Apple cider vinegar appears to be safe, as long as you don't take excessive amounts of it. Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images
Many people claim it can relieve a wide range of health complaints, but you may wonder what the research says.
Apple cider vinegar has various healthful properties, including antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. What's more, evidence suggests it may offer health benefits, such as aiding weight loss, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood sugar levels, and improving the symptoms of diabetes.
However, little research exists, and further studies are needed before it can be recommended as an alternative therapy.
This article looks at the evidence behind 6 possible health benefits of apple cider vinegar.
1. High in Healthful Substances
Apple cider vinegar is made via a two-step process.
First, the manufacturer exposes crushed apples to yeast, which ferments the sugars and turns them into alcohol. Next, they add bacteria to further ferment the alcohol, turning it into acetic acid — the main active compound in vinegar.
Acetic acid gives vinegar its strong sour smell and flavor. Researchers believe this acid is responsible for apple cider vinegar's health benefits. Cider vinegars are 5–6% acetic acid.
Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar also contains a substance called "mother," which consists of strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky appearance.
Some people believe that the "mother" is responsible for most of its health benefits, although there are currently no studies to support this.
While apple cider vinegar does not contain many vitamins or minerals, it offers a small amount of potassium. Good quality brands also contain some amino acids and antioxidants.
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the sugar from apples. This turns them into acetic acid, which is a main active ingredient in vinegar and may be responsible for its health benefits.
2. Can Help Kill Harmful Bacteria
Vinegar can help kill pathogens, including bacteria.
People have traditionally used vinegar for cleaning and disinfecting, treating nail fungus, lice, warts, and ear infections.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used vinegar to clean wounds more than 2,000 years ago.
Vinegar is also a food preservative, and studies show that it inhibits bacteria like E. coli from growing in and spoiling food.
If you're looking for a natural way to preserve your food, apple cider vinegar could help.
Anecdotal reports also suggest that diluted apple cider vinegar could help with acne when applied to the skin, but there doesn't seem to be any strong research to confirm this.
The main substance in vinegar — acetic acid — can kill harmful bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. It has a history of use as a disinfectant and natural preservative.
3. May Help Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Manage Diabetes
To date, one of the most convincing applications of vinegar is helping treat type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance or the inability to produce insulin.
However, people without diabetes can also benefit from keeping their blood sugar levels in the normal range, as some researchers believe that high blood sugar levels are a major cause of aging and various chronic diseases.
The most effective and healthiest way to regulate blood sugar levels is to avoid refined carbs and sugar, but apple cider vinegar may also have a beneficial effect.
Research suggests that vinegar offers the following benefits for blood sugar and insulin levels:
- A small study suggests vinegar may improve insulin sensitivity by 19–34% during a high carb meal and significantly lower blood sugar and insulin response.
- In a small study in 5 healthy people, vinegar reduced blood sugar by 31.4% after eating 50 grams of white bread.
- A small study in people with diabetes reported that consuming 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bedtime reduced fasting blood sugar by 4% the following morning.
- Numerous other studies in humans show that vinegar can improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels after meals.
The National Centers for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says it's very important that people do not replace medical treatment with unproven health products.
If you're currently taking blood-sugar-lowering medications, check with your healthcare provider before increasing your intake of any type of vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar has shown great promise in improving insulin sensitivity and helping lower blood sugar responses after meals.
4. May Aid Weight Loss
Perhaps surprisingly, studies show that vinegar could help people lose weight.
Several human studies show that vinegar can increase feelings of fullness. This can lead you to eat fewer calories and lose weight.
For example, according to one study, taking vinegar along with a high carb meal led to increased feelings of fullness, causing participants to eat 200–275 fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.
Furthermore, a study in 175 people with obesity showed that daily apple cider vinegar consumption led to reduced belly fat and weight loss:
- taking 1 tablespoon (12 mL) led to a loss of 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg)
- taking 2 tablespoons (30 mL) led to a loss of 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg)
However, keep in mind that this study went on for 3 months, so the true effects on body weight seem to be rather modest.
That said, simply adding or subtracting single foods or ingredients rarely has a noticeable effect on weight. It's your entire diet or lifestyle that creates long-term weight loss.
Overall, apple cider vinegar may contribute to weight loss by promoting satiety, lowering blood sugar, and reducing insulin levels.
Apple cider vinegar only contains about three calories per tablespoon, which is very low.
Studies suggest that vinegar can increase feelings of fullness and help you eat fewer calories, which may lead to weight loss.
5. Improves Heart Health in Animals
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death.
Several biological factors are linked to your risk of heart disease.
Research suggests that vinegar could improve several of these risk factors. However, many of the studies were conducted in animals.
These animal studies suggest that apple cider vinegar can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as several other heart disease risk factors.
Some studies in rats have also shown that vinegar reduces blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and kidney problems.
However, there is no good evidence that vinegar benefits heart health in humans. Researchers need to do more studies before reaching any strong conclusions.
Several animal studies have shown that vinegar can reduce blood triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure. However, there is no strong evidence that it leads to a reduced risk of heart disease in humans.
6. May Boost Skin Health
Apple cider vinegar is a common remedy for skin conditions like dry skin and eczema.
The skin is naturally slightly acidic. Using topical apple cider vinegar could help rebalance the natural pH of the skin, improving the protective skin barrier.
On the other hand, alkaline soaps and cleansers could irritate eczema, making symptoms worse.
Given its antibacterial properties, apple cider vinegar could, in theory, help prevent skin infections linked to eczema and other skin conditions.
Some people use diluted apple cider vinegar in a face wash or toner. The idea is that it can kill bacteria and prevent spots.
However, one study in 22 people with eczema reported that apple cider vinegar soaks did not improve the skin barrier and caused skin irritation.
Talk to your healthcare provider before trying new remedies, especially on damaged skin. Avoid applying undiluted vinegar to the skin, as it can cause burns.
Apple cider vinegar is naturally acidic and has antimicrobial properties. This means it could help improve the skin barrier and prevent infections. However, more studies are needed to know how safe and effective this remedy is.
Dosage and How to Use It
The best way to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet is to use it in cooking. It's a simple addition to foods like salad dressings and homemade mayonnaise.
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 tablespoon (15–30 mL) per day mixed in a large glass of water.
It's best to start with small doses and avoid taking large amounts. Too much vinegar can cause harmful side effects, including tooth enamel erosion and potential drug interactions.
Some dieticians recommend using organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegars that contain "mother."
Read more about the right dosage of apple cider vinegar here.
A common dosage for apple cider vinegar ranges from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons (10–30 mL) per day, either used in cooking or mixed in a glass of water.
The Bottom Line
Many websites and natural healthcare proponents claim that apple cider vinegar has exceptional health benefits, including boosting energy and treating disease.
Unfortunately, there's little research to support most claims about its health benefits.
That said, some studies suggest it may offer some benefits, including killing bacteria, lowering blood sugar levels, and promoting weight loss.
Apple cider vinegar appears to be safe, as long as you don't take excessive amounts of it.
It also has various other non-health-related uses, including as a natural hair conditioner, skin care product, and cleaning agent.
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.