I’m sure you’ve seen the many articles about apple cider vinegar over the past few months. Claims about this common household item run the gamut of everything from preventing cancer, fighting diabetes and lowering blood sugar, to preventing heart attacks, aiding digestion, and clearing acne—and more!
Apple cider vinegar, or ACV as it is often called, is a vinegar made from apple cider that has been fermented. It contains acetic acid and lactic acid, as well as beneficial bacteria. It has been around for literally thousands of years and used in a variety health applications.
Is this the new miracle health cure that has been sitting in our pantry all along? Can apple cider vinegar REALLY do all this stuff? Let’s take a look at some of these claims.
Apple Cider Vinegar and Diabetes/Blood Sugar Control
Apple cider vinegar or ACV is thought to be anti-glycemic and actually does have a beneficial effect on blood sugar. ACV contains a substance called acetic acid (which is also in kombucha fermented tea), that helps to prevent the breakdown of some carbohydrates, so the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose is actually slowed down. And yes, there are actual scientific studies that have been done on this. One study from Arizona State University, published in Diabetes Care Journal, showed that apple cider vinegar significantly improved postprandial (post-meal) insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects.
Test subjects took a drink of 20 grams of apple cider vinegar, 40 grams of water, and 1 teaspoon of saccharin with each meal. (Use stevia NOT saccharin!) Those with insulin resistance who drank the vinegar had 34% lower postprandial (after-meal) glucose compared to controls. The especially interesting finding is that those who were diagnosed with pre-diabetes had the biggest reaction and the ACV actually lowered their blood glucose better than the healthy participants.
The acetic acid in the vinegar is thought to suppress the enzyme disaccharidase, which breaks down starch in the body. Slowing down the breakdown of starch means less of it is absorbed–meaning that drinking an apple cider vinegar and water combination immediately before a meal may create an effect similar to taking the diabetes drug, Acarbose or Metformin.
Other studies show that using ACV at bedtime can also reduce the fasting blood glucose in those with blood sugar issues, showing that the vinegar may also promote insulin production during the nighttime.
For such a simple, inexpensive product that you find on your grocery store shelf, it is actually amazing that apple cider vinegar can actually have this much effect on type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, very much like the three different classes of diabetes drugs that are commonly given.
ACV is also considered helpful for those with type 1 diabetes as well, especially for helping with post-meal glucose control. Especially considering that postprandial blood sugar control is one of the major factors that make up the A1C measurement—a measurement of blood sugar control over a period of approximately three months.
Keep in mind, if you decide to start incorporating ACV into your diet; if you are diabetic, inform your doctor. Apple cider vinegar is effective enough to affect medication dosages.
Bottom Line: Yes, ACV works to help lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity.
Heart Health, Blood Pressure, And Cholesterol Control
Another one of apple cider vinegar’s claims is heart and cardiovascular health. How effective is ACV for helping with this serious disease? We know that hypertension, or high blood pressure is a serious risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. There are actual scientific studies with apple cider vinegar and blood pressure, although the studies were conducted on rats, not humans. One study showed that the acetic acid in the vinegar significantly reduced both blood pressure (p<0.05) and renin activity (p<0.01) compared to the control group given no vinegar. Other studies on animals have shown similar significant results on blood pressure as well, such as this one also conducted on animals. While studies on animals are not as reliable as studies conducted with human subjects, the results are still considered significant, and applicable to humans. Further studies with humans are recommended.
While most of us have come to the conclusion that cholesterol is not as harmful as we once thought, LDL cholesterol can still be a contributing factor in heart disease and is often a result of chronically high blood sugar. Studies done with ACV have shown that vinegar can actually lower the harmful LDL cholesterol, while at the same time, increasing the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Apple cider vinegar also reduced triglyceride levels as well—another factor in heart disease.
Other research conducted at Babol University of Medical Sciences in Iran found ACV reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in those with high cholesterol. Researchers are suggesting that ACV may be used to prevent atherosclerosis and other related heart disease factors. While this particular study was done on a small number of people, and further research on this is warranted, the results are still worth noting.
Bottom Line: ACV is effective in helping to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and raising HDL cholesterol.
What About Weight Loss?
ACV has been touted as the magic elixir to promote weight loss. Can this actually be true?
Yes! According to one of the most well-known studies by the Central Research Institute of the Mizkan Group Corporation in Japan, obese people in the study drank a daily dose of vinegar and actually lost more body weight and body fat than those in a placebo group. While the weight loss was modest, it was, however, significant. The 12-week experiment produced lower body weight, lower body mass index, less visceral fat, lower waist measurements and lower triglyceride levels.
How does this work?
One theory is that since apple cider vinegar plays a role in lowering blood sugar in diabetics, as we discussed above, it also lowers blood sugar in overweight people, helping their bodies to store less fat after eating. This study showed that even when subjects consumed some apple cider vinegar and ate a high carb meal that consisted of a bagel and fruit juice, they consumed less food and lower calories for the remainder of the day. In fact, they consumed 200-300 calories less. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, overall it resulted in about 1.5 to 2 pounds in a month—which can add up to 24 pounds in a year!
ACV is also thought to help people feel full, and since blood sugar and insulin response tend to make you feel hungrier, ACV may actually take away some of the hunger associated with eating less and dieting. Obviously, this is not a miracle weight-loss product, but when combined with a healthy, low carb diet of vegetables, naturally-raised proteins, and healthy fats, it could really be a dietary boost!
