Apple Cider Vinegar: Myths and Facts About Benefits and Remedies

Vinegar Basics

Apple cider vinegar is derived from fermented apples.

Vinegar is an acetic acid solution that results from a fermentation process when yeast and bacteria are added to any number of foods and beverages that contain carbohydrates including wine, apples, pears, berries, melons, honey, beer, molasses, sorghum, coconut, beer, potatoes, maple syrup, grains, whey, beets, and malt. Yeast is first added to these foods or beverages, and the microorganisms turn the sugar in them into alcohol. The next step in the process involves the addition of a bacterium called Acetobacter, which converts alcohol to acetic acid.

Many people like the idea of using all-natural, non-toxic apple cider vinegar as a home remedy for various ailments because it is inexpensive and generally considered safe when used appropriately. Vinegar has proven health benefits for some conditions, but it is ineffective for others. It is an ancient remedy. Hippocrates used vinegar to fight infections, treat wounds, and help alleviate coughs. Continue reading to learn all about ACV myths and facts.

It Can Help You Lose Weight

Apple cider vinegar may help aid in weight loss and reduce belly fat.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can help you lose a little weight. In a study of overweight adults, those who drank 1 or 2 tablespoons of vinegar diluted in a beverage lost weight more quickly compared those who did not drink vinegar. They also reduced belly fat. But the effects were modest. If your goal is weight loss, drinking a couple of tablespoons of vinegar diluted in warm water may help nudge you in the right direction. But remember, the cornerstones of any effective weight loss plan are to eat a reduced calorie diet and to increase your level of physical activity.

ACV Lowers Blood Sugar

ACV is a natural remedy that may help keep blood sugar levels steady.

Apple cider vinegar has been proven to help people who have diabetes improve blood sugar levels after a meal, and it improves Hemoglobin A1c level, a measure of blood sugar control for the past several months. ACV is said to have an antiglycemic effect. Chronically high blood sugar damages tissues and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. Have a couple of teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in warm water at mealtimes or use it to make salad dressing to help keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.

Keep Insulin in Check

ACV is a home remedy that may help improve insulin sensitivity especially if you have type 2 diabetes.

Results of studies suggest that vinegar helps reduce insulin levels after you have eaten. Insulin is the hormone the body uses to move sugar from the bloodstream into cells where it is used for energy. Insulin levels that are too high are dangerous because a condition called insulin resistance may result. This condition makes your body less sensitive to insulin. This, in turn, may lead to the development of type 2 diabetes or if you already have diabetes, it may make the condition worse. If you are insulin-resistant and have either type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, ask your doctor if you can safely add vinegar to your regimen without side effects.

Vinegar Kills Some Germs

Add a little ACV to salad to keep germs at bay.

Apple cider vinegar does have some antiseptic properties. It may help kill bacteria on produce. Salad dressings containing vinegar may have some ability to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other microorganisms that are on produce. Vinegar is not effective against all microorganisms though, so wash your produce thoroughly before eating. And do not try to use apple cider vinegar to disinfect a cut or a wound because the acid can burn skin.

Can ACV Help Dandruff?

ACV is not a proven home remedy for dandruff.

Some people believe that apple cider vinegar maybe an effective home remedy for dandruff, but that is not the case. There is no hard scientific evidence to suggest that ACV helps dandruff in any way. It is also a common misconception that vinegar may help remove shampoo residue or buildup from repeated use of hair care products. If you have dandruff, treat it the way experts recommend. Use dandruff shampoo according to the instructions. If your dandruff still does not go away, see a dermatologist to explore more treatment options for your condition.

Could ACV Combat Lice?

Apple cider vinegar is not effective for killing lice.

An old wives' tale says that vinegar is a cure-all home remedy and for lice, but this one is not true. In one study where vinegar was pitted against 5 other home remedies including olive oil, melted butter, petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol, and mayonnaise, vinegar finished in last place. It was the least effective home remedy for both eliminating lice and inhibiting new lice eggs from hatching. If you have lice, consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice about effective treatments that will get rid of the problem.

ACV vs Jellyfish Stings

ACV is an effective vinegar-based home remedy against jellyfish stings.

Apple cider vinegar is an effective remedy against jellyfish stings, so tote a bottle of it with you when you go to the beach. That is because ACV deactivates nematocysts, the cells in jellyfish tentacles that contain barbed, venomous threads. If you get stung, the most effective home remedy for jellyfish stings is to immerse the affected area in hot water, because the venom is deactivated by heat.

ACV and Your Teeth

Vinegar can damage teeth.

