January 16, 2019 by Laura Pincus and Patty Shillington
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Truly Have Health Benefits?
If you haven’t heard or read on social media or in health-related articles about the benefits of apple cider vinegar, you might be accused of being “behind the times.”
Apple cider vinegar, or “ACV” as people refer to it – often adding a hashtag – has drawn much attention over the years for its purportedly endless health benefits. The benefits cited include weight loss, teeth whitening, acne treatment and diabetes management. But is #ACV the cure-all it’s alleged to be?
While traditional media outlets and bloggers continue to tout the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, little science backs up most of these claims. In fact, people who use apple cider vinegar as “prescribed” by trending conversations may be doing themselves more harm than good.
Natacha Borrajo, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care, says the much-touted health benefits have yet to be proven by true scientific research.
“There’s really very little scientific evidence that apple cider vinegar does all that it has been credited with over the past decade or so,” Ms. Borrajo said. “While the stories we hear about dandruff control and improved cardiovascular health from apple cider vinegar are interesting, we simply haven’t studied these claims enough to start recommending ACV as a daily supplement.”
What has shown promise is apple cider vinegar’s effect on the digestion of starch, which may prove beneficial to diabetes patients and explain the weight loss that has been credited to ACV.
Apple Cider Vinegar and Diabetes
A study conducted at Arizona State University and published in 2004 by the American Diabetes Association tested the effects of apple cider vinegar on insulin sensitivity in individuals with insulin resistance, often called “pre-diabetes,” and in patients with type 2 diabetes. The findings revealed that acetic acid – a key chemical compound found in all types of vinegar – helped lower the amount of insulin needed to digest starchy carbohydrates, like those found in white bread and potatoes. For people with lower insulin levels, as in pre-diabetics and diabetics, the finding suggests consuming safe levels of apple cider vinegar or other types of vinegar – balsamic, pomegranate, white distilled and wine – could help keep blood sugar from spiking after meals containing starches.
ACV and Weight Loss
Ms. Borrajo says this effect of vinegar on insulin production could also prove beneficial to people without insulin sensitivity. “The acetic acid in vinegar limits the absorption of carbohydrates by our bodies,” she said. “That means fewer calories are being consumed and some weight loss may occur.”
But she cautions that the weight-loss benefits are minimal and suggests replacing carbohydrates with non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, carrots and eggplant, along with fiber sources, as the best approach to limiting calories for healthy weight loss. Furthermore, some undigested food components, feed and promote the growth of healthy bacteria living in our intestines, according to studies surrounding “prebiotics” and the “gut microbiota.”
Potential Dangers of Apple Cider Vinegar
While the regulation of our blood sugar levels is no doubt a beneficial side effect of consuming vinegar, Ms. Borrajo warns that those on insulin and medication to regulate insulin production should speak to their doctor before starting an apple-cider-vinegar regimen.
“If your medication dosage is based on insulin levels without vinegar, that dosage may need to be adjusted if you begin regular consumption of vinegar,” she said. She also stresses that apple cider vinegar, or any other type of vinegar, has not been proven to prevent or cure diabetes, so it should not be considered instead of prescribed medications.
She also advises against drinking apple cider vinegar straight, which can be too acidic for tooth enamel and the esophagus. For those who want to introduce vinegar into their diet, Ms. Borrajo recommends diluting 1 to 2 tablespoons of it in at least 8 ounces of water and drinking it right before any meals. The author of the 2004 study from Arizona State University, Carol Johnston, told Time magazine earlier this year to keep the total daily intake of vinegar to 4 tablespoons or less.
ACV and Food
Ms. Borrajo says an even better way to minimize the negative effects of too much vinegar is to incorporate it into a healthy meal. She recommends eating a salad or non-starchy vegetables and applying vinegar or a vinaigrette mixture to add flavor. Similarly, using vinegar instead of salt to marinate lean meats can provide an alternative to drinking diluted vinegar, which can be hard to swallow.
Moreover, Ms. Borrajo suggests getting back to basics when it comes to eating healthy will likely diminish the need for any trendy remedies. “Keep it simple,” she said. “Be sure your diet includes complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and fiber. These help maintain a stable glucose level throughout the day. Plus, their calorie count and nutritional value promote overall wellness and a healthy weight.”
Now that advice is easy to digest.