By Kris Gunnars
For centuries, vinegar has been used for various household and cooking purposes. It is also an ancient folk remedy, claimed to help with all sorts of health problems.
The most popular vinegar in the natural health community is apple cider vinegar.
A glass of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, with "mother." Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
It is claimed to lead to all sorts of beneficial effects, some of which are supported by science. This includes weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and improved symptoms of diabetes.
Here are 6 health benefits of apple cider vinegar, that are supported by scientific research.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar is High in Acetic Acid, Which Has Potent Biological Effects
Vinegar is made in a two-step process, related to how alcohol is made. The first step exposes crushed apples (or apple cider) to yeast, which ferment the sugars and turn them into alcohol.
In the second step, bacteria are added to the alcohol solution, which further ferment the alcohol and turn it into acetic acid, the main active compound in vinegar. In French, the word “vinegar" actually means “sour wine."
Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (like Bragg's) also contains “mother," strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky, cobweb-like appearance. Some people believe that the “mother" is responsible for most of the health benefits, although there are currently no studies to support this.
Apple cider vinegar only contains about three calories per tablespoon, which is very low. There are not many vitamins or minerals in it, but it does contain a tiny amount of potassium. Quality apple cider vinegar also contains some amino acids and antioxidants.
Bottom Line: Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the sugars from apples. This turns them into acetic acid, the active ingredient in vinegar.
2. Acetic Acid Is a Potent Antimicrobial and Can Kill Some Types of Bacteria
Vinegar can help kill pathogens, including bacteria.
It has traditionally been used for cleaning and disinfecting, treating nail fungus, lice, warts and ear infections. However, many of these applications have currently not been confirmed by research.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used vinegar for wound cleaning over two thousand years ago.
Vinegar has been used as a food preservative, and studies show that it inhibits bacteria (like E. coli) from growing in the food and spoiling it. If you're looking for a natural way to preserve your food, then apple cider vinegar could be highly useful.
There have also been anecdotal reports of diluted apple cider vinegar helping with acne when applied on the skin, but I didn't find any research to confirm this so take it with a grain of salt.
Bottom Line: The main substance in vinegar, acetic acid, can kill bacteria and/or prevent them from multiplying and reaching harmful levels. It has a history of use as a disinfectant and natural preservative.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar May Lower Blood Sugar Levels, Which is Very Useful For Diabetics
By far the most successful application of vinegar to date, is in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugars, either in the context of insulin resistance or an inability to produce insulin. However, elevated blood sugar can also be a problem in people who don't have diabetes; it is believed to be a major cause of aging and various chronic diseases.
So, pretty much everyone should benefit from keeping their blood sugar levels stable.
The most effective (and healthiest) way to do that is to avoid refined carbs and sugar, but apple cider vinegar may also have a powerful effect.
Vinegar has been shown to have numerous benefits for insulin function and blood sugar levels:
- Improves insulin sensitivity during a high-carb meal by 19-34 percent and significantly lowers blood glucose and insulin responses.
- Reduces blood sugar by 34 percent when eating 50 grams of white bread.
- Two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bedtime can reduce fasting blood sugars by 4 percent.
- Numerous other studies, in both rats and humans, show that vinegar can increase insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood sugar responses during meals.
For these reasons, vinegar can be useful for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes or those who want to keep their blood sugar levels low to normal for other reasons.
If you're currently taking blood sugar lowering medications, then check with your doctor before increasing your intake of apple cider vinegar.
Bottom Line: Apple cider vinegar has shown great promise in improving insulin sensitivity and helping to lower blood sugar responses after meals.
4. There Are Some Studies Showing That Apple Cider Vinegar Can Help With Weight Loss
Given that vinegar lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, it makes sense that it could help you lose weight.
Several human studies suggest that vinegar can increase satiety, help you eat fewer calories and even lead to actual pounds lost on the scale. Vinegar along with high-carb meals can increase feelings of fullness and make people eat 200-275 fewer calories for the rest of the day. By reducing calorie intake, this should translate to reduced weight over time.
