December 4, 2023

Proponents of apple cider vinegar argue that the tangy liquid can be used for all manner of health kicks, from aiding weight loss and blood sugar control to combatting infections – but is there much evidence to back up these lofty claims? 

Apple cider vinegar is simply a vinegar made from fermented apple juice. Vinegar is produced by converting simple sugars to ethanol (aka alcohol) using yeast, and then ethanol to acetic acid using Acetobacter bacteria. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the sugar comes from apple juice. 

In short, it looks like most (but not all) of touted benefits of apple cider vinegar are largely unfounded or based on very small and unrobust studies in obscure journals. Nevertheless, consuming the stuff is relatively low-risk, so there’s no harm in sprinkling your salad with an apple cider vinegar dressing to give it some zing. 

Here are some of the most widely promoted benefits of consuming apple cider vinegar and what the evidence (or lack thereof) says about it. 

One of the most commonly searched medicinal uses for apple cider vinegar is weight loss. For this claim, the evidence is mixed, but not overly unconvincing. 

A 2018 study, reported in the Journal of Functional Foods, carried out a randomized clinical trial in which a small group of human subjects drank 15 milliliters of apple cider vinegar with lunch and dinner, along with eating 250 calories less than their daily estimated requirements. A control group just reduced the calories without the shots of vinegar.

After 12 weeks, the control group lost an average of  2.2 kilograms (5 pounds), but the apple cider vinegar group lost an average of 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds).

That might sound promising, but it was a relatively short and very small study of fewer than 40 participants. Furthermore, the researchers suggested this effect was due to how the apple cider vinegar affected their appetite. Another study has previously speculated that the appetite-killing effect of apple cider vinegar may just be down to the highly acidic convocation making people feel nauseous. 

Some have suggested that apple cider vinegar may help ward off cancer and potentially even be a viable cancer treatment. That is simply not true.

This dangerously misleading claim appears to stem from studies showing how acetic acid can kill cancer cells in a petri dish. However, this is wholly different from saying it combats cancer – drinking bleach will kill cancer cells, but we wouldn’t recommend doing shots of it as it will probably kill the rest of you too.

A splash of vinegar is unlikely to kill you, but using it instead of tried and tested treatments is risky.

One of the major attractions of apple cider vinegar is its supposed gut-friendly properties. As a fermented food, apple cider vinegar is teeming with friendly bacteria, much like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir. Good quality bottles of apple cider vinegar will often still contain “the mother,” which is essentially just a giant microbial culture.

This property, in theory, could help to replenish and foster a healthy gut microbiome, which is key to many aspects of health and wellbeing. As one example, a 2019 study on mice found that apple cider vinegar may help to decrease levels of bad gut microbes known as firmicutes.

However, some experts believe that apple cider vinegar is not technically a probiotic since it’s not proven whether these bacteria survive transit through the digestive system, while others argue the probiotic effects of apple cider vinegar may be minimal. Once again, there’s not a lot of scientific literature on the matter.

Apple cider vinegar is sometimes heralded for its ability to manage blood sugar levels. A number of small studies have investigated this claim and the evidence is not overly convincing.

One 2004 study, involving less than 30 people, found that taking 20 grams of apple cider vinegar with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small glass of water could help people with Type 2 diabetes lower blood sugar after a high-carb meal by improving insulin sensitivity. 

Another study in 2007 found that drinking apple cider vinegar at bedtime helped to moderate blood sugar upon waking up. However, this was another tiny study, involving just 11 participants. 

Overall, the findings are interesting, but certainly not enough to ditch your standard diabetes treatment.

Many people boast that diluted apple cider vinegar works miracles for the skin, clearing up pimples and serving as an all-natural exfoliant. Some even believe it can be used to effectively treat eczema. There’s very little hard scientific evidence to back up these ideas, but they appear to stem from the very real anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties of apple cider vinegar. 

Bear in mind, however, that you should always be careful rubbing your delicate face with an acidic liquid not specifically formulated for use on the skin as it’s likely to cause some irritation, damage your skin’s barrier, and potentially give you a mild chemical burn.

The acetic and malic acid in apple cider vinegar provide exfoliating properties – but as with many natural remedies, the concentration of active ingredients is not standardized, so the acidity could be inconsistent from batch to batch, making the effects unpredictable.

The National Eczema Association has drawn up a few ideas of how people with eczema can use apple cider vinegar, but they add it’s not strictly evidence-based and should only be carried out after talking to a doctor. 

It’s a similar story for dandruff. Although there are no studies to prove that apple cider vinegar can treat dandruff, it does have some anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties that could support those claims. One of the leading causes of dandruff is an overgrowth of fungus. However, like many of the bold claims that surround apple cider vinegar, no scientific studies have properly looked into this topic. 

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current. 


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