Apple cider vinegar may be best known as a condiment, but it also has a rich history as a health supplement. Hippocrates, known as the founder of medicine, prescribed a drink made of apple cider vinegar for coughs. Common lore says Greek and Roman armies and Japanese samurais may have taken it to stay healthy.
If you hang out in modern health circles, you may wonder if apple cider vinegar has magical powers. A new apple cider vinegar trend has gone viral. It’s often touted as a cure-all that can ward off everything from acne and the common cold to cancer. Some celebrities and health gurus are downing straight shots of apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning, claiming it can stave off sugar cravings, clear the skin, and help with digestion and weight loss.
Should you jump on the bandwagon? Keep reading to learn what’s real and what’s hype when it comes to taking apple cider vinegar shots.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
First of all, it’s helpful to understand what apple cider vinegar is. The word vinegar means “sour wine.” Most commercial apple cider vinegar is made by adding sugar and yeast to freshly-pressed apple juice and keeping it in an air-tight vessel until it ferments into alcohol. At that point, the liquid is exposed to the air and inoculated with a specific strain of bacteria called a “mother culture,” which transforms it into acetic acid, also known as vinegar.
After two rounds of fermentation, most commercial apple cider vinegar is filtered and pasteurized. However, some is left raw and unfiltered, meaning the murky cellulose and bacteria in the mother culture are still present.
Both raw and pasteurized apple cider vinegar have an acetic acid level of 5 percent and can be used interchangeably for cooking. However, if you take apple cider vinegar as a health supplement, it may be better to choose the raw variety. The mother culture is harmless and contains polyphenols, compounds that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Folk legends about apple cider vinegar’s many virtues may be overblown, but modern research supports some of the most popular health claims.
Apple cider vinegar is especially powerful when it comes to lowering blood sugar, according to a number of studies. People who added 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar to a meal as a salad dressing in several studies saw a dramatic reduction in the spike in blood sugar and insulin after the meal. In one study, vinegar decreased the after-meal glucose levels of prediabetic subjects by 50 percent. In a different study, adding vinegar to rice lowered its glycemic index, which is a measurement of how much a food raises glucose levels, by 20 to 35 percent. These results are significant because half of adults in the U.S. have diabetes or prediabetes, and apple cider vinegar is a relatively safe, simple, and inexpensive way to lower post-meal blood sugar.
Moreover, research suggests apple cider vinegar may help with weight loss. In a 12-week double-blind Japanese study, obese participants were randomly assigned to ingest two cups of a beverage that contained two tablespoons, one tablespoon, or no apple cider vinegar. Both groups who drank vinegar saw modest but significant reductions in weight, body-mass index, and waist circumference compared to the control group. Moreover, similar effects were observed in a study of rats. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how drinking apple cider vinegar leads to weight loss, but studies suggest it may suppress the appetite and slow the rate of food leaving the stomach.
According to another study, apple cider vinegar may also help lower cholesterol levels. People who had an abnormally high concentration of lipids in the blood drank a beverage containing two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar twice a day and saw significant reductions in their triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Moderation is Best
Ready to throw back a few shots of apple cider vinegar? Not so fast. Vinegar has been used as a condiment for thousands of years, and it has a fairly solid safety record. However, it may not be a good idea to drink undiluted shots. Not only is drinking straight vinegar unpleasant, but medical case studies suggest apple cider vinegar may cause harm when consumed in excess.
Vinegar is acidic and corrosive. It erodes tooth enamel in a petri dish, and the same thing may happen in your mouth from drinking it undiluted or in large quantities. In one medical case study, a 15-year-old woman’s tooth enamel eroded after she started drinking a cup a day of apple cider vinegar for weight loss. In another case study, a 28-year-old woman developed low potassium levels and osteoporosis after ingesting a cup of vinegar per day for six years. (Osteoporosis is an extremely rare condition for someone her age.) Another woman damaged her throat and esophagus after drinking just one tablespoon of undiluted rice wine vinegar.
These are rare cases, but they suggest moderation is best when consuming vinegar. If you want to take it as a health supplement, many nutritionists recommend mixing one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with at least eight ounces of water. Rinse your mouth with water afterward to lower the risk of eroding your tooth enamel.
Apple cider vinegar probably isn’t the universal panacea its hype would suggest, but it has a long history as a health supplement for good reason. It’s been shown to lower blood sugar, help people lose weight, and reduce cholesterol levels. And the good news is, you don’t have to choke down a shot of it to get the benefits. Add a tablespoon or two to a glass of water or splash a capful on your next salad to add health benefits and a burst of flavor.
Abby Quillen writes about sustainability, green living, health, business, and other topics. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, YES! Magazine, and dozens of other publications. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her family. Visit her at abbyquillen.com.