Apple cider vinegar is a controversial health supplement, considered a versatile health booster by some and an ineffective measure by others. It has been said that apple cider vinegar can relieve sore throat, aid digestion, treat an athlete’s feet, and even improve hemorrhoids (1).
This article aims to dissect the pros and cons of apple cider vinegar (2) and outline some important considerations when you take apple cider vinegar.
A word from the doctor
A recent publication by Harvard Health Publications asked William Kormos, MD, to comment on the medical evidence of apple cider vinegar.
Dr. Kormos confirmed that apple cider vinegar has shown some promise in reducing blood sugar levels, reducing digestive absorption (which can lower the calories and starches absorbed from food, reducing weight gain), and other effects (3).
Medical evidence showing the effects of apple cider vinegar comes from a few typically short-term or small-scale studies done with a small number of people or animals.
But this doesn’t take away from the importance of the findings. These studies are an important step in further showing the usefulness of apple cider vinegar. Here is a list of the findings regarding the health benefits of apple cider vinegar.
Health benefits of apple cider vinegar
Improves overall skin health
Taking an apple cider vinegar bath is a standard treatment for atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) without antibiotics and topical creams (4).
The apple cider vinegar acidifies the skin, reducing the risk of bacterial infections common in irritated, inflamed skin. However, diluting the bath correctly (3–4 cups of apple cider vinegar, maximum) is vital, so the skin doesn’t become more inflamed.
You should always consult your doctor before use and know that antibiotics and other treatments may be needed for dermatitis. It is also important to note that treatment doesn’t seem to improve skin barrier integrity (i.e., make skin stronger) or fully alleviate the condition when used alone (5).
Acts as a natural antibiotic
The antibiotic resistance threat is a significant problem globally, as more and more antibiotics become ineffective at treating bacterial infections (6). Many natural compounds are being tested as replacement therapy for antibiotics, and one of those compounds is apple cider vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties against some strains of bacteria including E. coli and S. aureus. The results from a 2018 study suggest that this vinegar could prove to be an effective antibiotic alternative in the future (7).
In fact, apple cider vinegar was used to treat a chronic Candida albicans infection (yeast infection) in a 32-year old female in 2017 (8), which also hints toward its usefulness as an antibiotic substance.
Provides antioxidant properties
Because apple cider vinegar is processed from apples, it’s rich in antioxidants (9). Even fermented, the phenolic compounds in apples are present and active in apple cider vinegar. Apple antioxidants are great for preventing diseases, including cancer, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease (10).
Apple cider vinegar may help you gain the antioxidants your body needs to stay healthy and fight disease when fresh fruit and vegetables are unavailable.
Fights obesity and reduces appetite
Apple cider vinegar seems to reduce appetite and thereby lower weight over time in overweight and obese populations. Apple cider vinegar also reduces body mass index, cholesterol, and visceral adiposity index (abdominal fat).
Apple cider vinegar, in general, is thought to reduce oxidative stress via antioxidants, and reduced oxidative stress means lower obesity risk and metabolic disorder prevalence (11). This property suggests apple cider vinegar may prove to be a worthwhile addition to a diet or weight loss regime.
Lowers blood glucose levels effectively
Several types of vinegar, including apple cider vinegar, can reduce glucose levels of pre-diabetic patients (no significant difference was noted in healthy participants) (12). This reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and normalizes blood glucose fluctuations.
Boosts your levels of healthy bacteria
Depending on the source and processing of apple cider vinegar, it may contain a variety of microbes that can positively affect health.
Some of which provide health benefits including blood pressure and inflammation reduction (13). More investigation into the specific health benefits of these microbes is still under investigation.
This reduces constipation side effects of schizophrenia drugs
This is one of the more abstract uses of apple cider vinegar in recent history. Clozapine is a drug used to treat schizophrenia, and often causes weight gain and constipation as side effects.
However, when treated with apple cider vinegar, these side effects were reduced (14). A repeated study with a larger test group and adequate controls is being performed.
A word of caution
The popularity of apple cider vinegar taken as baths, diluted in water, or pill-based supplements has risen substantially in recent years.
Because this is a natural health product, it often does not come with recommended doses (mainly when bought as a liquid solution), presenting a risk. Inaccuracy in labeling and occasional false health claims (with no medical evidence or backing) are also problems.
Esophageal and stomach problems from drinking apple cider vinegar products that are too concentrated or drinking them too often pose a significant health risk. If you are interested in using apple cider vinegar, it’s always safest to consult your doctor before use (15).
Apple cider vinegar can be a healthy and useful supplement to your diet and has been shown in preliminary studies to improve several conditions.
However, some safety precautions are important to consider, and consulting a medical professional first is always a good idea. Future studies should narrow down the health benefits of apple cider vinegar and its potential medical uses even further.