July 17, 2023

What Apple Cider Vinegar Can (and Can’t) Do for You

It could help lower blood sugar and suppress your appetite, but don’t believe all the hype

apple cider vinegar in a stoppered glass caraf with apples in background on wooden table.

Apple cider vinegar has been around for thousands of years. In ancient times, it was used as a treatment for coughs and infections, while today it’s touted as a weight loss aid, a remedy for acid reflux and more.

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But what can it really do?

Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD, takes a look at the possible benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and the science behind its biggest health claims.

Is apple cider vinegar good for you?

Apple cider vinegar is apple juice that’s been fermented twice. Its claim to fame is acetic acid, which forms during the fermentation process and is thought to have a variety of health benefits.

“If you look at the nutrition facts label, apple cider vinegar doesn’t show high amounts of vitamins, minerals or even calories, Czerwony says. “Its potential health benefits are found in substances that aren’t part of the standard nutrition label.”

ACV’s possible health benefits all have to do with how it’s made — by mixing crushed apples with yeast, sugar or another carbohydrate. After a few weeks, natural bacteria and yeasts ferment the juice, changing the carbohydrates into alcohol. Then, a second fermentation process changes the alcohol into a substance called acetic acid … and eventually, you have apple cider vinegar.

So, what’s the big deal? Raw apple cider vinegar contains:

  • Acetic acid, which can kill harmful bacteria. ACV is about 5% to 6% acetic acid.
  • Natural probiotics (good bacteria), which can improve your immune system and gut health.
  • Antioxidants, naturally occurring substances that can prevent damage to your body’s cells.

Both pasteurized and raw apple cider vinegar are sold in stores, but for health purposes, most people use the latter — the kind that’s a little bit cloudy. The cloudy sediment in the bottom of the bottle, sometimes known as “the mother,” contains more natural bacteria and yeasts.

Health benefits of apple cider vinegar

Some studies suggest that apple cider vinegar could boost your health, but Czerwony says most of the studies are small and need further research to prove their claims. Still, it’s worth talking about ACV’s possible benefits. Here’s what they include:

Lowering blood sugar

One of the biggest health claims for apple cider vinegar is related to diabetes and blood sugar management. When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells can’t properly take up sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat.

A few small studies have found that consuming apple cider vinegar after a meal could help lower your blood sugar, which could be good for people with diabetes and without. But don’t expect vinegar alone to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

“Apple cider vinegar might lower your glucose a little, but not enough,” cautions Czerwony. “To prevent or manage diabetes, it’s really important to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.”

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If you take medication to lower your blood sugar, be sure to check in with your doctor before you incorporate apple cider vinegar into your everyday life.

Calming acid reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, acid reflux — no matter what you call it, it’s unpleasant. And if it happens to you on the regular, you’re probably desperate for a remedy.

Some people swear by apple cider vinegar for acid reflux. The idea is that because ACV is a probiotic, it can introduce “good” bacteria into your gut and lead to digestive balance that lessens your GERD symptoms. Seems likely enough, right? Alas…

“There’s no real science to back up the claims about ACV’s anti-heartburn power,” Czerwony states, “but if your healthcare provider says it’s OK for you to take, then there’s likely no harm either.”

Aiding in weight loss

Some people claim that apple cider vinegar has helped them lose weight, but the science isn’t solid.

Researchers once thought that acetic acid could help you burn more fat and change your body’s appetite-stimulating hormones. That’s no longer thought to be true (and there are no studies to prove it), but some small studies do show that apple cider vinegar can help you stay full for longer, which can curb the urge to snack for about two hours after eating.

Still, don’t count on ACV to help you shed pounds.

“There’s no concrete evidence that it has any long-term appetite suppression benefits,” Czerwony says — which means that the so-called apple cider vinegar diet isn’t your best bet.

Possible side effects of apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic, which can present some problems.

Its acidity can erode your tooth enamel, the protective shield on the outside of your teeth. Once it wears away, you can’t get it back. The acetic acid in straight, undiluted ACV can also burn your esophagus.

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“To help prevent these problems, water down your ACV by adding a tablespoon to a mug of warm water,” Czerwony advises. “This cuts down on the amount of acid hitting your teeth and throat.”

Other possible side effects include:

  • Low potassium levels: There are very few studies on how ACV can affect potassium levels. But Czerwony says you shouldn’t use it if you already have low potassium levels (hypokalemia), as it could make the condition worse.
  • Drug interactions: If you take any medications, ask your doctor whether you can safely take apple cider vinegar. It can interact with some types of medicines, including insulin and diuretics (water pills).
  • Nausea and vomiting: “Some people quite literally just can’t stomach the taste and acidity of apple cider vinegar,” Czerwony warns. “If it makes you feel sick, stop using it.”

You should also keep pure ACV out of reach of kids so they can’t drink it or get it on their skin.

How much should you take?

There’s no standard dosage of apple cider vinegar, so ask a healthcare provider how much is safe for you and always be sure to follow the directions on the product label.

“The evidence so far says apple cider vinegar is safe for most people in small amounts,”
Czerwony says, “but keep in mind that it hasn’t been approved to treat any health conditions.”

She suggests starting with just a few drops and working your way up, if you want, to no more than two tablespoons per day. You can:

  • Put a tablespoon of ACV in a warm cup of tea to water down the taste.
  • Add a bit of it to your favorite sauce, salad dressing or marinade for a tangy zip.
  • Use in jarring and pickling. Its acidity kills bacteria that can cause food to spoil!

Apple cider vinegar is also available in pills or gummies, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate these supplements. Look for a brand that has a seal of approval from a third party, like a logo from:

  • Banned Substances Control Group® (BSCG).
  • ConsumerLab®.
  • Informed Choice.
  • NSF® Certified for Sport.
  • NSF® International.
  • United States Pharmacopeia™ (USP).

Always remember to check with your healthcare provider before using apple cider vinegar (or any other natural health remedy). And if you get the all-clear, go ahead and add a splash of ACV to your next cup of tea!

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