Apple Cider Vinegar – What’s the Hype All About

Apple cider vinegar in jar, glass and fresh apple, healthy drink.
Apple cider vinegar has many health benefits but there is little truth to this. Copyright: thamkc / 123RF Stock Photo

Apple cider vinegar is going to be one of those products which has a plethora of health benefits attributed to it. It is one of the most popular remedies for causing belly fat to disappear ! Unfortunately there is very little evidence to support any of the claims even though they are mostly anecdotal. It has meant a closer look by nutritionists and researchers interested in many of the supposed benefits. At the moment though it is not the cure all many would hope !

What Is Vinegar Really?

All drinking vinegars are derived from fruit juice which is fermented very often naturally using yeast and then Acetobacter spp. The fermentation is a two stage process and many producers literally have a proprietary method of creating it. The main active ingredient in apple cider vinegar as in all vinegars is acetic acid and it is this compound which is responsible for people who adopt a ketogenic diet to burn off fat and reduce fat storage.

In apple cider vinegar, freshly pressed apple juice from mainly culinary apples is fermented with yeast. The sugars, mainly fructose are converted to alcohol and then bacteria turn that alcohol into acetic acid which is what gives vinegar its sour tartness and a distinctive smell.

How Is It Used?

Apple Cider Vinegar is ideal for cooking especially lending acidity and reducing the pH of a dish. It is used in baking, for making salad dressings, to add a particular sour note in flavouring and as a preservative. At about the same time it became a popular home remedy for treating a variety of health issues.

The preservative action is very important in food stability. Making the pH of a solution acidic is ideal for producing pickles and saurkraut. It inhibits all sorts of microorganisms such as E. coli O157:H7 (Entani et al., 1998)

It is not recommended for drinking straight and like most drinking vinegars needs to be diluted for palatability. If you’re looking to consume for any health reasons, most people would recommend adding one to two tablespoons to water or tea. Given the amount of acid it contains, it is not recommended for everyone especially those with certain health conditions.

Nutrition Data

Apple Cider Vinegar

Amount Per

Calories 22
 % Daily Value*
Total Fat 0 g0%
Saturated fat 0 g0%
Polyunsaturated fat 0 g
Monounsaturated fat 0 g
Trans fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg0%
Sodium 5 mg0%
Potassium 73 mg2%
Total Carbohydrate 0.9 g0%
Dietary fiber 0 g0%
Sugar 0.4 g
Protein 0 g0%
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
Calcium0%Iron1%
Vitamin D0%Vitamin B60%
Cobalamin0%Magnesium1%
*Per cent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. Source: USDA Database.

The Various Health Benefits

The Ancient Greeks recognised its health properties by the fact that it was a fine preservative of foods and was generated when particular products were infused with it. Pickling of vegetables relies on vinegar as its main preservative. The acidic pH generally prevents pathogenic bacteria gaining a foothold and compromising safety of the food. A reason why so many pickled foods have a such a long shelf-life.

Hippocrates, the great philosopher doctor recommended vinegar as a remedy for colds, coughs and for treating wounds and scars, as a wash or shampoo for hair and even for tackling heart issues Vinegar also features heavily in what is called Prophetic medicine. Prophetic medicine is the total authentic Hadith narrated by the Prophet (PBUH) in relation to medicine, whether Qur’anic verses or the honourable Prophetic Hadith (Sheih et al., 2017).

Whilst there is no proper clinical evidence to support claims on health, it is more than likely that the acetic (ethanoic acid) has a major part to play in the product. Acetic acid is readily metabolised by the body in preference to a number of other compounds. It is often taken as part of a ketogenic diet. The acid is also produced in kombucha which is another serious health food.

However at risk of contradicting the last paragraph there has been an extensive review from 2016 which looked at various clinical studies where vinegar including apple cider vinegar was used (Samad et al., 2016). Here it was used to treat all sorts of conditions including heart disease, cancer, obesity and bacterial infection. What we don’t know is how much needs to be taken. Also, the general and inherent variability of vinegars means rigorous studies are difficult to equate to particular doses.

What else can be found ? Vinegar contains compounds like gallic acid, chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid which are polyphenolic acids often found in many health products. They have strong antioxidant benefits. They’ve also been associated with health benefits in their own right such as increasing the production of insulin and improving the level of sensitivity of cells to these compounds. They also help in stopping lipogenesis which is fat production and its accumulation in fat cells. Finally, they can impede cell proliferation and enhance apoptosis in cancer cells. So its perhaps not that surprising there is so much interest in vinegar generally when you consider what the individual components are associated with it.

