Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar gets its name from the French “vin aigre” meaning “sour wine”. Indeed, some home brewers end up with vinegar rather than wine when the correct fermenting processes are not followed. Apple cider vinegar, as the name suggests, is made from apples and has been touted as a cure-all for generations.
Thankfully, the awareness surrounding apple cider vinegar has made it the target of many scientific studies, all designed to assess the health benefits of apple cider vinegar using rigorous testing. We now know more than ever before about what it really can do for you...
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
In theory, almost any sugar-rich fruit can be made into vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is produced in a two-stage process. Firstly, yeast turns the sugar in the apple juice to alcohol just as they would during the creation of wine or cider. However, in order to make vinegar a second process is applied, in which harmless Acetobacter microorganisms turn the alcohol into acetic acid - the active ingredient in cider.
Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is one of the more popular supplements on the market, with many claims to its name. Sadly, many of these are not backed up by any scientific studies. So what health benefits of apple cider vinegar are based on verifiable research?
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels are crucial in many ways. When we eat food, it is broken down by our digestive system into much smaller components that can be used in the body. Sugar is just one of these components, and is used as a source of energy in the body.
When this sugar fails to reach the cells that need it, issues can arise. These range from feelings of tiredness to more severe situations like type 2 diabetes. Studies suggest that the acetic acid found in apple cider vinegar may have profound effects on blood glucose levels and so may be of therapeutic benefit to those suffering from such problems.
In one study, half of the participants were supplemented with vinegar, before both groups enjoyed a meal. Scientists then monitored blood chemistry to assess the impacts of the vinegar. They found that the group that had consumed vinegar experienced reduced glucose and insulin levels. They theorized that this notable change in blood chemistry may suggest that apple cider vinegar supports healthy insulin action in the body.
Other studies suggest that apple cider vinegar may benefit diabetics by reducing the digestion of starch, thus slowing the flow of glucose after eating. In experiments, it was shown that the benefits of vinegar on blood sugar levels are most pronounced when it is consumed with a meal rather than before or after.
Lastly, experts tried dosing volunteer diabetics with vinegar at different times of the day to monitor its effect. Their findings suggest that “vinegar ingestion at bedtime may favourably impact waking glucose concentrations in type 2 diabetes”.
High levels of cholesterol in the body are associated with a range of cardiovascular problems. As cardiovascular disease is considered one of the biggest health risks in western nations, it has understandably received considerable attention in the scientific community. The research to date indicates that one of apple cider vinegar’s greatest benefits may lie in its ability to control levels of cholesterol in the body.
A study from Iran involved volunteers taking apple cider vinegar for a period of eight weeks while regular blood tests revealed its impact on cholesterol. The data found significant reductions in total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. A minor increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol was also observed. They concluded that apple cider vinegar offers “significant reductions in harmful blood lipids”.
Just as apple cider vinegar seems to help improve cholesterol levels in the blood, so it follows that the same supplement has the potential to benefit the cardiovascular system.
One analysis involved participants fed on a high cholesterol diet, and supplemented with apple cider vinegar. The study found considerable improvements in many aspects of blood chemistry which are implicated in atherosclerosis - hardening or narrowing of the arteries.
They concluded that “consumption of apple cider vinegar causes significant reduction on some risk factors of atherosclerosis”.
Antibacterial / Antifungal
We are surrounded every day by millions of potentially harmful pathogens. The main function of the human immune system is to keep these at bay, but nobody ever complained of a little help. Evidence suggests that apple cider vinegar has some potent impacts on bacteria and fungi, so may help to fight infection and keep us healthy.
In one study, scientists compared different products believed to have antifungal properties. The findings showed that apple cider vinegar demonstrated control of Candida - the fungus commonly implicated in yeast infections such as thrush.
Another analysis deliberately infected salad items such as rocket leaves and spring onions with bacteria. Once inoculated, they were then treated with a mixture of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to assess the impact. It was found that even low levels of the mixture were able to reduce bacterial cultures to the level that they were no longer detectable.
In a simple yet elegant experiment, volunteers were asked to consume a breakfast consisting of bread and a portion of vinegar. After consumption, feelings of satiety were recorded. The scientists found a direct correlation between feelings of fullness and the volume of acetic acid (vinegar) that had been consumed. The implication here, is that supplements like apple cider vinegar may help to keep you feeling full for longer, and as a result may encourage a reduced intake of food.
Additionally, a 2009 study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry required participants to take acetic acid daily over a 12 week period. Findings showed that acetic acid reduced overall body weight, abdominal fat, waist circumference and triglyceride levels. It is thought that acetic acid may interfere with the body’s digestion and absorption of starch, which increases satiety and reduces calorie intake, which may result in weight loss over time. As a result, the apple cider vinegar diet has become increasingly popular over the years.
An interesting study considered the impact of topical apple cider vinegar use for sufferers of varicose veins. Participants in the study were encouraged to continue the treatment previously prescribed by their doctor, but half were also encouraged to apply apple cider vinegar to their legs. The vinegar seems to have had a statistically significant impact, with the scientists in question pointing out that the treatment “increased the positive effects of conservative treatment”.
How Much Apple Cider Vinegar Should I Use?
Apple cider vinegar can be diluted and applied topically or taken as a drink, or taken in supplement form.
- For topical applications, the vinegar should be diluted with water to avoid irritation
- For drinks, dilute with water. Many people find taking 2 tablespoons up to three times per day to be beneficial
- For apple cider vinegar supplements, always follow instructions on the label.
Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects and Interactions
There are no known side effects when taken within the recommended guidelines. However, excessive consumption may cause irritation to the lining of the digestive tract. For this reason, always follow the dosage instructions on the label.
It is thought that long-term use of high quantities of apple cider vinegar may lower potassium levels, so if you have osteoporosis or low potassium levels use with caution.