Apple Cider Vinegar – An ancient folk remedy backed by new science
By Jad Patrick BHSc Naturopathy, Grad Dip Counselling
Apple Cider Vinegar has long been touted as a folk remedy for all manner of ills, as well as a delicious addition to salad dressings and sauces. Apple cider vinegar (as the name suggests) is produced through the fermentation of apple juice, first into alcohol, and then through a secondary fermentation process into vinegar. The tangy, sour taste of the apple cider vinegar is due to two compounds produced during the fermentation process – acetic acid and malic acid.
Vinegars, and in particular apple cider vinegar, have historically been considered medicinal as well as a food product.
But is there any evidence to back these claims? Or is it all just hype?
Blood Sugar Reduction and help for Type 2 Diabetes
Elevated blood glucose has been found in many studies to be bad for general health, and a significantly damaging symptom of non-insulin dependent diabetes. Avoiding refined carbohydrates, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are lifestyle strategies that are the cornerstone of managing high blood sugar, however some research has shown vinegar to be of use.
Vinegar in some studies has been found to:
- – Lower blood glucose responses after a high carb meal and improve insulin sensitivity by 19-34%
- – Reduce fasting blood sugar by 4% when 2 tablespoons were taken before bed
- – Benefit people with pre-diabetes the most in improving insulin sensitivity and blood glucose balance
The mechanism by which vinegars have been found to improve blood glucose control is not fully understood, however there is some evidence that the acetic acid in vinegar may delay the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut slowing down glucose absorption. In addition the anti oxidants in apple cider may help improve insulin sensitivity.
Miracle claims are often made about apple cider improving weight loss. There is some partial truth to this, although the effects of vinegar on weight loss are modest. Healthy eating, good sleep habits and plenty of exercise still provide the foundation of any weight loss plan, but there is no harm in adding a little bit of apple cider vinegar to your diet plan to help things along.
Apple cider vinegar has been found to:
- – Reduce blood glucose spikes leading to better appetite control
- – Vinegar taken with a high carb meal has been found to increase satiety (feeling of fullness) and lead to people eating 200 fewer calories per day
- – One study found that when obese individuals consumed 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily over 12 weeks they lost 1.7kgs and had reduced belly fat, waist circumference and lowered blood triglycerides.
These effects are small but significant, and given apple cider vinegar is relatively safe if people are looking to lose weight adding some extra apple cider vinegar into the daily routine seems sensible.
Cardiovascular and Cholesterol Help
Studies in rats have found apple cider vinegar to help with lowering blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol. Studies in humans are needed. There is a possibility that if apple cider vinegar helps with blood sugar regulation and weight loss then there would be secondary benefits in terms of cardiovascular health but this is theoretical at present.
- – Apple Cider Vinegar is high in polyphenol antioxidants such as ellagic acid, gallic acid and epicatechin. These have independently been found to benefit heart and blood vessel health due to their anti oxidant effects.
- – Chlorogenic acid in particular has been found to reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation, which may reduce cardiovascular disease but more research is needed.
Anti Cancer/Tumour Effects
Again miracle claims have been made by some online bloggers that Apple Cider Vinegar can help with preventing or treating cancer. This is perhaps based on some studies where vinegar was directly administered to cancer cells in a lab dish. This of course does NOT correlate to how apple cider vinegar behaves in the body and at this point in time there is no evidence that apple cider vinegar is either beneficial or harmful in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
No studies in humans have shown Apple Cider Vinegar to help with cancer
Inflammation and Arthritis
Apple Cider Vinegar has been considered a folk remedy for inflammatory conditions such as asthma or arthritis. Initially I was sceptical of these claims, thinking perhaps it was just a placebo effect. Interestingly enough though Australian researchers have found that our immune cells actually have a receptor for acetic acid, a component of vinegar, and that when vinegar acts on these receptors excessive inflammation in the body is ‘dampened’ down, helping conditions such as asthma and arthritis. This study was discussed on the ABC TV program Catalyst http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4067184.htm
Apple Cider Vinegar does appear to have some mild anti inflammatory effects in humans.
Apple Cider Vinegar being acidic is said to help with the digestion of proteins in food. Unpasteurised apple cider vinegar that contains ‘the mother’ culture may also be a source of probiotic bacteria though studies have not be done that show these pass through into the human digestive tract.
Folk wisdom and anecdote suggest apple cider vinegar may help improve digestion but studies in humans have not been done as of yet.
Dangers of Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple Cider Vinegar is a food product that has been consumed for centuries by human beings and is generally regarded as safe, and even beneficial in some instances such as blood sugar regulation, weight loss and inflammation, however there are some cautions about taking it. Due to its high acidity Apple Cider Vinegar should be used with caution by people with:
- – Peptic Ulcers and Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disorder
- – Gastritis
- – Dental disease (vinegar can damage the enamel on teeth)
- – High dose (more than a tablespoon a day) should be avoided by people with osteoporosis or people with low potassium levels.
- – Excessive dosing can also irritate the oesophagus
How to enjoy the health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar can be used in place of regular vinegar in salad dressings and recipes that call for white vinegar. Traditionally the Unpasteurised Apple Cider Vinegar with the ‘mother’ culture still in it is regarded as the healthiest option. You will notice in this form of vinegar cloudy strands floating in it. This is a collection of bacteria and beneficial yeast colonies and is said to have digestive benefits.
- – Taking 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water before carbohydrate rich meals may help to reduce the blood sugar impact of the meal
- – Taking 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water before meals may also improve feelings of fullness and lead to better weight loss
- – Drinking apple cider vinegar diluted with water through a straw may reduce the potential damage to dental enamel.
- – Always dilute Apple Cider Vinegar and discontinue use if you experience heartburn or indigestion.
- – Choose Apple Cider Vinegar instead of white vinegar if you want the antioxidant and digestive benefits.
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