Look up ‘apple cider vinegar benefits’, and you will likely find a vast array of claims, from aiding weight loss and lowering cholesterol to boosting skin health. There are books entirely devoted to its advocated benefits, health bloggers hailing its wonders, and – in true superfood fashion – it has even recently become the flavouring of a healthy popcorn.
But, you may be wondering what the science says? While further research is still needed, there is some evidence suggesting that apple cider vinegar – or ACV, as it is often called – may have some healthful properties. Carol S. Johnston, associate director of nutrition at Arizona State University, runs through the potential benefits apple cider benefits:
1. Apple cider vinegar is natural
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the natural sugars found in fresh apples. Producers extract the juice and add yeast, which ferments and turn into alcohol. They add bacteria for a second fermentation, turning it into acetic acid; the active ingredient in vinegar.
Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar contains strands of proteins, enzymes and probiotic bacteria called the mother; a substance that is said to be responsible for the healthful apple cider vinegar benefits. ‘There is little scientific evidence available,’ says Johnston. ‘Research may reveal benefits – but the research has not been conducted.’
2. May aid weight loss
A handful of small human studies have shown that vinegar may increase feelings of fullness, causing people to eat fewer calories. One study by Johnston’s team at Arizona State University found participants ate up to 275 fewer calories per day and lost weight.
However, Johnston stresses that vinegar should not be seen as a magic bullet for weight loss. ‘To achieve consistent, measurable weight loss, one is best advised to manage calorie intake and exercise,’ she says. ‘To date, there is no scientific evidence that vinegar ingestion would lead to the degree of weight loss expected by most who desire to lose weight.’
3. Has antibacterial properties
Apple cider vinegar can help kill pathogens, and has a long history of use as a natural food preservative. The main compound in the vinegar, called acetic acid, destroys harmful bacteria and prevents them from multiplying. One test tube study found that apple cider vinegar was effective at killing Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus – the bacteria responsible for staph infections.
4. Has anti-fungal properties
Some research suggests that apple cider vinegar has potential as an anti-fungal treatment. A case report from Cairo University describes a man with type 2 diabetes who had a persistent fungal infection in the mouth. It was due to Candida, a common cause of fungal infections that can become resistant to drug treatment in certain individuals. After applying apple cider vinegar to the mouth twice a day for seven days, there was a 94 per cent reduction in fungal count.
4. Helps regulate blood sugar
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by elevated blood sugar – also believed to be a major cause of other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease – so keeping blood sugar levels stable is highly important. ‘The best established health benefit of vinegar is its antiglycemic (blood sugar reducing) effect,' explains Johnston.
Diluting one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in one (250ml) cup of water and drinking it at the start of the meal will reduce a spike in blood glucose, she says. ‘The spike is most pronounced following a starchy meal – breads, pasta, rice, pizza, etcetera – and this is the type of meal most impacted by vinegar ingestion.
‘The active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid,’ Johnston continues. ‘This small fatty acid molecule appears to interfere with the digestion of starch to individual glucose molecules in the small intestine. Thus, less glucose is available for absorption and postprandial glycaemia (post-meal blood sugar rise) is reduced.’
6. May help manage skin conditions
A few studies have examined the use of apple cider vinegar in treating skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. If you have scalp psoriasis, applying organic apple cider vinegar to the area can help reduce the itching sensation, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Since skin is naturally acidic, diluting apple cider vinegar before applying it topically is thought to help rebalance the natural pH of the skin and improve the skin barrier. Its antibacterial properties are believed to have infection-fighting potential when treating conditions such as acne.
A study in the Annals of Dermatology found that treating mice that had eczema with a vinegar cream resulted in fewer flare-ups and improved the skin barrier. However, 22 people with eczema reported that apple cider vinegar soaks did not improve their skin barrier and caused skin irritation in a study by the University of Virginia.
Additionally, research published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology cautioned against applying undiluted vinegar directly to skin, as it can cause burns.
7. May help treat high cholesterol
Cholesterol is vital for the normal functioning of the body, but having high levels increases your risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease. In a study from the University of Tunis El Manar, obese rats who were given a daily dose of apple cider vinegar saw reductions in their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
The bottom line
Some apple cider vinegar benefits have shown potential in early studies. But of the few scientific studies that do exist, most have either been conducted on animals, are very small scale, or took place solely in the confines of a petri dishes, and as such are not robust enough to draw real-life applications from.
There are health hazards to be aware of, too. Drinking a lot of apple cider vinegar can damage your teeth, hurt your throat, and upset your stomach. Consuming too much apple cider vinegar may cause your potassium levels to drop too low. It may also interfere with certain medicines, such as insulin or diuretics, preventing them from working.
Vinegar has been used as a remedy for centuries. But far more research is needed before it can be recommended as an alternative to existing – and proven – therapies, medications and treatments.
Last updated: 21-07-2020
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