Vinegar does whiten and brighten teeth, but at a price. Vinegar is acidic (low pH level) so it erodes enamel, the hard outer layer of teeth. Since vinegar softens teeth, wait at least 30 minutes after consuming or drinking vinegar before you brush your teeth. If your smile is more yellow than you would like, use a whitening toothpaste. Look for over-the-counter products approved by the American Dental Association. If you need stronger treatments, see your dentist, who can recommend professional treatments to make your smile whiter.

A Boon to Gut Health

Apple cider vinegar may provide gastrointestinal health benefits.

Apple cider vinegar is a fermented product that contains some probiotic organisms like Lactobacillus. These microorganisms are visible in ACV as the "mother." This stringy, cloudy material is made of fermenting bacteria and their harmless byproducts. Apple cider vinegar must remain unpasteurized for these microorganisms to survive. In addition to containing some helpful probiotic microorganisms, apple cider vinegar also contains some prebiotic pectin, a type of soluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables. Beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut feast on pectin, so ACV may encourage a healthy gut microbiome. Raw honey is also a prebiotic food that may promote healthy gut flora.

Will It Help Hemorrhoids?

ACV is not a proven remedy for hemorrhoids.

Many people think you can get rid of hemorrhoids by putting some apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball and applying it to the swollen bumps on your bottom, but this is not the case. The initial sensation may feel cooling and soothing, but ACV is acidic and will burn your skin, which will make your symptoms worse. How do you treat hemorrhoids? Take a sitz bath. Talk to your doctor about eating a high fiber diet, taking stool softeners, and pursuing other treatments if you need them.

An Antioxidant Boost

Antioxidants in apple cider vinegar may confer health benefits.

Apple cider vinegar contains antioxidants called polyphenols that fight damaging free radicals in the body. This free radical damage plays a role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other conditions. Anti-inflammatory polyphenols are found in apple cider vinegar, fruits, vegetables, coffee, wine, and chocolate. While researchers are certain that apple cider vinegar contains polyphenols including galic acid, catechins, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, and others, it is not known if ingesting ACV provides significant antioxidant protection that may help prevent disease. More studies are needed to determine the effect of polyphenols in ACV on disease risk. An elixir made from apple cider vinegar, called switchel, may help ease pain and inflammation.

What About Blood Pressure?

It is not yet known whether apple cider vinegar reduces blood pressure.

Results from scientific research studies prove that apple cider vinegar helps reduce blood pressure in rats, but we are not sure if the same is true in humans. Researchers speculate that acetic acid in vinegar may enhance the absorption of calcium, a mineral that is critical for blood pressure regulation. More studies are needed to determine if apple cider vinegar is effective for lowering blood pressure in people. See your doctor if you suffer from high blood pressure to reduce your risk of blood clots and stroke.

ACV May Help Control Appetite

Have vinegar with your meals to help you feel full and keep blood sugar levels steady.

In some studies, people who ate white bread or a bagel and orange juice along with vinegar for breakfast felt more satisfied after the meal compared to those who ate these foods without vinegar. People who consumed vinegar also had reduced post meal blood sugar levels compared to those who did not consume vinegar with breakfast. Researchers have yet to determine how vinegar exerts its anti-glycemic effects. Vinegar does not appear to slow stomach emptying, which was one proposed mechanism. At any rate, if you are going to eat something high-carb, have a little vinegar with your meal to help you feel full and keep blood sugar levels steady.

The Verdict on Ear Infections

See your doctor for diagnosis and safe treatment of ear infections.

Results of some studies show that putting a 2% diluted vinegar solution into the ears may help ear infections, but the solution can irritate and inflame delicate skin. Vinegar also damages outer hair cells in the cochlea, the portion of the ear that helps you detect sounds. Do not put vinegar into your ear canal. If you or your child have an ear infection, see your doctor to get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for an ear infection, take them exactly as directed and do not discontinue the medication. Stopping antibiotics before the course is done may make the infection recur and it may even be worse than it was prior to starting the medication.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Stick to no more than 1 to 2 tablespoons per day of apple cider vinegar.

If you are going to consume apple cider vinegar, stick to a dose of no more than 1 to 2 tablespoons per day. You will get the health benefits that you can derive from this dose, but more will not help you further. Consuming vinegar in greater amounts may even be harmful and cause side effects. Vinegar may cause irritation or erosion of the esophagus and stomach, it erodes tooth enamel, and it can lower potassium levels. ACV may trigger acid reflux. Vinegar may interfere with the activity of certain medications including laxatives, diuretics, and medications that treat heart disease and diabetes. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you start consuming vinegar to make sure it is safe for you.

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 10/23/2018

Apple Cider Vinegar: Myths and Facts About Benefits and Remedies

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