Apple cider vinegar is having a moment. As well it should: That stuff you use in your salad dressing has many potential health benefits. It can help you regulate your blood sugar, boost your immune system and break up kidney stones.
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Some people even suggest that apple cider vinegar can also improve digestion and reduce heartburn (also referred to as acid reflux).
If you’re feeling skeptical, you have good reason to be. For all its benefits, apple cider vinegar isn’t a cure-all. We know because people have tried it for almost everything.
Over the past few years, apple cider vinegar has become a go-to home remedy for an improbably wide range of concerns. For each legitimate use, there seem to be several ineffective (and in some cases, dangerous) ones.
That’s why we spoke to gastroenterologist Elliott Borinsky, MD — to find out if there’s any truth to the claim that apple cider vinegar improves digestion.
The answer, it turns out, is: We don’t really know.
Is apple cider vinegar something you should try?
The basic idea behind treating acid reflux with apple cider vinegar is pretty simple. Apple cider vinegar is a probiotic. According to its proponents, taking apple cider vinegar introduces friendly bacteria into your gut, creating a better balance between the healthy and unhealthy microbes living there. That balance leads to a reduction in symptoms.
It’s an interesting theory. But according to Dr. Borinsky, there simply hasn’t been enough research done to determine whether or not apple cider vinegar can reduce acid reflux.
That said, he also doesn’t think there’s any harm in trying it for most people. “While there’s very little research to support the health claims tied to apple cider vinegar,” Dr. Borinsky adds, “the risk of trying it is generally low.”
How do we know it’s low risk? Well, most of us consume apple cider vinegar in one form or another from time to time. It’s in a lot of sauces, broths, dressings and marinades, and is commonly used to pickle foods. Chances are, if you have an intolerance to the stuff, you already know it.
But there are a few medical conditions (and medications) that don’t play nicely with apple cider vinegar. More on them later.
How to take apple cider vinegar for acid reflux
If you want to do your own personal science project, just dilute a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a warm mug of water. You can drink it before or after a meal. Just be sure not to drink apple cider vinegar straight, as it can erode your tooth enamel. In this case, more isn’t necessarily better.
We don’t know that apple cider vinegar actually improves acid reflux. But we do know that apple cider vinegar is, itself, highly acidic. It’s possible, then, that your attempt to treat your heartburn could actually make it worse.
Other side effects of apple cider vinegar use include:
- Decreased potassium: Don’t use apple cider vinegar if you have low potassium levels, also known as hypokalemia. There’s a chance that you could make the condition worse.
- Interactions with medicines: Apple cider vinegar interacts with some medications, including insulin and diuretics (water pills). If you take any medications, you should ask your doctor before adding apple cider vinegar into the mix.
- Nausea and vomiting: Apple cider vinegar is an acquired taste. Not everybody can tolerate it. If it makes you feel sick or if the taste is bumming you out, stop using it.
Trying apple cider vinegar for acid reflux isn’t risk-free. But it’s also worth noting that a lot of people ingest apple cider vinegar every day. And they don’t just drink it, either. Some people take apple cider vinegar in pill or gummy form every day in the hopes of losing weight, improving their skin or boosting their immune health.
It’s your call
If you want to try taking apple cider vinegar to get your heartburn (acid reflux) and digestion under control, go for it. It’s not especially dangerous. Just make sure you manage your expectations, speak to your doctor if you’re taking other medications and stop using it if it’s not the apple of your eye.