Apple Cider Vinegar..What is it good for?
As a dietitian, I frequently hear stories about people’s experiences with certain supplements, diets, or other concoctions they “swear by.” Apple cider vinegar is one that people sing the praises of. As I’ve told you before, when a food item becomes “all the rage,” I feel obligated to dig deeper and find out if there is validity in its reported benefits. What I discovered is that there is little research validating the variety of claims it has regarding its ability to cure everything from acne and dandruff to heart disease and diabetes. Most of what you read is anecdotal, yet many continue to use it religiously.
Is it the placebo effect? Just because research hasn’t been done doesn’t necessarily mean that the evidence isn’t there. It just has yet to be documented.
- Vinegar, which means “sour wine” in French, is said to have been discovered 5000 years ago when grape juice was left unattended and in time evolved into wine and then vinegar.
- Vinegar is created through a long, slow fermentation process.
- For Apple Cider Vinegar (AVC), first crushed apples (or apple cider) are exposed to yeast, which ferment the sugars and turn them into alcohol.
- Next, bacteria are added to the alcohol solution, which further ferment the alcohol and turn it into acetic acid, which is the main active compound in vinegar.
- This process yields a substance rich in bioactive components like acetic acid, gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, caffeic acid, among others.
- These substances make vinegar a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial agent.
- Vinegar can be made my fermenting any carbohydrate including grapes, beets, potatoes, rice, etc, and in this case, apples.
It was first used as a preservative and then became a vital antidote in the medical world. Hippocrates used vinegar to treat wounds. In the 1700s, medical practitioners used it to treat everything from poison ivy and croup to stomach aches. Sung Tse, Father of Forensic Medicine, supported washing hands in vinegar to avoid infection during autopsies. Today, vinegar is commonly used as a household cleaner.
Now, Apple Cider Vinegar has hit celebrity status through promotion by Dr. Oz and Katy Perry, among others.
You’ll find ACV in health food stores as well as common grocery stores. It is naturally golden, like apple juice. You might notice that when you purchase organic, unpasteurized ACV, it has a cloudy mass at the bottom. This cloudy mass is actually called the “mother.” It resembles the sediment you’ll find in kombucha, a fermented tea. This sediment shouldn’t scare you because it’s the source of the beneficial acids reported above. If you use ACV, shake the bottle first to disperse the “mother” throughout the vinegar.
So, what are the reported claims? What is the reasoning behind them?
There are many, so today we’ll just tackle a few.
- Weight Loss
Proponents of the apple cider vinegar diet claim that drinking a small amount of apple cider vinegar before meals or taking an apple cider vinegar supplement helps curb appetite and burn fat. According to Katherine Zaratsky, RD, and contributor to the Mayo Clinic blog, there’s little scientific support for these claims. Although occasional use of apple cider vinegar is safe for most people, it won’t likely lead to weight loss . Zaratsky cautions that apple cider vinegar is highly acidic and may irritate your throat if you drink it often or in large amounts. Additionally, it may interact with certain supplements or drugs, including diuretics and insulin and may contribute to low potassium levels. Key take away: if you wish to consume it, do so in small amounts (1-2 tbsp) diluted in water or another beverage. It isn’t likely to help reduce your waistline.
When it comes to weight loss, there is no magic pill. The true magic comes when you combine a healthy diet with consistent exercise. Choose a variety of healthy foods — such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein.
Some say that, when taken before meals, apple cider vinegar can help stimulate HCl (hydrochloric acid) production in the stomach. HCL helps break food down, thus improving digestion. The recommended dose is to take 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 2 to 4 ounces of water before large meals. I decided to try this out. It didn’t end well for me. Instead of improving digestion, it causes severe stomach pain/burning. However, I already have slightly higher stomach acid levels, so it wouldn’t be surprising that adding more acid would result in a burning sensation. (I should have heeded Katherine Zaratsky’s warning that it was highly acidic). Nonetheless, this is one benefit that many of my friends stand by. They consume it daily and report having less bloating. If you don’t have high stomach acid levels, it wouldn’t hurt you to try it out.
- Sore Throat
The antibacterial properties in apple cider vinegar may be helpful in killing off bacteria that cause a sore throat. My mom used to have me do this as I child and it worked like a charm every time. Gargle with a mixture of 1 tbsp ACV to 1 tbsp water.
- Improve Insulin Sensitivity
This one really surprised me. The Diabetes Care Journal of the American Diabetes Association conducted studies on the impact of apple cider vinegar on insulin sensitivity in Diabetic Patients. They concluded that vinegar “may possess physiological effects similar to acarbose or metformin by significantly improving postprandial insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects.” They also found that consuming 2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar before bed improved morning blood sugar levels in well controlled Type 2 Diabetic patients. Furthermore, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that showed the benefits of acetic acid (found in vinegar) of improving glucose response with bread consumption in non-diabetic individuals.
So should you use it?
If you are one of the many who feel a benefit from incorporating it into your regimen, I won’t take it from you ☺ If you’ve never tried it…you’re not missing out on any extreme health benefits, so don’t feel obligated to experiment now. Note that if you keep the servings sizes to 1-2 tbsp, there is little harm that can be done. I wouldn’t advise taking it for weight loss, but if you are trying to improve blood sugar levels, the evidence does support the benefits.
Always inform your doctor if you are on current medication for blood sugar management. ACV is a tried and true cleaning agent, so if you want to give your kitchen sink a good cleaning, mix ACV in a spray bottle with water and start disinfecting! ☺