What does apple cider vinegar do to your body? Why do people think taking apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a good idea? I remember asking these questions when ACV first became a trending topic.
I can’t remember when it started. Two years ago? Five years ago? I’m not sure. At some point though, the apple cider vinegar fat-burning-weight-loss memes appeared. For a hot minute, they were everywhere. For weeks, you could not log onto social media without seeing at least one of these little buggers cheer leading the metabolic and weight loss benefits apple cider vinegar on your feed or wall.
Then, nearly as abruptly as they appeared, they kind of fizzled out and vanished. Since that’s pretty standard fare for non-sense health trends, it seemed like good evidence that the over-the-top claims about apple cider vinegar pushed in these viral posts were as far-fetched as they seemed. It looked like apple cider vinegar had had its moment it the sun and had withered away.
But then something strange happened. The memes came back, and kept on coming back. Every few months now, they reappear, make their rounds through circles of friends and then fade back into the background.
This unexpected tenacity has finally got me wondering: is there truth to their claims after all? Time to see what the science says!
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
First thing’s first. What is apple cider vinegar, anyway? What does apple cider vinegar do to your body? Is it better than just an apple a day?
Apple cider vinegar is unfiltered apple juice that has undergone a double-fermentation — once with yeast, and once with bacteria — to make it rich in a chemical called acetic acid. Acetic acid gives apple cider vinegar a low pH (i.e. makes it acidic), provides it with a unique, sharp smell, and creates a characteristic sour flavor.
Figure 1 below shows the process of turning apple sugar into acetic acid. Yeast transforms apple sugar (fructose, left) into alcohol (middle). Alcohol digesting bacteria then turn the alcohol into acetic acid (right) to make apple cider vinegar. DL-Fructose, Ethanol2, (both by NEUOtiker), and Acetic Acid 2D Skeletal (by Calvero) are all in the public domain.
Figure 1: Making apple sugar into acetic acid.
An Acidic Apple Juice a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?
Apple juice with some organic acid mixed in. Seems an odd thing to suddenly bestow health-food status on. Where did the idea that apple cider vinegar is healthy even come from?
Turns out, folk medicine! The belief that super-fermented sugar solutions have health-boosting properties has, apparently, been around for thousands of years, starting at least as early as the ancient Greeks.
Well, what do you know? Looks like the apple cider vinegar craze isn’t quite as out-of-the-blue as I thought.
Of course, folk medicine isn’t necessarily a more solid foundation for making health decisions than a random Facebook meme. There are some great things in folk medicine — willow bark for killing pain or a turmeric paste for wound healing, anyone? — but they are mixed in with utter nonsense.
Some of it is silly nonsense, like getting rid of your migraine by tying a dead mole to your head. Other recommendations from folk medicine are downright dangerous nonsense, though, such as taking mercury pills to treat syphilis or bloodletting to treat seizures.
Clearly, just because something was reported to be helpful in folk medicine doesn’t mean it really is helpful. How do you know if apple cider vinegar is great for your health, silly nonsense or maybe even dangerous nonsense? You have to turn to controlled, scientific experiments testing each of the metabolic health claims about vinegar.
Apple Cider Vinegar Metabolic and Weight Loss Health Claims
If you peruse the apple cider vinegar health memes, you’ll notice that there are four main metabolic health claims. Apple cider vinegar is supposed to be able to:
- Decrease your appetite
- Help you lose weight
- Improve your blood cholesterol levels
- Lower your blood sugar
Let’s tackle these one at a time!
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Decrease Your Appetite?
It appears it might!
In a study carried out in Sweden, people given the same meal of plain, white bread supplemented with different amounts of vinegar reported significantly increased feelings of fullness after the meal. The effect was dose-dependent, meaning that the more vinegar the subjects soaked their bread in, the fuller they felt.
In fact, the group that had the most vinegar (about two tablespoons) actually reported feeling more than twice as full as the group that just ate bread did, even though that volume of vinegar only adds about five calories to a meal! Researchers suspect that this effect comes from vinegar’s ability to slow down the rate food leaves your stomach by making your stomach acid more acidic.
See, when the acid from your stomach is too strong (e.g. from having acidic vinegar added to it) it can make it hard for your small intestine to buffer it down to the pH safe for your intestinal walls. If your small intestine notices that the pH of its digestive fluids is slipping, it sends signals back to the stomach to slow down the flow of food and acid, to give itself time to make more buffer and protect itself! That keeps food in your stomach longer, keeping you feeling full.
This was a small study, though, (only 12 healthy people participated) so these results will have to be replicated for us to be 100% sure it really works for everyone. Nevertheless, this experiment makes this meme claim much, much more credible.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help You Lose Weight?
Again, it looks like it might!
A slightly bigger study (155 participants) out of Japan found that adding one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the daily diet helped overweight individuals lose weight. Those drinking one tablespoon of diluted apple cider vinegar each day started losing weight within two months and saw a total weight loss of about 2.5 lbs in three months. Those drinking two tablespoons lost weight within a month and lost around 4.5 lbs in three months.
What’s more, researchers found that each of the groups drinking the apple cider vinegar specifically lost abdominal body fat. They saw drops in their total body fat percentages, their waist circumferences and their hip-to-waist ratios.
Fascinatingly, all of this was without any significant changes in diet or exercise compared to a control group who was not drinking apple cider vinegar. That means these effects were not just do to those drinking the vinegar eating less because they felt fuller, longer!
How else might apple cider vinegar help you lose weight, then? It looks like there are two likely mechanisms involved: boosting your cells’ ability to burn fat and protecting your gut health.
