The Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

For centuries, apple cider vinegar has been used to treat a wide variety of health ailments. It's also a popular disinfectant and natural preservative. Today, it may be best known as a weight loss aid and a way to help control your blood sugar.

Apple cider vinegar is produced when apple cider is fermented. During this process, bacteria or yeast interact with the sugar in apples. The cider turns into alcohol and then into vinegar.

Some people drink the vinegar itself or use it as a condiment like salad dressing. Others take capsules or eat gummies.

This article explains which benefits are backed by science and which are unproven. It also lists some of the possible side effects you might experience.

Health Benefits

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid. It also contains bacteria and lactic, citric, and malic acids. These acids are what gives the vinegar its tart taste.

Apple cider vinegar is believed to boost your health in many ways. Here's what the research says about its benefits.

benefits of apple cider vinegar
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Blood Sugar

The acetic acid in vinegar may block enzymes that help you digest starch. Starchy foods such as bread, pasta, and rice can cause a surge in blood sugar after you eat.

So taking apple cider vinegar could lead to a smaller blood sugar spike after starchy meals.

A 2017 research review published in Diabetes Research & Clinical Practice showed that taking vinegar with meals lowered insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugar, and it's increased in diabetes. Vinegar also lowered post-meal blood sugar levels.

To add apple cider vinegar to a meal, try a splash on salads or in marinades, vinaigrettes, and sauces.

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, talk to your healthcare provider if you’re thinking of using more than you'd typically find in cooking. Vinegar can interact with diabetes medication. It shouldn't be used if you have certain health conditions like gastroparesis, a digestive disorder in which the stomach empties slowly.

Weight Loss

Advocates claim that taking vinegar before or with a meal may help you feel full faster and lose weight.

A small study published in 2018 tracked weight loss in two groups of people over a 12-week period. Both groups ate fewer calories. One group also had 30 milliliters of apple cider vinegar a day.

At the end of the study, the vinegar group lost more weight. They also lost more visceral fat. That's the fat around the organs in your abdomen, and it is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

People tend to use more apple cider vinegar when taking it for weight loss purposes. Some even take it in supplement form.

Recap

Some research points to apple cider vinegar as a way to lower blood sugar and help with weight loss. More large-scale studies need to be done to confirm these benefits.

Other Uses

Over the years, apple cider vinegar has been used as a home remedy for many health and beauty purposes. While there isn't strong science to back these claims, some people have reported success.

Dandruff

To treat dandruff, some people spritz an apple cider vinegar and water solution onto the scalp. It is believed to fight flakes, itchiness, and irritation. Vinegar’s acetic acid may change the scalp’s pH, making it harder for yeast to thrive. Yeast contributes to dandruff.

It is also used to treat an itchy, scaly skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. A 2017 study published in the Galen Medical Journal said applying the flowering herb Althaea officinalis along with vinegar resolved the condition in a 32-year-old woman.

Some people use it as a hair rinse to remove shampoo build-up and clarify dull hair. If you try this, be sure to mix the vinegar with plenty of water so it doesn't sting your eyes.

Vinegar doesn't get rid of head lice.

Sunburn and Other Skin Injuries

People often treat mild sunburns with a cool water compress, cool bath, aloe gel, or moisturizer. Others swear by apple cider vinegar. It can be added to a cool bath or mixed with cool water and spritzed on affected areas to ease pain. It's a good idea to avoid the face.

There is little evidence that apple cider vinegar can relieve sunburn pain. It does have strong germ-fighting properties, though. It may help prevent skin infections caused by sunburn and other skin injuries.

Apple cider vinegar shouldn’t be applied to the skin in full-strength or strong concentrations. It also shouldn’t be used for more serious burns. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider for major sunburns.

If you have mosquito bites, poison ivy, or jellyfish stings, some advocates say you can dab a weak apple cider vinegar solution onto the area(s) to help itching and irritation.

Acne and Other Chronic Skin Issues

There isn't much evidence to suggest that apple cider vinegar could clear up acne. Still, some people dab on a little to dry out pimples. It should be diluted before applying it to the face as it can harm your skin if it’s not mixed with water.

There is some research suggesting that applying apple cider vinegar to varicose veins may make them less noticeable. Varicose veins are raised blood vessels that can be painful.

Different vinegars have different amounts of acetic acid. That can make it hard to know how much water to add to make it safe for skin. Keep that fact in mind if you want to use apple cider vinegar on your skin.

Sore Throat

One of the oldest uses of apple cider vinegar is as a remedy for sore throat (pharyngitis).

There are many different recipes and methods. One basic drink recipe calls for a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of honey, and a small pinch of cayenne pepper stirred in a cup of warm water. Some drink the mixture and others like to gargle it.