Bottom Line: ACV is an effective weight loss aid.
One of the claims about ACV is that it helps fight cancer; however, it doesn’t seem that as of yet, there is convincing evidence that ACV actually has an anti-cancer effect. While there have been some studies done that do show that some types of vinegar inhibited the growth of cancer cells in a lab, there has been no real evidence of apple cider vinegar actually stopping or slowing cancer in humans as of yet. And while one study actually found ingesting a type of vinegar decreased the risk of esophageal cancer, another study associated it with an increased risk for bladder cancer. It is thought that the acetic acid in vinegar may stop a cell process called glycolysis. Cancer cells gain energy from this process, allowing them to proliferate. Another cancer-fighting theory has to do with vinegar’s polyphenols—which are a type of antioxidant and their ability to slow cancer.
Cancer studies with vinegar are still vague and undeveloped, and much more research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn. As of this article, there is no real conclusive evidence that apple cider vinegar, or any other vinegar, for that matter, is effective in fighting cancer.
Bottom Line: ACV has not been shown conclusively to be an effective cancer fighter.
Infection Fighter and Medicinal Uses
Apple cider vinegar has a long history of being used for fighting bacteria and infections. In fact, all the way back to Hippocrates, who recommended a vinegar solution for treating sores and ulcerations in the skin. A mixture of honey and vinegar has also been used for thousands of years for sore throats and coughs. Try this one from Dr. Mercola: gargle with a mixture of about one-third cup of apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water as needed. Or try a warm apple cider vinegar solution with honey and ginger.
Recent scientific studies show some of the antimicrobial effects of vinegar, but mostly in food preparation, not as a skin treatment. In studies, vinegar solutions were slightly effective at inhibiting the growth of E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. Some investigations have shown that diluted vinegar works for ear infections, but it may also be irritating to inflamed skin.
Apple cider vinegar can be useful in treating acne and the bacteria that can cause acne. The acetic acid, lactic acid, and succinic acid it contains all fight the growth of Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. Some studies show that the acid in vinegar may be helpful in treating scarring, but generally the acid is used at much higher concentrations than what is found in ACV.
Bottom line: ACV is marginally helpful against some bacteria; however, there are many more effective natural antimicrobial solutions such as essential oils.
Relieves Acid Reflux and Helps Digestion
Many people suffer from acid reflux, otherwise known as GERD. Acid flows back up from the stomach, burning the esophagus, causing sometimes severe, heartburn symptoms. Excessive acid reflux can actually lead to ulceration and sometimes cancer of the esophagus.
Most conventional medical treatments involve acid reflux medication, which reduces stomach acid, creating serious nutritional deficiencies and digestive problems. These medications can even make you more susceptible to gastro-intestinal infections and stomach ulcers.
Acid reflux is actually thought to be a condition of too low of a level of certain types of stomach acid. The stomach actually tries to compensate for this problem by producing more acid, creating GERD. Digestive enzymes or apple cider vinegar may help this situation by creating a more optimal environment for digestion. Try diluting 1-2 tablespoons in an 8 oz glass of water and drinking just before eating. Avoiding dairy and gluten, and eating a diet of fresh vegetables, healthy fats and fermented foods like kombucha, will help even more.
Apple cider vinegar does contain healthy probiotics that work to add beneficial bacteria to your digestive system, which helps with immunity, mood, and digestion and absorption of nutrients. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of ACV to your diet along with other healthy fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha or kefir is very beneficial for your health.
Bottom Line: ACV can help with acid reflux and aids in digestion by adding beneficial bacteria.
What Kind to Buy
The best type of ACV is raw, organic, unprocessed apple cider vinegar. You may see little strands of ‘goo’ floating around in the mixture. Raw means the healthy bacteria are still present in the solution. This is actually good—as it often contains bits of the ‘mother’, the proteins, enzymes, bacteria and yeast which helps to create it. Avoid the processed, clear vinegars, as much of the healthy benefits—along with the beneficial bacteria—are processed out.
How to Take Apple Cider Vinegar
The easiest way to get ACV in your diet is to add it to your food. ACV makes one of the best salad dressings, mixed with olive oil and a touch of maple syrup. It also makes a great coleslaw dressing mixed with mayonnaise, or drizzled on fish to bring out its flavor. Add it to cooked greens to help you absorb more of the nutrients in the greens. Add it to any food that you would consider adding lemon juice to, as its tart flavor works well with a variety of dishes.
You can also drink ACV, mixed in a glass of water or juice, before meals or first thing in the morning. It is considered healthy and safe for most people but keep in mind, consuming too much of it can erode teeth, and upset the stomach. And be sure to let your doctor know if you are taking any prescription medications, especially any that help with blood sugar control or insulin.
While there seems to be news almost daily about apple cider vinegar and its amazing health claims, keep in mind this is a healthy food additive, but not a miracle health solution. Adding it to your daily diet of organic vegetables, naturally raised protein sources, and healthy fats is the best way to get all the health benefits from apple cider vinegar.
It’s apparent that much more research needs to be done on apple cider vinegar’s health claims. But we do know this—ACV is a great all-purpose ingredient to enhance your health and well-being and is a great natural food to keep in your kitchen cabinet.
Speaking of ACV…
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Johnston, C.S. and C.A. Gaas, Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect. MedGenMed, 2006. 8(2): p. 61.