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Apple Cider Vinegar Myths & Facts

Why is Apple Cider Vinegar so Popular?

The word vinegar comes from the Latin words for “sour wine” and has been used for thousands of years. Most people consume it in salad dressings or sauces; however, it has been used for many things. Vinegar is one of nature’s great gifts – a true natural product. Any alcoholic beverage, whether it is made from apples, grapes, dates, rice or plain white sugar, once exposed to air will naturally turn to vinegar. It is the bacteria in the air that converts the alcohol in cider, wine and beer into acetic acid giving vinegar its sharp sour taste.

The history of vinegar starts around 5,000 B.C. when the Babylonians used the fruit of a date palm to make vinegar. They used it as a food source and as a preserving, or pickling, agent. Vinegar residues have been found in ancient Egyptian urns traced to 3,000 B.C.

During biblical times, vinegar was used to flavor foods, as an energizing drink and as medicine. It is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, in Ruth 2:14, after working hard in the fields, Ruth was invited by Boaz to eat bread and dip it in vinegar.

In ancient Greece around 400 B.C., Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for a variety of ills, including coughs and colds.

Apple cider vinegar also has a strong history in Africa and China as an alternative medicine. It contains vitamins C and B, as well as acetic acid which increases the body’s absorption of important minerals from the foods we eat and slows down the rate at which the body turns carbohydrates into sugar.

More recently, apple cider vinegar has been popular for cleansing detox diets, weight loss, controlling diabetes, lowering cholesterol and more. To hear the news, apple cider vinegar is a modern-day cure all. But is all the hype really true?

Table of apples and apple cider vinegar.

Research Says ... Myth or Fact?

Apple cider vinegar has been used as a conventional remedy for centuries. It has been known to have a number of health claims but none are supported by good evidence. For thousands of years, vinegar has been used to flavor and preserve foods, heal wounds, fight infections, clean surfaces and manage diabetes. Although the vinegar is appreciated as a culinary agent, there are no clear answers in its medicinal use. Scientific studies do not support the use of vinegar as an anti-infective agent, either topically or orally. Evidence linking vinegar use to reduced risk for hypertension and cancer is unclear; however, many recent research studies have documented that ingesting apple cider vinegar reduces the glucose response in healthy adults and in individuals with diabetes.

Supporters of apple cider vinegar say it helps with weight loss, removal of toxins, blood sugar regulation, lowering cholesterol, improves digestion and provides immune boosting probiotics. Some studies conducted on mice have shown that the acetic acid in the vinegar may promote fat burning and weight loss, decrease blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity and improve cholesterol levels.

Unfortunately, these studies were very few and not many facts have been found using human subjects, which limit their validity.

A 2009 study in Japan found that consuming apple cider vinegar resulted in weight loss in mice. In 2007, a study was done using a group of Type 1 diabetics. It found those given apple cider vinegar had slower rates of gastric emptying (the rate at which food moves from the stomach to the small intestine). This can help people feel fuller for a longer length of time, which may reduce the total food intake, therefore, aiding in weight loss. This study also tracked cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They were lower; however, it may also be due to the reduction of food intake. The results are unclear.

In 2012, a Dutch study found that in the North African culture, women who consumed a cup of apple cider vinegar daily achieved greater weight loss. Another study showed an improvement in insulin action in the skeletal muscle of human adults with diabetes, and a 2015 study showed that vinegar consumption in Type 2 diabetics improved blood sugar control, insulin and triglyceride levels.

Side Effects, Risks and Myths

Not all research showed positive results. Remember to talk with your doctor before adding apple cider vinegar to your diet.

  • It may interact with diuretics, laxatives and medicines for diabetes and heart disease.
  • The delayed stomach emptying that can help prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing down the absorption into the bloodstream can also worsen gastroparesis in Type 1 diabetics.
  • Apple cider vinegar may help to reduce appetite, but it can cause feelings of nausea, indigestion and throat irritation.
  • It is very acidic and can irritate the throat and stomach. Never consume apple cider vinegar on an empty stomach and always take it diluted with something.
  • Reports of decreased potassium and calcium levels have been linked to too much apple cider vinegar intake.
  • It may help boost your immune system; however, most apple cider vinegar is ingested in dressings for salads or marinade for vegetables. These vegetables, as well as the vitamins in the apple of the juice, are what boost your immune system the most.

Some people choose to take apple cider vinegar in a pill form. Health experts say that not all vinegar pills are the same. Many don’t include enough acetic acid and others have you taking too much. The authenticity of the pills or brand must be researched and then approved by your doctor before taking.

Unrefined and Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar

In apple cider vinegar, particularly, “the mother” is a complex structure of acids that seem to have health benefits. As with many things in nature, vinegar in its unfiltered, unadulterated and unrefined form has a variety of benefits that are lost when it is filtered and heated. Unrefined vinegars have a murky appearance and typically contain the mother culture. Clear and pasteurized vinegars typically do not contain the mother culture and don’t carry the same benefits.

Healthy Ways to Ingest Apple Cider Vinegar

For medicinal purposes, no more than 1 to 2 tablespoons per day is recommended. Always talk with your doctor before starting apple cider vinegar as an alternative therapy. It can be used in the following ways:

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons diluted in 8 ounces water
  • In salad dressings
  • Add to marinades for meats and vegetables
  • Stir into soup

Apple cider vinegar can provide some health benefits if taken correctly. Many people attest to its effectiveness. However, to stay safe and prevent side effects, it is important to use the correct amount in the correct way. It is considered relatively safe to try in doses less than 2 tablespoons per day. Overall, the best way to enjoy optimal health is to eat a balanced diet full of vegetables and lean meats, avoid processed foods and engage in regular physical activity.

Ways to Use Apple Cider Vinegar

  • Deodorizer: Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and claims to eliminate bad smells. Try it out by mixing apple cider vinegar with water to make a deodorizing spray.
  • Foot Soak and Deodorant: You can mix it with water and Epsom salts to make a foot soak that may help get rid of unwanted foot odor by killing off odor-causing bacteria. Wiping your underarms with diluted apple cider vinegar can kill bacteria and can be used as a deodorant.
  • Facial Toner: Apple cider vinegar is claimed to help remedy skin conditions and reduce the signs of aging when used as a skin tonic. Recipe: One part apple cider vinegar to two parts water. Apply to the skin using a cotton pad. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to make a more diluted solution.
  • Fruit Fly Trap: Pour some apple cider vinegar into a cup and add a few drops of dish soap to sink the flies.
  • Boil Better Eggs: Adding vinegar to the water you use to boil eggs can help you produce consistently good eggs.
  • Wash Fruits and Vegetables: Apple cider vinegar removes more of the chemical residues or pesticides, and it helps kill any dangerous bacteria on the food.
  • Weed Killer: Spray undiluted vinegar on unwanted weeds in your garden.
  • Get Rid of Fleas: Spray a mixture of one part water and one part apple cider vinegar onto your pet to create an environment that fleas won’t want to hang around in.

Andi Hoover, WVU Extension Agent – Greenbrier County

Adapted from a lesson created for West Virginia Community Educational Outreach Service, a service organization supported by WVU Extension Service.