Apple cider vinegar is mostly apple juice, but adding yeast turns the sugar in the juice into alcohol. This is a process called fermentation. Bacteria turn the alcohol into acetic acid. That’s what gives vinegar its sour taste and strong smell. Apple cider vinegar has a long history as a home remedy, used to treat things like sore throat and varicose veins. There isn’t much science to support the claims. But in recent years, some researchers have been taking a closer look at apple cider vinegar and its possible benefits.
Some people say the “mother,” the cloud of yeast and bacteria you might see in a bottle of apple cider vinegar, is what makes it healthy. These things are probiotic, meaning they might give your digestive system a boost, but there isn’t enough research to back up the other claims.
Benefits of Drinking Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar has been used as a remedy for centuries. The ancient Greeks treated wounds with it. In recent years, people have explored apple cider vinegar as a way to lose weight, improve heart health, and even treat dandruff.
Helps improve digestion
Like other fermented foods, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar contains healthy bacteria – the gut-friendly bacteria that help keep your digestive system working properly. Cider vinegar could provide relief for those with stomach problems like indigestion or heartburn. This is because it neutralizes stomach acid whilst acetic acid fights harmful bacteria.
Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to have antiviral and anti-yeast and antifungal benefits, which are all helpful in supporting the microbiome and overall immune balance.
Supports your immune system
Prevention is better than cure, so protecting your immune system means you’re more likely to ward off diseases and infections. And here’s where the healthy bacteria in raw cider vinegar come into play.
Studies have found that healthy bacteria can help you recover sooner if you do get sick. Meanwhile, ACV’s antibacterial properties can reportedly fight off pathogens in our body, such as E-coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida Albicans.
Condition of your hair
If you have dry, brittle hair or an itchy scalp, replacing your usual shampoo with a bottle of unfiltered cider vinegar could give you more manageable tresses. The research found that using high alkaline shampoos leads to hair breakage and dryness.
The acetic acid in the mother is thought to help lower our hair’s pH to combat that dry, frizzy feel. The pH level of our scalp and hair is acidic at around 5.5. Normal hair products are alkaline, which can contribute to our hair becoming brittle and dry. Water can have the same impact too because it’s pH neutral. But because apple cider vinegar is acidic, it can help restore hair’s pH balance if you pour it on your hair after shampooing.
Improve your skin and nail health
Thanks to its natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, apple cider vinegar is used as a natural treatment for healthier skin and nails. Applied as a toner, it may help to balance skin pH and has an exfoliating effect that smooths and softens. And, for rough, cracked heels or mild fungal nail infections, apple cider vinegar is commonly used as a foot soak.
Lowers blood sugar levels
Keeping your blood sugar levels in check is important and studies have shown that the acetic acid found in cider vinegar could be beneficial. It’s believed that acetic acid blocks the enzymes that help digest starch. As a result of this, blood sugar levels don’t fluctuate as much after eating starchy food, such as pasta or bread. Drinking 4 teaspoons of vinegar before a high-carb meal may help prevent blood sugar spikes.
A 2017 review of studies published in Diabetes Research & Clinical Practice suggested just that having more vinegar with meals can decrease fluctuations in insulin and blood sugar after you eat.
Thanks to apple cider vinegar’s antifungal properties, it can tackle oil build-up or excessive amounts of the yeasty fungus, Malassezia; two of the main culprits of dandruff.
Boosting nutrient levels
Apple cider vinegar contains magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, amino acids, antioxidants, and only three calories per tablespoon.
Aiding weight loss
Research has found that apple cider vinegar may be effective at helping people lose weight. In terms of how it works, it’s believed ACV makes you feel fuller, so it prevents people from overeating.
Improving heart health
Apple cider vinegar lowers triglycerides, which cause fatty plaque along your arteries to build up. It also happens to contain a fiber called pectin, that’s present in apples and vinegar and can help neutralize bad cholesterol.
Apple Cider Vinegar Uses and Dosage
Vinegar is used in cooking, baking, and salad dressings and as a preservative. There’s a lot of acid in it, so drinking vinegar straight isn’t recommended. It can cause problems, like eroding the enamel of your teeth, if you get too much. If you’re looking to use it for health reasons, most people say to add 1 to 2 tablespoons to water or tea.
Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects
Unfortunately, apple cider vinegar has been reported to cause some side effects. This is particularly true in large doses. Although small amounts are generally fine and healthy, consuming too much can be harmful and even dangerous.
Delayed stomach emptying
Apple cider vinegar helps prevent blood sugar spikes by reducing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and enters the lower digestive tract. This slows down its absorption into the bloodstream.
However, this effect may worsen symptoms of gastroparesis, a common condition that affects people living with diabetes. In gastroparesis, the nerves in the stomach don’t work properly, so food stays in the stomach too long and is not emptied at a normal rate.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include heartburn, bloating, and nausea. For type 1 diabetics who have gastroparesis, timing insulin with meals is very challenging because it’s hard to predict how long it will take food to be digested and absorbed.
One controlled study looked at 10 patients with type 1 diabetes and gastroparesis. Drinking water with 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of apple cider vinegar significantly increased the amount of time that food stayed in the stomach, compared to drinking plain water. Newer research is needed to better understand the effect apple cider vinegar has on blood sugar.
Digestive side effects
Apple cider vinegar may cause unpleasant digestive symptoms in some people. Human and animal studies have found that apple cider vinegar and acetic acid may decrease appetite and promote feelings of fullness, leading to a natural reduction in calorie intake.
However, one controlled study suggests that in some cases, appetite and food intake may decrease due to indigestion. The people who consumed a drink containing 25 grams (0.88 ounces) of apple cider vinegar reported less appetite but also significantly greater feelings of nausea, especially when the vinegar was part of an unpleasant-tasting drink.
Low potassium levels and bone loss
There are no controlled studies on apple cider vinegar’s effects on blood potassium levels and bone health at this time. However, there is one case report of low blood potassium and bone loss that was attributed to large doses of apple cider vinegar taken over a long period.
A 28-year-old woman consumed 8 ounces (250 mL) of apple cider vinegar diluted in water daily for 6 years. She was admitted to the hospital with low potassium levels and other abnormalities in her blood chemistry. What’s more, the woman was diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition of brittle bones that is rarely seen in young people.
Doctors who treated the woman believe the large daily doses of apple cider vinegar led to minerals being leached from her bones to buffer the acidity of her blood. They also noted that high acid levels can reduce the formation of new bone.
Of course, the amount of apple cider vinegar, in this case, was much more than most people would consume in a single day — plus, she did this every day for many years.
Erosion of tooth enamel
Acidic foods and beverages have been shown to damage tooth enamel. Soft drinks and fruit juices have been more widely studied, but some research shows the acetic acid in vinegar may also damage tooth enamel.
In one lab study, enamel from wisdom teeth was immersed in different kinds of vinegar with pH levels ranging from 2.7–3.95. The kinds of vinegar led to a 1–20% loss of minerals from the teeth after 4 hours.
Importantly, this study was done in a lab and not in the mouth, where saliva helps buffer acidity. Nevertheless, there’s some evidence that large amounts of vinegar may cause dental erosion.
A case study also concluded that a 15-year-old girl’s severe dental decay was caused by consuming 1 cup (237 mL) of undiluted apple cider vinegar per day as a weight loss aid.
Apple cider vinegar has the potential to cause esophageal (throat) burns. A review of harmful liquids accidentally swallowed by children found acetic acid from vinegar was the most common acid that caused throat burns.
Researchers recommended vinegar be considered a “potent caustic substance” and kept in childproof containers. There are no published cases of throat burns from apple cider vinegar itself. However, one case report found that an apple cider vinegar tablet caused burns after becoming lodged in a woman’s throat. The woman said she experienced pain and difficulty swallowing for 6 months after the incident.
Due to its strong acidic nature, apple cider vinegar may also cause burns when applied to the skin. In one case, a 14-year-old girl developed erosions on her nose after applying several drops of apple cider vinegar to remove two moles, based on a protocol she’d seen on the internet.
In another, a 6-year-old boy with multiple health problems developed leg burns after his mother treated his leg infection with apple cider vinegar. There are also several anecdotal reports online of burns caused by applying apple cider vinegar to the skin.