Apple cider vinegar has germ-fighting properties. It's also said that the capsaicin in hot peppers relieves pain. But there hasn’t been any specific research that shows apple cider vinegar fights sore throat.

In fact, there is evidence that treating a sore throat with vinegar can do more harm than good. If it's not mixed with enough water, vinegar can damage tissues in the throat. The damage may worsen pain and make it harder to swallow.

It is not clear how much apple cider vinegar should be added to water to make a safe treatment for sore throats, especially in children.

Body Odor

Some claim that apple cider vinegar may keep smelly feet and armpits in check. It may help to balance the skin’s pH (acidity level) and fight bacteria that cause body odor.

One method is to mix a bit of apple cider vinegar into water. Dip a baby wipe, cotton ball, or cloth into the solution. Wring out the extra liquid and wipe the bottom of the feet or the armpit. Wipes can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container.

At first, you might notice a vinegar scent. It usually goes away when the vinegar dries.

It's a good idea to test the apple cider vinegar solution in a small area first. You should also avoid using it near delicate fabrics like silk or leather. The acids could damage them.

Recap

Some people have had personal success using vinegar to treat dandruff, acne, sunburn, sore throats, bites, and stings. There isn't much research to support these uses, however. If you decide to give it a go, be sure you water down the vinegar first so you don't damage your skin.

Possible Side Effects

Apple cider vinegar is a popular household product. Its popularity could lead you to believe that it's completely safe. You should be aware of some potential side effects, however. They may be more of a problem if the vinegar is too strong or in contact with your body too long.

For instance, it can cause chemical burns. Some people had burns after using it for warts and a skin condition known as molluscum contagiosum.

Some people have tried vinegar as a home remedy to whiten teeth or freshen breath. But the acids can damage tooth enamel and lead to cavities.

Eating or drinking apple cider vinegar may lower your potassium levels too much. It can also lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), throat irritation, and allergic reactions.

Vinegar is an acid. It can cause burns and injury to the digestive tract (including the throat, esophagus, and stomach). This is especially true when it is used in large amounts or without diluting it with water.

Substances that have a pH less than 7 are acids. Many apple cider vinegar products have a pH of 2 to 3. That means they are highly acidic.

Apple cider vinegar may interact with medications, including:

  • Laxatives (medications that make it easier to have a bowel movement)
  • Diuretics (medications that rid your body of extra water and salt)
  • Blood thinners
  • Heart disease and diabetes medications

Apple cider vinegar shouldn’t be used as a nasal spray, sinus wash, or in a neti pot. It shouldn’t be added to eye drops.

Dose and Preparation 

Apple cider vinegar is available as a liquid and a supplement. There is no standard dose for the capsules and gummies, so follow the package directions and check with your healthcare provider.

Many uses involve diluting vinegar with water, but it's hard to tell how much water to use to make the vinegar safe. Some advocates suggest a ratio of 1:10 (one part vinegar to 10 parts water) if you're putting it on your skin. Using vinegar on delicate or damaged skin may not be a good idea.

If you're drinking vinegar, a teaspoon to a tablespoon mixed into 8 ounces of water is a common recipe. Again, the safety of various doses isn’t known.

The amount of acetic acid in commercial apple cider vinegar varies (unlike white vinegar, which is 5% acetic acid). That can make it impossible to know the true strength of your mixture.

What to Look For

You can buy filtered or unfiltered vinegar. The filtered type is a clear, light brown color. Unfiltered versions (such as Bragg's) have a cloudy layer at the bottom of the bottle.

Known as "mother of vinegar" or simply "mother," this cloudy layer is mainly bacteria. Some say unfiltered options are better. They do tend to be more costly than filtered vinegars, though.

When you buy apple cider vinegar capsules or gummies, read the product label first. Make sure it lists apple cider vinegar, not acetic acid (white vinegar). Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means you should look for brands reviewed by independent parties such as U.S. Pharmacopeia. 

Summary

Apple cider vinegar has been around for ages. There's some evidence that it could help control blood sugar or help you reach a healthy weight. Some people have had success using it to treat skin and scalp problems, but there's no solid science backing these uses yet.

Apple cider vinegar contains some acids, so it's usually mixed with water when it's used for acne, bites, or other skin problems. If you drink it, be aware that it can harm your teeth or digestive system if it's too strong. It can also interact with some medications in ways that could harm your health.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re considering using apple cider vinegar for any health purpose, speak with your healthcare provider to see if it’s right for you. It's usually not a good idea to self-treat. This is especially true if you are avoiding standard treatments. People with certain conditions (such as ulcers, hiatal hernia, Barrett’s esophagus, or low potassium) may need to avoid apple cider vinegar.

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