From curing acne to helping you lose weight, apple cider vinegar has quickly become the darling health supplement of the DIY post-Pinterest age. But as this humble vinegar gains status as a multi-tasking cure-all, it also becomes increasingly polarizing. For every scientist or dietician that sings its praises, there is another that points out that it eats away at tooth enamel or increases the likelihood of acid reflux disease.
So what is fact, and what is fiction? To understand that, let's look at what makes apple cider vinegar different.
How apple cider vinegar is made
Vinegar comes from a controlled fermentation process in which yeast converts sugars into alcohol. Bacteria called acetobacters then turn that alcohol into acetic acid, which gives vinegar its pungent flavor. The benefits of any one vinegar will vary according to the ingredients used to make it.
For example, the grape-based balsamic vinegar contains a wide variety of amino acids, whereas the apple-based ACV contains more antioxidants. And as the most widely available unfiltered vinegar on the market, ACV has a high concentration of bioactive compounds. It is these compounds that give it its health-related properties.
Myth: it’s a probiotic
Because vinegar is the byproduct of fermentation, it may seem strange that it's not considered a probiotic. If you pick up a bottle of unfiltered apple cider vinegar, you’ll notice that the liquid is cloudy and most likely has a darker sludge hanging out at the bottom. That is the “mother,” a colony of yeast and bacteria that have worked hard to bring you the product you have in your hand. But ACV doesn’t contain enough live bacteria to really qualify as a probiotic supplement.
What it is is a postbiotic; a byproduct of the fermentation process that contains all those bioactive compounds that we mentioned (and will talk a little more about) that benefit the gut. One notable benefit of ACV is that it discourages harmful bacteria, like firmicutes. While present in every microbiome, these fat-loving microbiota thrive in unhealthy digestive systems. Taking an ACV supplement could help you bring your firmicute levels back into balance.
Fact: it’s helpful to those with diabetes
Apple cider vinegar reduces starch absorption. One study found that, following a small, high carb meal, ACV significantly lowered blood sugar levels. But claims of the vinegar acting as a replacement for insulin grossly exaggerate the benefits.
For those with severe symptoms, apple cider vinegar may even contribute to dangerous levels of low blood sugar. But for those with milder symptoms, insulin resistance, or prediabetes, it may keep the disease at bay. And as a common culinary ingredient, it’s easy to incorporate into a preexisting health plan.
Myth: it lowers high blood pressure
Apple cider vinegar improves serum lipid profile, which can help reduce cholesterol. And because we’re accustomed to thinking of blood pressure and cholesterol as part of a package deal, many scientists believe that it works both ways. But high blood pressure can have dozens of root causes. Sleep apnea, anxiety, thyroid problems, or even birth control pills can affect your blood pressure. So while ACV can provide relief from hypertension resulting from high cholesterol, there is no current research to prove that it has any effect on these secondary forms of high blood pressure.
Fact: it MAY help with weight loss
Besides reducing blood sugar and fat, apple cider vinegar is high in anti-inflammatory phenols, which reduces the oxidative stress that comes with exercise. In particular, epicatechin and caffeic acid have both been linked to athletic performance markers such as muscle endurance, recovery, and growth. Seems like the perfect combination of characteristics for weight loss, doesn’t it?
Indeed, studies across the board show greater weight loss with ACV than without. The caveat? All of those studies also include changes to diet and exercise, and none of them monitored weight loss over the long term. So, if you’re looking to shed some pounds, ACV can jump-start and support your chosen weight loss plan, but it won’t likely work wonders on its own.
Apple cider vinegar—taken in small quantities—does benefit the microbiome, but the science does not live up to its miracle cure legacy.