Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar: What the Science Says

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on May 19, 2017Written by Annette McDermott on May 3, 2013
apple vinegar

Vinegar has been around for thousands of years. It’s an ancient folk remedy used to treat many health conditions.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is no exception. ACV is made from fermented apples, bacteria, and yeast. It has a tangy flavor and sharp aroma.

Many people consider ACV to be a miracle treatment, relieving everything from acne to high blood pressure. While scientific research does support some of the claims, more research is needed on the health benefits of ACV.

Let’s look at which benefits are supported by research and which are not.

1. Stabilizes blood sugar

Evidence suggests that ACV helps keep blood sugar levels stable. This benefit may be a result of ACV’s acetic acid content. Acetic acid is thought to have antiglycemic properties, which are blood sugar-lowering properties.

According to one study by researchers at Arizona State University, drinking 20 grams (4 teaspoons) of ACV in 40 grams (8 teaspoons) of water before eating a high-starch meal can decrease fluctuations of insulin and blood sugar after the meal.

Another study by the Arizona State University researchers shows that adding vinegar to a high-glycemic meal may help reduce blood sugar spikes after eating.

If you have well-controlled type 2 diabetes, further research from Arizona State University suggests you’ll have better fasting glucose levels when you wake up if you take ACV before bedtime.

The research is encouraging, but more large-scale and long-term studies are needed to know if ACV is an effective complementary diabetes treatment. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding it to your diabetes management plan.

Takeaway: The acetic acid in ACV may help control your blood sugar levels after eating and when fasting.

Read more: Does apple cider vinegar help with diabetes? »

2. Improves cholesterol and triglyceride numbers

Regular doses of ACV may decrease cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Both cholesterol and triglycerides are types of fats that circulate throughout your body in your blood.

Excess cholesterol or triglycerides in your blood may build up in artery walls, causing a condition called atherosclerosis. This increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

According to a study in rats conducted by researchers from the Mizkan Group Corporation and the University of Shizuoka in Japan, the acetic acid in vinegar may help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides when consumed with a high-cholesterol diet. Because this study was done on rats, we don’t yet know if the same results would occur in humans.

Other research conducted at Babol University of Medical Sciences in Iran has found that ACV can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol. The researchers also suggest that ACV may be used to prevent atherosclerosis and other heart problems. This study was done on a small number of people, so further research is needed to confirm the results.

Takeaway: Promising studies show that ACV may improve your cholesterol levels. More research to evaluate the effect of ACV on cholesterol numbers in humans is needed.

3. Promotes weight loss

Studies show that ACV may play a role in weight loss.

According to one study by the Central Research Institute of the Mizkan Group Corporation in Japan, obese individuals who drank a daily dose of vinegar lost more body weight and body fat than those in a placebo group.

ACV may also help keep you full longer, according to a preliminary study on rats conducted by researchers at the Université d'Oran in Algeria. And because high blood sugar can make you hungrier, ACV’s ability to lower blood sugar may also keep you from packing on unwanted pounds.

Also, ACV can be a good replacement for more fattening foods. It’s naturally low in calories and contains no fat. Combining ACV with a small amount of olive oil, water, or lemon juice could help you stay away from high-fat, high-calorie salad dressings and marinades.

Takeaway: ACV may help you lose weight by keeping you full, reducing your calorie intake, and preventing blood sugar spikes.

apple vinegar salad

4. Prevents illness

ACV has been used for centuries as a natural cleaner and disinfectant, and for good reason.

The acetic acid in vinegar is effective in killing bacteria that cause tuberculosis, according to one observational study by researchers at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Université de Montpellier, and the Universidad Central de Venezuela. The study’s researchers concluded that vinegar may act against most other bacteria and should be considered as a general sanitizer.

In other research at Instituto de la Grasa (CSIC) in Seville, Spain, vinegar showed strong antibacterial activity against several strains of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli 0157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Takeaway: There’s some evidence that using ACV as a household disinfectant may help keep you healthy by killing common bacteria that could make you sick.

5. Fights cancer

Vinegar is hailed by many as a natural cancer cure. However, the reality isn’t that clear.

A review of research by scientists at Arizona State University found that some kinds of vinegar may have antitumor effects against certain types of cancers. It’s unclear exactly why.

