From fighting the common cold to whittling the waistline apple cider vinegar (ACV) can apparently cure it all, but how many of these claims are true?
“It’s a health fad,” says Gina Todozrovska, a Toronto-based Clinical Dietician.
A quick Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles, blog posts and comments raving about the benefits of apple cider vinegar but Todozrovska says most of the literature found online has no medical merit or scientific research.
“What’s really troubling is that consumers, who are poorly informed, are actually replacing viable treatments with apple cider vinegar,” Todozrovska says.
Gina works for the University Health Network to design personalized nutrition plans for patients with different medical needs. She urges consumers to do their research and speak to a healthcare professional before self-treating with ACV.
Nargis Amir is a homeopath and nutritionist who regularly recommends unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to her clients. Amir, who operates out of Nutrition House in Mississauga, believes that apple cider vinegar can effectively treat different ailments.
“Apple cider vinegar, in its organic and unpasteurized state, is an incredible product. It’s antibacterial, it helps with digestion and weightless among other things,” she says.
The homeopath disagrees with those who question the effectiveness of ACV. “This is a product that has been used for centuries and it’s a viable health treatment… it’s helped many of my clients.”
Todozrovska admits that there is some scientific research behind the relationship between apple cider vinegar and controlling blood sugar levels. ” But it’s certainly not enough to put all of your trust in. Always consult a doctor.”
What is apple cider vinegar? ACV is apple juice that’s been fermented, explains Amir It’s sold in two forms filtered and unfiltered.
How’s it made? Yeast is added to crushed apples which change the natural apple sugars into alcohol (fermentation). Then good bacteria is added to the mixture which turns the alcohol into acetic acid -one of the main ingredients in apple cider vinegar. The end result is a murky-looking drink with a pungent smell and a strong taste.
When the solution is filtered, bacteria and sediment are removed from the formula which creates a clear apple cider vinegar.
In its unpasteurized (unfiltered) state, the mother -which looks like cobwebs- is kept in the formula. Amir says the mother is responsible for many of health benefits associated with apple cider vinegar.
Gina Todozrovska disagrees, “There is no evidence that the mother bacteria has any health benefits.”
I had the opportunity to ask both Todozrovska and Amir to address some of the popular health claims associated with apple cider vinegar. Here’s what they had to say:
Apple Cider Vinegar and Digestion:
Amir says those who have trouble digesting meals may be lacking in adequate hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels in the stomach.
“Apple cider vinegar can help because it mimics hydrochloric acid it the stomach,” she says, “and this is why it’s good for digestion.”
Amir believes maintaining a proper acidic environment in the digestive system is important to kill bacteria, parasites and microbes that may be ingested from food.
Todorzrovska agrees that hydrochloric acid plays an important role in our digestion and food absorption. It converts pepsinogen -a substance secreted in the stomach- into the enzyme pepsin. “Pepsin is one of the main enzymes in the digestive systems which breaks proteins into amino acids. Amino acids are used in every cell of the body to build the proteins we need to survive.”
But the nutritionist is not convinced that ACV mimics HCl levels in the stomach or improvs digestion. “There is just not enough substantial evidence to confirm this… there are better treatment options for dealing with poor digestion… and you should not assume that you have low acid levels if you are experiencing digestive issues.
Amir says another reason why she things ACV is good for digestion is because unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is a prebiotic.
A prebiotic is food for the good bacteria, or probiotics, in your gut. Well-fed gut bacteria generally translate to better health explains Amir, “these microorganisms help support good digestion and improve the immune system.”
Apple Cider Vinegar and Weight Loss:
A study conducted in 2014 suggests that the acetic acid, the main ingredient in apple cider vinegar, can help with weight loss by preventing body fat accumulation.
“Apple cider vinegar makes you feel full which can help with portion control,” says Amir.
But Todozrovska disagrees. “I would say the weight loss notion is speculative. There was one study, that I know of but the weight loss recorded was very insignificant” she says.
Amir claims that she has helped clients manage their weight with apple cider vinegar. “It’s effective in slowing the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream which is important for those looking to lose weight,” she says,”
Don’t expect to lose weight with apple cider vinegar alone says Todozrovska. “Maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle is key to weight management.”
Diabetes and Apple Cider Vinegar:
According to a study from Arizona State University, the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar slows down the digestion of starch into the bloodstream and subsequently prevent blood-sugar spikes.
Amir alluded to the relationship between ACV and glucose levels in the section above. She says individuals trying to lose weight or those with pre-diabetes (a condition where blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes) and Type 2 Diabetes should drink 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before meals.
Gina Todozrovska seems more optimistic about the relationship between apple cider vinegar and blood-sugar levels.