Boosting Your Metabolism to Burn More Fat
Researchers think apple cider vinegar may be able to increase your body’s ability to burn fat by increasing the levels of a molecule made from acetic acid — acetate — in your blood. Acetate is able to directly regulate your metabolism by activating one of the most important metabolic enzymes in your body: AMP-kinase. Activated AMP-kinase tells your body, “Hey, we need some extra energy out here! Let’s start burning fat, rather than storing it!”
Acetate can hijack AMP-kinase, helping turn it on, even when you have plenty of food and energy around. This helps keep your body in fat burning mode, all the time, helping you lose or stop gaining weight!
Apple Cider Vinegar for Gut Health?
An unhealthy gut can cause you to gain weight (or be unable to lose weight) in a couple of ways.
First, an unhealthy gut often contains unhealthy gut bacteria. These unhealthy bacteria actually make you fatter by making extra calories from the food you eat! Unhealthy gut bacteria break down bits of food you would otherwise leave undigested, transforming them into nutrients your body then absorbs. This efficient break down of food can result in you literally absorbing hundreds of calories more than you otherwise would have from every meal. Naturally, all those extra calories can promote weight gain and hinder weight loss!
Second, an unhealthy gut allows toxins from your food and the bacteria in your gut to get into your body. These dangerous molecules cause your immune system to freak out, releasing tons of inflammatory chemicals throughout your body. These inflammatory chemicals change your metabolism and make it easier to put on weight and harder to lose it.
Apple cider vinegar may be able to help combat both of these weight-promoting effects of an unhealthy gut. Acetic acid and polyphenol molecules (the molecules that make apples red/pink/green/yellow) both possess antibiotic properties and may be able to help kill off unhealthy bacteria in your gut. This could help decrease the number of calories you extract from your food, making it easier to lose weight without eating less food!Acetic acid (and the other small organic acids made during vinegar fermentation) has also been shown to help keep your gut from letting dangerous molecules into your body. It helps keep the cells that line the wall of your intestine healthy, so that they bind tightly together and keep toxins from being able to sneak past into your body. A healthier gut wall and fewer toxins in your body can decrease inflammation, letting your metabolism get back to its natural, fat-burning self!
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Improve Your Blood Cholesterol Levels?
Theoretically, the higher levels of acetate in the blood from consuming apple cider vinegar could help decrease blood cholesterol levels. Acetate can activate enzymes that tell the liver to make less cholesterol, which could bring blood levels down.
When tested in animals, this relationship seems to work. Rat models, for example, have shown that adding vinegar to a high-cholesterol diet can help keep blood cholesterol levels under control.
When tested in people though, this effect hasn’t really panned out. The largest study looking at apple cider vinegar and blood cholesterol, the Japanese study described above, didn’t find a significant difference in cholesterol levels between those who drank apple cider vinegar and those that didn’t.
That being said, there was a trend towards lower cholesterol levels in the vinegar groups.
This may mean that the study didn’t last long enough to see a significant effect. Or there weren’t enough participants to see an effect. Or because vinegar doesn’t affect cholesterol levels in people. It’s difficult to say, for sure. Future studies will have to clear this up for us!
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Lower Your Blood Sugar?
This last claim is the only claim to get a resounding: yes!
Multiple studies clearly show that vinegar can lower blood sugar spikes after meals (see also here), decrease the amount of insulin you need to process sugar after you eat, increase the rate at which muscle removes sugar from your blood, and improve HbA1c levels in those with diabetes.
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Should You Add Apple Cider Vinegar to Your Routine?
Who would have thought: all four of those common meme claims are, to one degree or another, supported by scientific evidence!
So, should you add apple cider vinegar to your day? Is there any reason not to?
Not really! If you are careful and keep a few things in mind!
- Apple cider vinegar is a strong acid! If you decide to add it to your routine, it’s better not to take it straight. Dilute it in something — water, tea, juice — or add it to food directly. Otherwise, you can burn your throat, like this poor woman did.
- Apple cider vinegar hasn’t been reported to have any side effects at moderate doses (say the 1-2 tablespoons used in the studies mentioned above), but at high doses, it might not be safe. A woman drinking 16 tablespoons of diluted vinegar a day had massive changes to her body’s electrolyte balance, causing her serious bone problems.
- The effects of apple cider vinegar are real, but they are pretty moderate. They will not combat an otherwise unhealthy diet or lifestyle. Vinegar should be thought of more as a supplement for a healthy diet rather than a magic-bullet cure.
- The health benefits of apple cider vinegar come from acetic acid, a molecule common to all vinegars! This means you are not restricted to just apple cider vinegar, unless you want to be! Add some balsamic vinegar to your salad. Mix some rice vinegar into your asian-style stir fry. Enjoy some date vinegar with your fallafel. All of these should work just as well as apple cider vinegar and give your far more flavor and flexibility!
On the whole, though, if done with care, both vinegar in general and apple cider vinegar in particular, gets a: yay!
Thinking apple cider vinegar is a good option for you? Here are some popular brands that you might want to check out!
Disclosure – This post contains affiliate links. Click here for details.
Best Apple Cider Vinegar
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Take Home Message
Apple cider vinegar has had a reputation for thousands of years for being a health-food. Science is now backing up those claims, showing that consuming just a couple of tablespoons of vinegar each day can help regulate your metabolism, control your blood sugar and manage your weight. Apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar you like) may be considered a useful supplement to a healthy diet and lifestyle!
Have you ever added apple cider vinegar to your daily routine? Did you notice any metabolic benefits? Let us know in the comment section below!