your natural self

Beyond the Hype: A Closer Look at the Supposed Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Published on February 04, 2024


By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

http://lisastockwell.com/
Beyond the Hype: A Closer Look at the Supposed Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Beyond the Hype: A Closer Look at the Supposed Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Raw, unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) has been a wellness staple in kitchen and bathroom cabinets for centuries. Today it’s become a bit of a craze.

The #applecidervinegarchallenge has had millions of followers for the past several years on YouTube and TikTok. Top celebrities sing the praises of this tangy elixir for its myriad benefits.

Like any trend, Apple Cider Vinegar’s social media status makes you wonder where the hype ends and the reality begins. Before you take a morning shot to support your immune system, splash it on your face for clearer skin, or gulp it down to negate the calories of an ice cream binge, let's examine the evidence behind the claims about Apple Cider Vinegar’s wide-ranging potential benefits. 

Is this sour liquid the inexpensive panacea you’ve been searching for? Or is it just another fad? 

What is Apple Cider Vinegar, and Why is it So Popular?

Apple cider vinegar is a golden-hued liquid with a sharp, tangy taste. Despite its pungent flavor, it has been used for centuries as a health-boosting elixir and versatile kitchen staple. Likely, Apple Cider Vinegar was first created coincidentally when apple juice was left to ferment naturally. 

Vinegar has been used for health purposes in ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Sumerian, and Persian cultures for at least three thousand years. While vinegar can be made from almost any fruit (grapes, pomegranate, apple), apples are indigenous to central Asia. So it’s likely that Apple Cider Vinegar was an early vinegar of choice because of easy availability.

Early accounts suggest that in 360 AD, Roman soldiers were ordered to drink Posca, vinegar mixed with water (and sometimes spices). Some suggest it was thought to give the soldiers energy and help disinfect bad water, and others suggest it was cheaper than wine. In medieval Europe, Apple Cider Vinegar was used as a health tonic and a skin sanitizer during the Plague.

Apples were introduced to the American colonies in the late 16th century, and apple cider vinegar gained popularity during the 18th century. Apple Cider Vinegar's rise in the United States can be traced to two key figures: Dr. D.C. Jarvis, a Vermont doctor who popularized its consumption in his 1959 book, Folk Medicine, and Paul C. Bragg, a charismatic entrepreneur and fitness enthusiast who founded Bragg Live Foods in 1912. He began promoting his Raw, Unfiltered Apple Cider vinegar in the 1970s through his Hollywood connections, health teachings, and attention-grabbing self-promotion techniques. 

While Jarvis planted the initial seeds of awareness, Bragg fueled its early surge in popularity through his marketing prowess and persuasive claims of its ability to provide eternal youth. It should be noted that Bragg was accused of making false claims about his natural products and academic achievements more than a few times. For instance, he lied about his birth date to appear impressively virile for his “advanced” age. It should also be noted that the Bragg company was purchased recently by an investment group that includes two influential celebrities who are huge fans of Apple Cider Vinegar.

How is Apple Cider Vinegar Made?

Apple cider vinegar is made through the fermentation of apple cider in a two-stage fermentation process. Apples are first pressed to extract the juice, through a process known as alcoholic fermentation. 

The apple juice is then combined with microscopic yeast to convert the juice's sugars into alcohol. As the alcoholic fermentation nears completion, Acetobacter bacteria are added, which performs a biochemical transformation known as acetic acid fermentation. This converts the alcohol into acetic acid, the key component that gives ACV its characteristic tangy sourness. This entire process can take weeks.

The Potential Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Unfortunately, the scientific evidence for the health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar is currently limited and inconclusive. Apple Cider Vinegar contains polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties, but it’s unknown whether a normal dose of vinegar contains enough antioxidants to be beneficial.

