Is Apple Cider a Miracle Cure-All or Just an Old Wives' Tale?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You've probably used apple cider vinegar for pickling or as an ingredient in dressings and marinades. Like most vinegars, it, too, has been touted as a miracle liquid, capable of everything from deodorizing and cleaning the house to controlling blood sugar and clearing up acne. And that's not where it ends. Do a little research and you'll find that people swear by the stuff for solving all kinds of everyday problems.
  • Problems with dandruff? Massage diluted apple cider vinegar into your scalp, let it sit for 15 minutes, then wash as usual and say goodbye to flakes.
  • The next time you're feeling sluggish, swap your usual coffee for a lighter brown liquid. The amino acids in apple cider vinegar are reported to act as an antidote to lactic acid buildup in your body, which can make you feel fatigued.
  • Sick of pulling weeds or spraying toxic chemicals to rid your yard of unwanted plants? Spray undiluted apple cider vinegar directly onto the weeds to make them vanish.
  • Sweaty underarms got you down? Dab some apple cider vinegar under each arm to keep the sweat at bay.
The vinegar—whose first recorded use dates all the way back to 5,000 BC when the Babylonians used date palm fruit to make vinegar for preserving foods—has a long history of being used to help with ailments. In biblical times, vinegar was used to flavor foods and as a drink and a medicine. Around 400 BC, Hippocrates prescribed vinegar mixed with honey to the ancient Greeks as a cough and cold remedy.

Although vinegar has many more uses, is it really the miracle cure-all Pinterest and your mother-in-law claim it to be?

The Science Behind the Cider

Although there is a lack of overall research, some studies on rodents and humans point to the vinegar's possible benefits as an alternate therapy for several popular health claims. 

1. Lowering cholesterol. One study examined the efficacy of the main component of apple cider vinegar on rats fed a high-cholesterol diet. The vinegar was shown to decrease total cholesterol and HDL and LDL levels when compared to rats on the same diet that were not fed apple cider vinegar.
"Lowering of cholesterol is made possible by pectin, which is found in apples and its vinegar. Pectin is a complex carbohydrate [and a] a soluble fiber," according to Rebecca Lee, RN and founder of Remedies for Me. "The way it works on cholesterol is that the LDL (bad cholesterol) binds itself to the pectin, and is then carried out of the body as waste," she says. 
2. Controlling blood sugar levels. "A 2004 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Care found that taking vinegar before meals significantly increased insulin sensitivity and reduced glucose levels by 25 percent for those with type 2 diabetes, and cut glucose levels by nearly half in those with pre-diabetic symptoms," Krissy Kendall, PhD, CISSN and the science editor at says.
"Taken with a high-glycemic meal, vinegar has been shown to significantly reduce the glucose response. A second study by the same group of researchers found that post-meal glucose response was affected favorably only when the vinegar was ingested at meal time with carbohydrates. Although the exact mechanisms for this are unclear, it could be due to vinegar's ability to delay gastric emptying," she says.
3. As a weight loss aid. Rumored to help suppress appetite, reduce water retention and increase metabolism when added in small doses to water and taken before meals, the jury is still out on this claim. Although animal studies have shown it to decrease blood sugar and insulin levels, this has also been taking as evidence that it will help with weight loss.
"Virtually no [scientific literature] comes up for this, and what does is usually tiny, not well-done studies in obscure journals," Scott Kahan, MD, MPH and director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, told SELF. He goes on to say that these studies are "basically meaningless" when it comes to supporting claims of apple cider vinegar's weight-loss benefits.

The Verdict?

Although more research is needed to back the myriad of major health claims based on apple cider vinegar use, there's no need to take it out of your pantry just yet.  
The pectin in the vinegar acts as an aid for probiotics, promoting healthy digestion by encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.

"It [contains] a prebiotic, meaning it [makes] for a healthier gut flora. These benefits alone will decrease many ailments in the body, as 80 percent of our immune system is found in our digestive tract and lack of gut flora, or healthy microbes, will lead to lowered immunity and therefore, disease." Shawna Kunselman, MS and clinical nutritionist at Wellness Speaks.

If you want to try it for its other purported uses, keep in mind that taking too much can be dangerous, and can delay digestion and cause other digestion issues, erode tooth enamel, create potentially low potassium levels and bone loss, cause skin and throat burns, and could also create unwanted drug interactions. Without a lot of solid scientific research backing up its many viral claims, it's important that you use apple cider vinegar with caution and consult with a doctor if you think you might be vulnerable to reactions.

To safely ingest apple cider vinegar, start small, taking a little each day or a few times a week, diluted with water, another beverage or add it to your food. You can work up to a maximum dose of two tablespoons a day, depending on how your body tolerates it.

Join us each month as we sift through the so-called life hacks and miracle cures to get to the bottom of the latest buzzworthy trend. Get the facts and decide for yourself if you should Spark It or Scrap It.