Firmly rooted in folk medicine, apple cider vinegar has been cited as an all natural cure for a long list of health ailments. Some people believe this fermented, acidic liquid can speed up metabolism, melt away fat and cholesterol, improve blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure. Accomplishing all of these feats would make apple cider vinegar a miracle elixir! Drinking apple cider vinegar may harbor some wellness benefits, but proof of its magical powers is scant. If you decide to try this ancient remedy, make sure you know of its caveats before jumping on the apple cider vinegar bandwagon.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is a type of vinegar made by the fermentation of apple cider. During the fermentation process, sugar in the apple cider is broken down by bacteria and yeast into alcohol, then into vinegar. Like many types of vinegar, apple cider vinegar contains a substance called acetic acid. Apple cider vinegar also contains:
- lactic acid
- citric acid
- malic acid
The History of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a long history of being used for health purposes, dating back to the time of Hippocrates who considered this fermented cider to be a health tonic. However, the medicinal use of apple cider vinegar became popularly known when the book Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor’s Guide to Good Health, written by D.C. Jarvis, MD, was published in 1958. Jarvis recommended apple cider vinegar as a cure-all, explaining that:
- it was unusually rich in potassium
- mixing it with honey enhanced its healing power
- it could destroy harmful bacteria in the digestive tract
- it was a digestive tonic when consumed with meals
Proof Behind Apple Cider Vinegar’s Health Claims
More recent claims of apple cider vinegar revolve around its use for weight control and cardiovascular health. To get a better idea of what science says about apple cider vinegar, the evidence supporting its most common uses are described below:
- Weight Control – Despite the diet fad touting apple cider vinegar, there is little scientific support for the claim that it can help weight loss. Proponents of this approach typically quote a 2006 study finding that people who drank vinegar while eating bread reported feeling more full than people who ate bread alone. However, only 12 individuals were involved in this study – definitely not enough to draw any solid conclusions.
- Cholesterol and Blood Pressure – There is one study showing that vinegar could lower cholesterol and another finding that it could lower blood pressure, but these were both small trials done on rats. In a 2009 study, tests on mice found that acetic acid may help prevent the buildup of body fat and certain liver fats. Unfortunately, it is a major stretch to assume these results would apply to humans as there are key differences between the metabolisms of rats, mice and humans.
- Diabetes – The most promising evidence for apple cider vinegar is for helping diabetes. Although the studies were small, one found that two tablespoons of vinegar at bedtime reduced blood sugar levels the next morning in type 2 diabetics. The other study found that apple cider vinegar taken before meals significantly increased insulin sensitivity and dramatically reduced the insulin and glucose spikes that occur after meals.
Apple Cider Vinegar Cautions
Even though it is considered a food, drinking apple cider vinegar every day has several hazards:
- Acidic – Apple cider vinegar is very acidic and should always be diluted with water or juice before consumption. Full strength apple cider vinegar can damage tooth enamel, and burn tissues in the mouth and the throat.
- Mineral Imbalance – Long-term use of apple cider vinegar can cause hypokalemia (low potassium level in the blood) and low bone mineral density. Those with low potassium levels or osteoporosis are advised to discuss apple cider vinegar with a physician prior to taking it.
- Medication Interaction – Apple cider vinegar has the potential to interact with several types of drugs including diuretics, laxatives and diabetic, heart disease and blood pressure medications. Anyone taking any of these drugs is urged to consult with a physician prior to supplementing with apple cider vinegar.
Many of us are constantly seeking new ways to improve our waistline, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and overall health. As such, apple cider vinegar may appear to be a natural strategy for achieving these goals. In reality, the evidence to date supporting this vinegar’s healthfulness is tenuous, with the most hope for helping lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics. Although concrete evidence does not yet exist, some may hope for the best and try this ancient folk remedy anyway. In that case, make sure you are aware of apple cider vinegar’s acidity, its ability to interfere with blood and bone mineral balance and potential to interfere with medications – and always take the proper precautions to ensure your safety.