture that turns cider into vinegar, and appears as a murky, stringy blob in the bottle.  This blob contains beneficial enzymes, amino acids, probiotics, and trace minerals that are believed to contribute to many of ACV’s beneficial effects.

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar can be used safely by most people.  If you’re planning to drink it, it should be diluted it first, usually about 1 tablespoon of ACV to 8-12 ounces of water.

Vinegar is an acid, which means that it can burn your mouth, throat, skin, etc. if used full strength.

Even diluted, many recommend drinking AVC through a straw and not brushing your teeth immediately after to protect tooth enamel.

Some people find that the taste is too much.  You can try mixing ACV with an equal amount of honey, then adding that to water.  This concoction is also called “honegar” and is often found in older folk remedy guides.  This is a good way to enjoy honey’s beneficial effects as well as making the vinegar more palatable.

Finally…

I’ve barely scratched the surface of available information about apple cider vinegar.  I find this site interesting, although I wouldn’t necessarily take all of the information at face value.  It’s a good starting point and there is some interesting history and folklore mentioned on there. 🙂

I want to mention that the claims about the mineral content in apple cider vinegar are greatly exaggerated.  The minerals are present in trace amounts, with manganese being the highest at 2% RDA per tablespoon.  You would need a full cup of ACV to consume 5% of your daily potassium requirements.  That’s a lot of vinegar! (7)

Also, the health benefits attributed to acetic acid are not only found in apple cider vinegar.  All vinegars contain acetic acid, and different vinegars possess unique healthful properties as well.  Even if you love your ACV, it might be fun to experiment with different flavors!

Do you use apple cider vinegar regularly?  Please feel free to share your experiences!

 

Featured Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

 

 

 

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