A study in obese individuals showed that daily vinegar consumption led to reduced belly fat, waist circumference, lower blood triglycerides and weight loss:
- 15mL (1 tablespoon): Lost 2.6 pounds, or 1.2 kilograms.
- 30mL (2 tablespoons): Lost 3.7 pounds, or 1.7 kilograms.
However, keep in mind that this study went on for 12 weeks, so the true effects on body weight seem to be rather modest.
That being said, just adding/subtracting single foods or ingredients rarely has a noticeable effect on weight. It's the entire diet/lifestyle that counts; you need to combine several effective methods to see results.
Overall, it seems like apple cider vinegar may be useful as a weight loss aid, mainly by promoting satiety and lowering glucose and insulin levels. But it won't work any miracles on its own.
Bottom Line: Studies suggest that vinegar can increase feelings of fullness and help people eat fewer calories, which can lead to weight loss.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar May Have Some Benefits for Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) is currently the world's biggest cause of death.
It is known that several measurable biological factors are linked to either a decreased or increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Several of these “risk factors" have been shown to be improved by vinegar consumption, but all of the studies were done in rats.
These rat studies showed that apple cider vinegar can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Apple cider vinegar may also contain the antioxidant chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to protect LDL cholesterol particles from becoming oxidized, a crucial step in the heart disease process.
The only human evidence is an observational study from Harvard showing that women who ate salad dressings with vinegar had a reduced risk of heart disease. But this type of study can only show an association, it can not prove that the vinegar caused anything.
Bottom Line: Several animal studies have shown that vinegar can reduce blood triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure, but this needs to be confirmed in human studies.
6. Vinegar May Be Protective Against Cancer
Cancer is a terrible disease, characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells.
There is a lot of hype online about the anti-cancer effects of apple cider vinegar. Some studies have shown that vinegar can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. However, all of the studies on this were done in isolated cells in test tubes, or rats, which proves nothing about what happens in a living, breathing human.
Additionally, most of the studies were done on rice vinegar, not apple cider vinegar. That being said, some observational studies (which don't prove anything) have shown that vinegar ingestion is linked to decreased esophageal cancer in China, but increased bladder cancer in Serbia.
Overall, it is possible that apple cider vinegar may help to prevent cancer, but it is definitely premature to make any recommendations based on the current research.
Bottom Line: Some studies in test tubes and rats have shown that rice vinegar can slow the growth of cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Side Effects, Dosage and How to Use it
There are a lot of wild claims about apple cider vinegar on the internet. Some say that it can increase energy levels and have all sorts of beneficial effects on health. Unfortunately, many of these claims are not supported by science.
Of course, absence of proof isn't proof that something isn't happening and anecdote often ends up becoming supported by science down the line. That being said, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for more studies, since research on natural health products like these are both few and far between.
From the little evidence available, I think that apple cider vinegar may be useful and is definitely a good candidate for some self-experimentation if you're interested in it. At the very least, apple cider vinegar seems to be safe. There are no side effects noted with normal consumption.
The best way to incorporate it into your diet is to use it in your cooking: for salad dressings, mayonnaise and that sort of thing. Some people also like to dilute it in water and drink it as a beverage. Common dosages range from 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 mL) to 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 mL) per day. Definitely don't go above that, because excess consumption may have harmful effects.
It is also possible to take it in pill/tablet form, but I don't recommend that because a 2005 study showed that the true vinegar content of these supplements was highly questionable. There is also a report of a woman having an apple cider vinegar tablet stuck in her throat, which led to esophageal burns.
It is recommended to use organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the “mother." Bragg's seems to be the most popular option, which is available on Amazon with tons of interesting testimonials and reviews that are fun to browse through.
Apple cider vinegar also has various other non-health related uses like hair conditioning, skin care, dental care, pet use and as a cleaning agent (to name a few). These can be highly useful for people who like to keep things as natural and chemical-free as possible.
At the end of the day, apple cider vinegar appears to be very healthy. It's not a “miracle" or a “cure-all" like some people seem to believe, but it does clearly have some important health benefits, especially for blood sugar and weight control.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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