Apple Cider Vinegar: Superfood or Superfad?

About a year ago a wave of friends, family, and clients started asking me about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar – some of them were convinced that it was a miracle elixir.

A quick Google search of “apple cider vinegar” will provide more than 3.5 million hits, with most touting the far-reaching health benefits of ACV. Many of the sites claim that ACV will peel off pounds, fend off cancer, temper blood sugar, boost energy, detoxify organs, cure diabetes, and even alleviate acid reflux. But is there any scientific support for these claims?

First, a little bit of background on this so-called “superfood.” Apple cider vinegar is mostly apple juice that has undergone fermentation: by adding yeast, the fruit sugar turns into alcohol and ultimately, with the addition of bacteria, acetic acid. It’s the acetic acid that gives apple cider vinegar its strong smell and taste. Some vinegars are pasteurized and filtered, however some brands contain some of the harmless bacteria sometimes referred to as “the mother,” that are labeled raw or unfiltered. Although apple cider vinegar has been touted for its health benefits for centuries, most of the claims have not been proven in scientific studies.

Here’s what we know so far:

Weight loss: A preliminary study conducted in 2016 with rats found that animals fed a high fat diet had a lower risk of weight gain, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol when they were given apple cider vinegar. In another study, researchers gave 155 obese adults 2 tablespoons of vinegar every day for 3 months and found they lost 4 pounds in the course of the study, while adults receiving a placebo did not lose weight.  Although the research is promising, it’s too soon to say for sure if apple cider vinegar is a useful tool for weight loss until further studies are conducted.

Cancer: Vinegar contains polyphenols, plant chemicals that may protect cells from damage and stress. In vitro and rat studies suggest that vinegar may prevent the growth of cancer cells or cause tumor cells to die. However, there is no research in humans indicating that vinegar can reduce the risk of cancer.

Blood sugar: Perhaps the strongest evidence for vinegar is the potential benefit for lowering blood sugar. A review of over a dozen studies found that vinegar might reduce blood sugar when eaten with meals.  However, other studies that looked at longer-term markers for high blood sugar did not find that eating vinegar made a significant difference in blood sugar levels. At this time, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend vinegar for blood sugar control due to lack of consistent evidence.

Acid reflux: Apple cider vinegar is often touted as a good home remedy for acid reflux. Unfortunately, there are no published studies to support this claim. What’s more, there may be unwanted side effects of consuming too much vinegar (particularly in a concentrated form), including stomach upset and irritation of the esophagus. Its high acid content can also erode tooth enamel.

The bottom line: We do not have enough scientific studies to show that apple cider vinegar has any significant benefits for health. That said, like all vinegars, it’s relatively low in calories and can add flavor to your food. So, while it’s no cure-all, it can be a healthy addition to your meals in moderation.

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