Apple cider vinegar is the most popular type of vinegar in the natural health community. It is claimed to lead to all sorts of benefits, many of which are supported by science. This includes weight loss, reduced cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels and improved symptoms of diabetes. It is also an ancient folk remedy and has been used for various household and cooking purposes. Here are 6 health benefits of apple cider vinegar that are supported by scientific research.
Apple cider vinegar is made in a two-step process, related to how alcohol is made (1). The first step exposes crushed apples (or apple cider) to yeast, which ferment the sugars and turn them into alcohol. In the second step, bacteria are added to the alcohol solution, which further ferments the alcohol and turns it into acetic acid — the main active compound in vinegar.
In French, the word “vinegar” actually means “sour wine.” Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (like Bragg’s) also contains “mother,” strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky appearance. Some people believe that the “mother” is responsible for most of the health benefits, although there are currently no studies to support this.
Apple cider vinegar only contains about three calories per tablespoon, which is very low. There are not many vitamins or minerals in it, but it does contain a small amount of potassium. Quality apple cider vinegar also contains some amino acids and antioxidants.
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the sugar from apples. This turns them into acetic acid, which is the active ingredient in vinegar.
Can Kill Many Types of Harmful Bacteria
Vinegar can help kill pathogens, including bacteria (2). It has traditionally been used for cleaning and disinfecting, treating nail fungus, lice, warts, and ear infections. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used vinegar for wound cleaning over two thousand years ago.
Vinegar has also been used as a food preservative, and studies show that it inhibits bacteria (like E. coli) from growing in food and spoiling it (2, 3, 4). If you’re looking for a natural way to preserve your food, then apple cider vinegar could be highly useful. There have also been anecdotal reports of diluted apple cider vinegar helping with acne when applied to the skin, but I didn’t find any strong research to confirm this.
The main substance in vinegar, acetic acid, can kill harmful bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. It has a history of use as a disinfectant and natural preservative.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels and Fights Diabetes
By far, the most successful application of vinegar to date is in patients with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels, either because of insulin resistance or an inability to produce insulin (5). However, high blood sugar can also be a problem in people who don’t have diabetes. It is believed to be a major cause of aging and various chronic diseases.
Pretty much everyone should benefit from keeping their blood sugar levels in the normal range. The most effective (and healthiest) way to do that is to avoid refined carbs and sugar, but apple cider vinegar can also have a powerful effect.
Vinegar has been shown to have numerous benefits for blood sugar and insulin levels:
- Improves insulin sensitivity during a high-carb meal by 19–34% and significantly lowers blood sugar and insulin responses (6).
- Reduces blood sugar by 34% after eating 50 grams of white bread (7).
- 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bedtime can reduce fasting blood sugar in the morning by 4% (8).
- Numerous other studies in humans show that vinegar can improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels after meals (9, 10).
For these reasons, vinegar can be useful for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or those who want to keep their blood sugar levels low for other reasons.
If you’re currently taking blood-sugar-lowering medications, check with your doctor before increasing your intake of any type of vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar has shown great promise in improving insulin sensitivity and helping lower blood sugar responses after meals.
Lowers Cholesterol and Improves Heart Health
Heart disease is currently the world’s most common cause of premature death (14). It is known that several biological factors are linked to either a decreased or increased risk of heart disease.
Several of these “risk factors” can be improved by vinegar consumption, but many of the studies were done in animals.These animal studies suggest that apple cider vinegar can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, along with several other heart disease risk factors (15, 16, 17).
There are also some studies showing that vinegar reduces blood pressure in rats, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and kidney problems (18, 19). The only human evidence so far is an observational study from Harvard showing that women who ate salad dressings with vinegar had a reduced risk of heart disease (20).
But this type of study can only show an association, it cannot prove that the vinegar caused anything. As mentioned above, human studies also show that apple cider vinegar can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity and help fight diabetes. These factors should also lead to reduced risk of heart disease.
Several animal studies have shown that vinegar can reduce blood triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure. This could lead to a reduced risk of developing heart disease.
May Have Protective Effects Against Cancer
Cancer is a terrible disease characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells. There is a lot of hype online about the anti-cancer effects of apple cider vinegar. In fact, numerous studies have shown that various types of vinegar can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors (21, 22, 23).
However, all of the studies on this were done in isolated cells in test tubes, or rats, which proves nothing about what happens in a living, breathing human. That said, some observational studies in humans have shown that vinegar consumption is linked to decreased esophageal cancer in China but increased bladder cancer in Serbia (24, 25). It is possible that consuming apple cider vinegar may help prevent cancer, but this needs to be researched more before any recommendations can be made.
Some studies in test tubes and rats have shown that vinegar can slow the growth of cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Dosage and How to Use
The best way to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet is to use it in your cooking — for salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise and that sort of thing. Some people also like to dilute it with water and drink it as a beverage. Common dosages range from 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) to 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) per day, mixed in a large glass of water.
It’s best to start with small doses and avoid taking large amounts because too much vinegar can cause harmful side effects. It is recommended to use organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the “mother.”
Bragg’s seems to be the most popular option, which is available on Amazon along with tons of interesting testimonials and reviews that are fun to browse through. A common dosage for apple cider vinegar ranges from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons per day, either used in cooking or mixed in a glass of water.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of wild claims about apple cider vinegar on the internet. Some say that it can increase energy levels and have all sorts of beneficial effects on health. Unfortunately, many of these claims are not supported by science.
Of course, an absence of proof isn’t proof that something isn’t happening and anecdotes often end up becoming supported by science down the line. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for more studies since research on natural health products like these is both few and far between.
From the little evidence available, I think that apple cider vinegar may be useful and is definitely a good candidate for some experimentation if you’re interested in it. At the very least, apple cider vinegar seems to be safe as long as you don’t go overboard and take excessive amounts.
Apple cider vinegar also has various other non-health related uses like hair conditioning, skin care, dental care, pet use and as a cleaning agent (to name a few). These can be highly useful for people who like to keep things as natural and chemical-free as possible.
At the end of the day, apple cider vinegar appears to be very healthy. It’s not a “miracle” or a “cure-all” like some people seem to believe, but it does clearly have some important health benefits, especially for blood sugar and weight control.
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