While there are some promising small studies suggesting potential benefits, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the long-term effects of regular Apple Cider Vinegar consumption. Here's a breakdown of some frequently mentioned benefits that have anecdotal evidence to support them:

  • Normal blood sugar control: Some small studies suggest that ACV may have a beneficial effect on glycemic status.REF#3548 REF#3549 However, the effects are modest and temporary, and larger, longer-term studies are needed to confirm these findings and establish safe dosage recommendations.
  • Weight management: Limited research hints that when combined with a restricted calorie diet, ACV may play a role in appetite control and weight loss, potentially linked to its acetic acid content.REF#3550 REF#3551 However, these studies were short-term and involved small groups, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Further research is needed to understand the long-term effectiveness and potential risks of using ACV for weight management.
  • Skin and hair health: Because of its acidic content, Apple Cider Vinegar may effectively clean oil and other product buildup from your hair. As a skin tonic, it may serve as a natural astringent for oily skin. No human studies have been done to support these claims. A recent study on using ACV for skin health determined that it did not alter the skin bacterial microbiome.REF#3552
  • Other potential benefits: Small animal studies have shown other potential health benefits, such as promoting gut health, healthy cholesterol levels, and a normal inflammatory response. However, the evidence for these effects is weak and requires further investigation before any definitive claims can be made. 

Important Considerations When Taking Apple Cider Vinegar

While the jury on health benefits is out, if you’d like to use Apple Cider Vinegar yourself, do so in moderation. Some sources suggest you should take no more than one to two tablespoons a day. If you use it on your skin, first do a small skin test on a less sensitive area to ensure it won’t irritate your skin.

Other considerations:

  • ACV is a vinegar, and consuming excessive amounts can have negative side effects, including tooth erosion, digestive issues, and potential interactions with certain medications.
  • If you have any underlying health conditions or are on medication, consult a healthcare professional before incorporating ACV into your diet.
  • While many advocates suggest using unfiltered ACV with “the Mother,” the strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria that float in the vinegar, that "mother" is not a true probiotic, as often claimed, and contributes nothing to flavor. A true probiotic has live organisms, which many vinegars lack. The Mother may hold unproven benefits and is often included in artisanal vinegar for those potential health effects.

Overall, while ACV holds some promise as a health food, the current scientific evidence is insufficient to draw definitive conclusions. Until more studies are done, it may be best to consider Apple Cider Vinegar a good condiment to keep in your kitchen cupboard for the flavor it brings to multiple recipes.

REFERENCES:

  • 1. , "The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials", BMC Complimentary Medicine and Therapy. 1 1. , "The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials", BMC Complimentary Medicine and Therapy.
  • 2. , "The improvement effect of apple cider vinegar as a functional food on anthropometric indices, blood glucose and lipid profile in diabetic patients: a randomized controlled clinical trial", Frontiers in Clinical Diabetes and Healthcare. 2 2. , "The improvement effect of apple cider vinegar as a functional food on anthropometric indices, blood glucose and lipid profile in diabetic patients: a randomized controlled clinical trial", Frontiers in Clinical Diabetes and Healthcare.
  • 3. , "Beneficial effects of Apple Cider Vinegar on weight management, Visceral Adiposity Index and lipid profile in overweight or obese subjects receiving restricted calorie diet: A randomized clinical trial", Journal of Functional Foods. 3 3. , "Beneficial effects of Apple Cider Vinegar on weight management, Visceral Adiposity Index and lipid profile in overweight or obese subjects receiving restricted calorie diet: A randomized clinical trial", Journal of Functional Foods.
  • 4. , "Vinegar Intake Reduces Body Weight, Body Fat Mass, and Serum Triglyceride Levels in Obese Japanese Subjects,” Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry", PLoS One. 4 4. , "Vinegar Intake Reduces Body Weight, Body Fat Mass, and Serum Triglyceride Levels in Obese Japanese Subjects,” Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry", PLoS One.
  • 5. , "Apple cider vinegar soaks do not alter the skin bacterial microbiome in atopic dermatitis", . 5 5. , "Apple cider vinegar soaks do not alter the skin bacterial microbiome in atopic dermatitis", .