Apple cider vinegar: Wishful thinking does not a health elixir make

October 29, 2018 Providence Health Team

Many health benefits have been attributed to the oral consumption or skin application of apple cider vinegar.

Most of these claims have not been substantiated with scientific evidence.

The undiluted use of apple cider vinegar can cause throat and skin burns, damage your teeth, upset your stomach, and interfere with medications.

You’ve probably seen or heard some extravagant health claims about apple cider vinegar (ACV). Recent headlines suggest it cures everything from obesity and diabetes, to acne and warts, to sore throats and digestive ailments. Many also tout its effectiveness as a cosmetic aid for better skin, nails and hair. Natural health proponents assert that it boosts your overall energy, improves heart health, and helps prevent cancer.

It’s all quite a lot to attribute to a substance that is basically fermented apple juice. As with many health fads, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While there is some promising research, most of the current health claims about ACV are unproven. In many cases, scientific results have been overblown in popular media, with related studies conducted on rats instead of humans, or simply too small to be very compelling.

Need some help deciphering the myths from the facts? Read on.

The science behind the myths

Perhaps of greatest general interest (with over 20 million Google hits) is whether ACV can help you lose weight. Overall, there’s not much evidence to support this claim. One promising research study about ACV’s effect on weight loss exposes rats to a high-fat diet alongside daily ACV consumption. It found a reduction in both body weight and appetite.

That’s great news if you’re an overweight rat, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to humans.

Another interesting study by Japanese researchers, on 155 obese human participants, suggests that vinegar (of any type) might help reduce body weight and fat, albeit by a modest amount — around 2 pounds over 12 weeks. Larger studies on additional populations are necessary to draw any further conclusions.

For now, continue to be skeptical of any weight loss method that doesn’t involve reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity.

A stronger case can be made for ACV’s ability to help control blood sugar levels.

However, a large-scale study on diabetic patients has yet to be conducted. One small study of healthy volunteers shows that vinegar might help lower glucose and insulin resistance, along with increasing satiety. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) shares a study demonstrating that vinegar improves insulin levels for individuals with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, and another that shares evidence drinking vinegar at bedtime helps moderate waking glucose levels in adults with well-controlled type 2 diabetes.

Beyond this, research suggests that ACV may have some impact on overall heart health, but it has mostly focused on animals, not humans, so no solid conclusions have been drawn.

There is not much out there to back the claim that ACV prevents cancer, either. Vinegar does have polyphenols (antioxidants), which may repair cell damage that could potentially lead to cancer, but cancer related studies involving ACV have shown mixed results – for instance, a decreased risk of gastric or esophageal cancer, but indicated as a risk factor for bladder cancer. Polyphenols can also be found in many other plant-based foods.

Other ACV health claims — such as its use to aid sore throats and other cold symptoms, digestive ailments, low energy levels, and more — are also unconfirmed by research.

What else do I need to know?

Because ACV’s health benefits are not widely studied, you might be tempted to give it a try “just in case.” For most people, consuming small (1-2 tablespoons) diluted amounts (in a large glass of water) of ACV is probably not harmful. But because there are no standard guidelines on what constitutes a safe amount, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider before trying it.

Some people are taking daily ACV “shots” or drinking large quantities of it. Others are placing it directly onto their skin to aid a variety of ailments. Drinking undiluted and/or large quantities of ACV, or placing undiluted ACV onto your skin, is not recommended. Drinking ACV can cause burns to your throat and damage tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay. It can also upset your stomach, lower potassium levels, weaken bones, and interact with certain medications. Placing undiluted ACV directly on your skin – for example, on a wart, acne, or sunburn – can cause skin burns and permanent scarring.

A safer way to ingest ACV is by topping your salad with this homemade vinaigrette dressing. There’s little doubt that the accompanying fresh, leafy greens will benefit your health.

Check out our “Health Myth Busters” video series for information on additional health-related myths and subscribe to our blog for more nutrition updates.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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