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Does apple cider vinegar have health benefits?

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) gets a lot of hype as a natural home remedy with health benefits. Proponents say it’s a cure for a long list of ailments, from diabetes to dandruff. Critics argue it’s great as a salad dressing, but not much else. 

It’s true that vinegar has some benefits. Research shows this acidic liquid (and not just the apple cider variety) has antimicrobial effects against norovirus and E. coli. The “mother” in unfiltered apple cider vinegar—which the University Chicago of Medicine describes as “the combination of yeast and bacteria formed during fermentation”—is packed with probiotics. 

That, plus the acetic acid, is what has many singing its praises. And in some cases, the science backs them up. 

6 health benefits of apple cider vinegar

Historically, people used vinegar for medicinal purposes like fighting infection, healing wounds, and managing blood sugar. It’s not proven effective for all of those uses, but there are a few health benefits of apple cider vinegar (apple cider vinegar coupons) that are notable. These are the top six.

1. Weight loss

Some believe that drinking a small amount of ACV before eating will lead to weight loss, and there is some evidence it could help. 

A Japanese study compared weight loss between people who drank no vinegar, 15 ml of vinegar, or 30 ml of vinegar over 12-weeks. The researchers found that the groups consuming vinegar daily lost more weight compared to the placebo group by the end of the study. They also had reduced visceral fat, BMI, triglycerides, and waist circumference. “This is a significant benefit,” says Becky Gillaspy, DC, chiropractor and founder of Dr. Becky Fitness, “because belly fat (visceral fat) is associated with metabolic syndrome, which is bad for your heart.”

Another small study had similar results. Apple cider vinegar consumption, alongside a restricted calorie diet, reduced body weight, BMI, hip circumference, and plasma triglyceride concentration for the 39 people studied. Participants also noted the benefit of appetite reduction. 

Diet trends being what they are (keto, anyone?) this news inevitably led to the apple cider vinegar diet, which essentially calls for consuming 1 to 2 teaspoons of ACV before meals. Dr. Robert H. Schmerling of Harvard Health Publishing says people should hold tight before embracing the fad, though. The research thus far isn’t especially compelling that ACV is a reliable, long-term option for losing weight. Dr. Schmerling suggests a healthy dose of skepticism along with your teaspoon full of ACV. 

RELATED: Can apple cider vinegar help with weight loss?

2. Lower cholesterol levels

Two very small studies—in 2018 and 2012—found that consuming apple cider vinegar could reduce total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. An animal study echoed this finding. ACV had similar cholesterol-reducing properties in rats. And it doesn’t even appear to take that long to take effect—most of the research took place over the course of just a few months.

While more research is needed to see if these results are generalizable to a larger population, it’s fair to say ACV may be a good complementary option for those treating high cholesterol. That doesn’t mean you can skip your prescribed statins. Always check with your healthcare provider about the best course of treatment, and if ACV could be right for you.

3. Improved blood sugar

“One somewhat unknown, but important benefit of apple cider vinegar is that it can greatly reduce blood sugar levels following meals that cause a spike in blood glucose levels,” says Lynell Ross, a nutrition and fitness trainer and founder of Zivadream. She cites a 1995 study of five subjects and their responses to six test meals to back this up. “Even a small dose, such as a couple teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, can significantly influence the glycemic response,” Ross explains, “which may be of particular importance for people with Type 2 diabetes, which is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels.” 

Other studies have produced similar results, including a 2005 study of the insulin levels of 12 volunteers, and 2008 research into the impact of ACV on both healthy rats and rats with diabetes.

“There is research to support that ACV can lower blood sugar,” Gillaspy agrees. “One study showed that diabetic patients who consumed two tablespoons of ACV at bedtime had a reduction in their morning blood glucose readings,” she says, citing research from 2007.

Even the American Diabetes Association has weighed in on the potential impact of ACV on blood sugar levels, reviewing the research and concluding that vinegar can “significantly improve” insulin sensitivity after meals in insulin-resistant people.

RELATED: Reversing prediabetes with diet and treatments

4. Reduced heart risks

ACV can help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are known to increase the risk of heart disease when they are too high. Additionally, alpha-linolenic acid (which ACV is high in) has also been found to reduce the risk of heart disease in women. And vinegar has been shown to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive rats—good news, seeing as high blood pressure is linked to cardiovascular disease and increased mortality rates. 

So if heart health is a concern of yours, adding ACV to your diet may be something to consider. 

5. Improved hair health

Apple cider vinegar is a common ingredient found in natural shampoos. This may be because it  contains acetic acid, which helps to naturally lower pH. Research has found benefits of lower pH for hair health, and the antimicrobial benefits of ACV are well documented. All that to say, ACV may help to balance and clarify your hair—and it could also potentially help hair to fight off bacteria, which may be harming the health and appearance of your locks. 

6. Source of probiotics 

“Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk are known for their probiotic traits, but they are also well-known causes of inflammation, and many of us can’t even digest them at all,” explains Jay Goodbinder, DC, founder of The Epigenetics Healing Center

The solution? ACV. It provides probiotics without the risk of additional inflammation. 

“You can think of probiotics as the cultured bacteria that your body needs to regulate your digestive tract and other organs,” Dr. Goodbinder says. “Probiotic-focused diet changes, no matter how small, can help you have more energy, keep your GI system regular, and improve your overall quality of life.”

It’s a claim the research definitely backs up.  

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Apple cider vinegar side effects

When discussing the potential health benefits of apple cider vinegar, it’s important to also acknowledge the potential risks—particularly those that may come with daily consumption.

“Apple cider vinegar is acidic, which can be damaging to tooth enamel,” Dr. Gillaspy says. “It helps to drink it through a straw, dilute it with water, or rinse your mouth with water after taking it.”

Tooth erosion has been detected as a result of daily consumption of apple cider vinegar. But there are other potential side effects of apple cider vinegar to consider as well, including

  • Esophageal injury
  • Delayed stomach emptying (which can lead to indigestion, heartburn, bloating, and nausea)
  • Hypokalemia (potassium levels falling too low—when this has been observed in the past, researchers have speculated it to be a result of disruptions in the body’s electrolyte and acid-base balance from large amounts of ACV over time)
  • Bone loss (which may be influenced by potassium levels)
  • Chemical burns
  • Drug interactions (as with all natural remedies, there is always the potential for drug interactions—which is why you should discuss anything you are taking on a regular basis with your doctor first)

Bottom line

The University of Chicago Medicine set out to debunk some of the hype surrounding apple cider vinegar in 2018, including the claim that ACV kills cancer cells (the research here is extremely limited, without a lot of real-world potential, unfortunately). The study concluded that no matter what Google may otherwise tell you, “ACV is not pixie dust, but it’s also not snake oil.”

In other words, there are some provable benefits to consuming apple cider vinegar on a regular basis. But as with most fads, the benefits have likely been overhyped for some time. So whether you’re drinking apple cider vinegar straight or are diluting some Bragg ACV with olive oil in all your homemade salad dressings, you probably shouldn’t expect overnight results. 

If you’re considering giving ACV a try, start slow to gauge how your stomach handles it. And consider talking to a physician you trust about the potential risks—especially interactions with your current medications—and benefits before going all in.