“There is more substantial evidence supporting this idea, but it should be noted that acetic acid is present in all vinegars so it’s not just apple cider vinegar that has this effect.”
Todozroska explains that in the study from Arizona State, it was revealed that glucose levels were reduced by 6 percent only when taken after starchy meals. “If someone drinks a sugary drink or a fatty meal and adds vinegar nothing happens.”
According to the study, those with pre-diabetes saw the most improvement.
While Todozrovska confirms the existence of scientific research concerning ACV and controlling glucose levels, she cautions anyone with these disorders to consult a doctor before introducing apple cider vinegar to the body.
“If you’re taking medication for diabetes, apple cider vinegar may amplify the sugar lowering effect of your anti-diabetic medication.”
Apple Cider Vinegar the Cold and Flu Fighter:
Can apple cider vinegar prevent and even fight off colds and flu this season? Todozrovska doesn’t seem to think so. She says, again, that there is no research or scientific evidence to support this claim.
“The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar is a natural antimicrobial, which means the acid kills microorganisms by entering the cell membrane causing it to die… although we don’t know for sure how much vinegar you need to kill bacteria.”
So if you have a bacterial infection vinegar may help. Since cold and flus are viral ACV won’t do anything she explains.
“Wash your hands regularly, get the flu shot, drink lots of water, take a multivitamin, get your seven hours of sleep and don’t forget to exercise… this is how you stay flu-free,” Todozrovska says.
Nargis Amir believes apple cider vinegar may shorten the duration of a cold and flu by strengthening the body’s ability to fight off the virus, but she says taking zinc and eating superfoods like garlic and onion are better allies against colds and flus.
UTIs and Apple Cider Vinegar:
Todozrovska says apple cider vinegar is not a safe treatment option for urinary tract infections (UTIs). “Failing to seek proper treatment as prescribed by a doctor can result in serious complications like bacteria travelling to your kidneys,” she says.
She believes the best way to treat a UTI is with antibiotics.
Nargis agrees that apple cider vinegar is not the best way to treat a UTI. She explains that the acidity found in vinegar can increase the acidity in the urine. “If you pass acidic urine when you have a UTI you can irritate the already inflamed lining of the bladder.”
Most UTIs are caused when E. coli bacteria from the colon area contaminates part of your urinary tract, like the urethra or the bladder.
However, Nargis does believe that drinking apple cider vinegar can prevent the formation of future UTIs.“Drinking apple cider vinegar can stop the bacteria from growing and multiplying because apple cider vinegar creates an alkalized state which kills bacteria.”
Despite the evidence or advice from different professionals both Amir and Todozrovska believe that there are many people on the ACV bandwagon.
“It’s your choice if you want to follow a fad or self-treat with something like apple cider vinegar, all I can say is do your research first,” Todozrovska says.
How much Apple Cider Vinegar?
If you’re going to drink it, the dietician says you should dilute ACV in water.
“Mix 1 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in an 8 oz glass of water, you can add honey if you’re not too fond of the taste,” she says.
Don’t drink it straight from the bottle because it may burn your throat and esophagus she says. “It’s best not to drink on an empty stomach to avoid irritation.”
Amir says that ACV should be consumed on an empty stomach 1-2 times a day before meals. “This helps your body absorb the apple cider vinegar and take advantage of its benefits.”
Both agree that apple cider vinegar should be diluted in a large glass of water and users should rinse out their mouths and brush their teeth 30 minutes after drinking apple cider vinegar because the acids can weaken teeth enamel.
If users develop any negative side effects or already have conditions like the ones listed below, they are advised to stop drinking apple cider vinegar and consult a healthcare practitioner.
- Upset stomach (common if taken undiluted) Do not drink if you have a stomach ulcer.
- Weakened tooth enamel
- Irritation of throat, esophagus and stomach lining
- Low potassium: those taking medications like insulin and diuretics should consult a doctor
- Uncontrolled blood sugar levels (those with pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes may benefit, see diabetes section above)
Amir explains that if consumed correctly, apple cider vinegar should not produce any negative side effects. “If you’re drinking more than the recommended dose, these negative symptoms can happen,” she says.
Gina admits that she has tried apple cider vinegar, “only as a salad dressing though… it’s a healthier alternative to some store-bought brands and the acetic acid can kill any lingering bacteria in your fruits and vegetables, but other than that I wouldn’t drink apple cider vinegar religiously.”
Is apple cider vinegar effective or not? It depends who you ask. Nargis Amir is confident in the positive effects associated with apple cider vinegar but Gina Todozrovska remains skeptical about most claims listed above. She believes more research is needed before anyone confirms its healing abilities.
Both agree that those who are thinking of introducing apple cider vinegar in their diets should consult a healthcare professional first.