Apple Cider Vinegar: Benefits, Uses and Side Effects

We as a society love to rotate through different "miracle cures" every few years. Nothing is actually going to be the cure-all that people claim it is, but surely the initial claims are based in some sort of fact, right?

The newest so-called "miracle cure," apple cider vinegar, has actually been used for centuries but has had a renaissance of sorts lately as celebrities have sung its praises for a number of different conditions.

It's easy to get swayed by powerful people calling something a miracle cure, but it's also easy to dismiss it outright. Let's take a closer look at it. What is apple cider vinegar, what are the actual benefits of taking it, and how can you use it?

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is a combination of apple, sugar and yeast. The yeast causes the fruit/sugar liquid combo to ferment and turn alcoholic. It's then fermented a second time with bacteria, which turns the alcohol into acetic acid. No longer alcohol, it is now vinegar.

It may be developing a reputation as something that can help your health, but apple cider vinegar is still vinegar, and can be used to create salad dressings, vinaigrettes and other products that are commonly created using vinegar.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

But you're not here to learn how to make the perfect salad dressing. Apple cider vinegar is said to have a wide range of benefits. Does it?

Well like anything deemed a miracle cure, it's not a miracle cure. But the limited studies and research done on apple cider vinegar suggests that there are benefits to using it. The folklore surrounding it didn't come from nowhere; just don't assume the lone act of drinking apple cider vinegar is going to make you lose weight.

But there are some studies that have suggested the possibility that apple cider vinegar can have positive effects on weight and body fat. A 2009 study investigated this for 12 weeks with three groups of obese Japanese subjects. One group took 1 tablespoon of vinegar a day, one group took two tablespoons, and one took a placebo. At the end of the study, both groups that had consumed vinegar had larger decreases in weight, BMI and waist circumference than the placebo group. This suggests a potential correlation between the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar and helping with weight loss and body fat.

There have also been a few studies testing the correlation between apple cider vinegar and blood sugar and/or insulin, testing whether it can help with the treatment of diabetes. One study from 2004 showed promise after a group that drank an apple cider vinegar solution and then ate a meal high in carbohydrates had lower spikes in blood sugar than those who took a placebo, regardless of whether they were diabetic, insulin-resistant or neither.

What does this mean? Certainly not that this is some sort of diabetes cure or something that lets you eat whatever. But the potential to help manage blood sugar levels is huge for those with type 2 diabetes.

That's the running theme with any actual studies pertaining to apple cider vinegar: potential to help certain aspects, but nowhere near a miracle cure. Don't go into using it with any expectations.

There are other conditions that apple cider vinegar has been rumored to help with - digestion problems, acne, and sore throat are notable examples. But there just isn't enough substantive evidence to point to that, and these are more speculation based on the fact that vinegar has antibacterial properties.

So if you still decide to take a little apple cider vinegar to help with a sore throat and it doesn't help much... you were warned.

Are There Risks?

Apple cider vinegar may have some benefits, but are there risky side effects to taking it?

Consuming apple cider vinegar in smaller quantities is generally safe. But there are definitely risks to consuming too much of it. The strong acidity of vinegar in large doses can have adverse effects on the stomach and throat (something to particularly take note of if you wanted to take it for digestion or a sore throat). Too much of the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar can also do damage to your tooth enamel.

In addition to keeping your apple cider vinegar consumption within reason, it is also recommended that you dilute it somewhat with water to keep the acidity from doing more damage.

Ways to Take Apple Cider Vinegar

As long as you're not overdoing it, apple cider vinegar has the potential to do some good to your body. How you choose to put it into your system can vary. It's vinegar, so we know it can go in a salad dressing, but what are the other ways people have chosen to take apple cider vinegar?

Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Arguably the most popular way of consuming apple cider vinegar is via a drink. This is why it is so often recommended diluted with water (though you're welcome to try to get down a tablespoon of it by itself, have fun with that).

In addition to water apple cider vinegar is often paired with tea. This combination can also contain honey, and some drinks are manufactured and sold using primarily the vinegar and honey, with water to dilute and make it more of an actual drink.

Apple cider vinegar is also often used in smoothies, pairing well with fruit and potentially making a healthy beverage even healthier.

Occasionally products featuring apple cider vinegar already exist with no extra steps necessary. If you plan on creating your own drink with ACV, though, it's recommended you don't add more than 1 tablespoon to the mix.

Apple Cider Vinegar Pills

Large stores like Walmart (WMT) and GNC (GNC) also sell apple cider vinegar in pill form. These pills often have other ingredients to them as well, including cayenne pepper and ginger.

These pills are options for people who want to try apple cider vinegar but are turned off by the taste or odor, but they're also not regulated by the FDA. Proceed with caution. A capsule is often 500 mg; if you're going to take the risk of an unregulated pill, your dosage shouldn't exceed one.

Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo

Apple cider vinegar has also been rumored to help with hair care. There isn't a scientific study that states that it helps outright; there have, though, been studies that suggest that shampoos with a lower pH can lead to less frizzy hair. Some likely believe that apple cider vinegar, as an acidic substance, could lower the pH levels and lead to stronger, more lustrous hair.

It can't be said with any certainty how it effects hair, but there remain shampoos available that contain apple cider vinegar. Avoid high concentrations of ACV, as that acidity could potentially burn the skin. It is entirely possible that apple cider vinegar, in a cautious dosage, could help with rough or weak hair; but don't assume it will cure whatever ails your hair and scalp just because ACV shampoos are sold promoting everything from thinning hair to dandruff.

Apple Cider Vinegar Sales and Popularity

Apple cider vinegar's renaissance of the past few years is due in part to celebrities like Katy Perry and Zoe Kravitz singing its praises.

In the wake of its popularity, brands have looked to capitalize. If sales of apple cider vinegar products have improved, it's not just that more people want it; more companies are making products. Bragg, a producer of health products, is likely the most notable example, releasing a plethora of different ACV products available on Amazon. (AMZN)

Apple cider vinegar products can be found at stores from Walmart to Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) to GNC, despite limited FDA regulation. This is because despite limited regulation and studies, what has been found is that ACV, provided you are not overusing it, is generally safe.

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