One theory, supported by older research by scientists at the University of Kentucky, claims that the acetic acid in vinegar stops a cell process called glycolysis. Cancer cells get their energy from this process, and research conducted at Johns Hopkins suggests interfering with cancer cell glycolysis may be a treatment option.

Another theory relates to vinegar’s content of polyphenols, which are antioxidants. Research by scientists at the University of Crete in Greece has shown that polyphenols can slow the growth of cancer cells.

Takeaway: Some research implies that vinegar may help prevent cancer. Studies are vague, however, and more research is needed.

6. Lowers blood pressure

High blood pressure is a silent condition that may cause heart disease or stroke if left untreated.

According to one study by researchers from the Mizan Group Corporation and Kyoto University in Japan, acetic acid — which is found in ACV — reduces blood pressure and renin activity. Renin is an enzyme that helps regulate blood pressure. This study was done in rats, so further research is needed to see if the results apply to humans.

Takeaway: The acetic acid in vinegar may help you manage high blood pressure. Use the vinegar with caution if you take medications to lower your blood pressure.

Anecdotal uses for apple cider vinegar

Many people claim that ACV will cure almost anything that ails you. However, science doesn’t back up much of the hype. Still, that doesn’t mean the claims aren’t true — only that they’re yet to be proven right or wrong.

Easing heartburn

Many people claim that drinking diluted ACV before each meal helps prevent heartburn.

It’s thought to work by introducing more acid into the digestive tract. Too little acid in the digestive tract may cause heartburn in some people.

Scientific research is needed before ACV can be recommended as an effective heartburn treatment.

Soothing sunburn

Diluted ACV is sometimes used to soothe sunburns.

This home remedy should be used with caution, though. It may actually burn the skin of some people. According to a case reported in 2012 by doctors from Yale University, an 8-year-old boy experienced chemical burns when ACV was applied to his infected leg.

Relieving diarrhea

Some people claim that ACV treats diarrhea because it contains pectin, a type of soluble fiber.

Research conducted at the Second Military Medical University in Nanjing, China has shown that pectin supports healthy gut bacteria and may help diarrhea caused by irritable bowel syndrome.

But there’s a catch. There’s not a lot of pectin in 1 to 2 teaspoons of ACV, which is a typical dose. And drinking higher amounts of ACV may irritate your stomach instead of soothing it.

If you want to add pectin to your diet, you may be better off eating a raw apple instead.

Other anecdotal uses

While some people claim it works, there’s no scientific evidence yet that ACV is effective as a hair conditioner or a wart remover. There’s also no evidence yet that it can help treat or relieve:

  • acne
  • body odor
  • bad breath

Risks of apple cider vinegar

We’ve learned about what ACV can and can’t do for certain health conditions. An important question remains: Is it safe?

The answer is, ACV is generally considered safe to use in a diluted form, such as mixed with water. You can drink diluted ACV or apply it to your skin.

Drinking ACV straight, however, is another story.

ACV is highly acidic and may burn your mouth, throat, or esophagus. It may also irritate your stomach if you drink too much.

Also, according to a 2012 study from Uit de Bambodino kinderpraktijk in Rotterdam, Netherlands, drinking ACV daily may cause tooth erosion. Tooth erosion may cause dental sensitivity, yellowed teeth, and tooth decay. To help prevent tooth erosion, drink diluted ACV through a straw, and rinse your mouth with water afterwards.

Consuming too much ACV is also a risk. It may lower your potassium levels and weaken your bones. It may also cause nausea or stomach pain.

The takeaway

ACV has shown promise for treating a handful of health conditions. However, much of the research is older or was performed in test tubes or on animals. And many other claims about ACV’s health benefits aren’t supported by research.

More studies are needed to determine the benefits and risks of using ACV for most conditions.

That said, some research suggests that consuming daily doses of ACV in a safe manner may help:

  • stabilize your blood sugar
  • improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • promote weight loss
  • protect you from common bacteria that cause illness

If you’re looking for nonmedicinal ways to address these concerns, ACV may be a good option for you.

However, be sure to talk to your doctor before trying ACV or other natural remedies to treat a health condition. Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits and risks of using ACV and help you decide if it’s a good addition to your medicine cabinet.

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