There are probably a number of byproducts from both yeast and Acetobacter fermentation which have not yet been really characterised properly.

Apple contain phloridzin and phloroglucinol which probably leach out of the peels into the vinegar if they are used. Indeed, there is a host of polyphenols of note to consider. These have all been attributed with mopping up free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. That means cells are less likely to be damaged.

Some people claim it helps them reduce weight. Japanese researchers believe this is feasible but more clinical evidence is required before any claim can ever be made.

Apple Cider Vinegar And Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association suggested taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at bedtime because it can deplete fasting blood sugars (White & Johnston, 2007).

Another small study found that it could help with blood sugar management which implied that type-2 diabetes might be more manageable when apple cider vinegar was drunk. That also needs further investigation and it is too early to speculate as to why it might work.

Apple Cider Vinegar And Cancer

There is no evidence that it actually reduces the risks of developing a cancer even though some natural herbal sites claim it does but this is seriously in error and should be dismissed.

Issues With Drinking Apple Cider Vinegar

Due to its high acidity, teeth can be easily eroded so care must be taken but we cover that later. It can also hurt the throat and potentially upset your stomach because of the pH drop experienced.

The acid which enters the blood stream might lead to an imbalance in potassium levels. Clearly this mineral is very important for ionic (electrolyte) balance and the way our nervous system functions.

When it comes to diabetes there is one study which contradicts some of the positive findings with Type-2 when it might upset those with Type-1 diabetes. Apparently, too much acid in the gut is supposed to slow down transit time in the stomach which may heavily influence the way food is digested in the upper intestine. This alters blood sugar levels to a point where it is not as easy to control as it should be.

Potential interactions with laxatives and diuretics. It certainly does not work well with coffee but this is anecdotal.

 Muscle Loss And Bone Diseases.

Prolonged acidosis is a chronic condition and has a detrimental effect on the musculoskeletal system. There is a school of thought which considers too high an acid load produces undue levels of acidosis in the body. However it needs to be borne in mind that the gut for example is extremely effective at regulating the pH in the body. At the moment there is no one study out there which can claim completely that acidosis is a contributing risk factor to the condition of osteoporosis for example. Indeed acidosis has a remarkable impact on many other diseases, most associated with the musculoskeletal system. At the moment the alkaline diet is enjoying prominence because of its claimed ability to counter the effects of ‘acidic pH’ that is generated in the body. We await these findings with interest.

Tooth Decay And Tooth Damage.

Long-term consumption of any acid drinks is known to weaken tooth enamel over time. we are often presented with images of children’s teeth that have not only been damaged by drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages but also ones which also contain plenty of acids. When the tooth enamel is damaged or disappears, the teeth begin to ache or become sensitive to sugary foods, to hot and cold temperatures. Very often the consequence is a tooth with a cavity that requires filling.

A number of medical sites highlight that the risk of tooth decay is worst for those who are regularly consuming vinegar including apple cider vinegar if it is undiluted. At least one recommendation from dentists and doctors is to dilute the vinegar as much as possible or consume it as part of meal to reduce this particular risk. 

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has a strong webpage on tooth decay and helpful tips concerning minimising the risk.

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It’s taste does not suit everyone !

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References

Entani, E., Asai, M., Tsujihata, S., Tsukamoto, Y., & Ohta, M. (1998). Antibacterial action of vinegar against food-borne pathogenic bacteria including Escherichia coli O157: H7. Journal of Food Protection61(8), pp. 953-959

Samad, A., Azlan, A., Ismail, A. (2016) Therapeutic effects of vinegar: a review. Curr. Opinion Food Sci. 8 pp. 56-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cofs.2016.03.001

Sheikh, B.Y., Sarker, M.M.R., Kamarudin, M.N.A. Ismail, A. (2017) Prophetic medicine as potential functional food elements in the intervention of cancer: A review. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 95 pp. 614-648 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2017.08.043

White, A.M. Johnston, C.S. (2007) Vinegar Ingestion at bedtime Moderates waking Glucose Concetrations in Adults With well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 30(11) pp. 2814-2815 https://doi.org/10.2337/dc07-1062

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