What's The Deal with Apple Cider Vinegar?

by Dr. Jason Barker April 02, 2014

What's The Deal with Apple Cider Vinegar?

What’s the deal with apple cider vinegar? If you’re into natural health no doubt you’ve heard people touting its benefits.  But does it really do all that great stuff you hear?  Read on to find out.

What Is It?

Vinegar is the byproduct of fermentation – when food sugars are ‘digested’ by bacteria and yeast they turn into alcohol, and then eventually vinegar with further fermentation.  Apple cider vinegar of course comes from apples.  Vinegar is also known by its chemical name, acetic acid, although vinegar is typically comprised of only 5% acetic acid and water.

Benefits?

If you look into it, the claims stemming from apple cider vinegar range widely and include treating cancer, diabetes, warts, head lice, jelly fish stings, cholesterol and lots of other stuff. (There’s nothing about it that says it will improve your athletic performance, unfortunately). However, despite these claims, there isn’t a lot of good evidence that vinegar actually does any of this very well.

Many sources claim that in addition to its curative powers, it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, complex carbohydrates and fiber – that it’s a veritable health elixir.  The problem is that vinegar has none of these – it contains no vitamins, fiber, or amino acids. It doesn’t contain some of our most powerful phytonutrients such as lycopene, lutein or zeaxanthin either. It does however contain a bit of calcium, but only a very small amount – less than 1 milligram.

But don’t get me wrong, using a bit of vinegar on food is perfectly fine. Using some along with a bit of oil on salads or fresh veggies adds good flavor (and you won’t have to use an unhealthy salad dressing).

One definite benefit about vinegar is that, because it’s an acid, it can increase your absorption of minerals. We need stomach acid to absorb minerals from food, and vinegar can temporarily increase stomach acidity to pull those minerals out of the food. This is especially important for people with poor digestion who, for one reason or another, don’t make enough stomach acid. You can also take a more broad spectrum digestive enzyme to help with digestion as well.

Some use it to aid their digestion by taking a bit before meals. But use caution – taking it undiluted can strip enamel off your teeth and may damage the sensitive tissues in your mouth and throat.  If you do take some, be sure to dilute it in a 10:1 ratio; ten parts water to one part vinegar.  Vinegar also comes in capsules but these have been shown to be very poorly formulated and contain little acetic acid.

Others claim it can be used to balance our body’s pH, or acid-alkaline level. Our body regulates this at a very tight range, which is slightly alkaline at 7.35-7.45.  However, taking an acid such as vinegar will not help to ‘balance’ your pH. Instead your pH is very, very tightly controlled by the kidneys and to some extent by our lungs.By the time any of the vinegar gets into your blood stream, it's already been processed in the gut lining and won't have any effect on your blood pH.

In fact, there is no evidence that the type of food one consumes affects the pH in our bloodstream, despite this popular belief. And interestingly, despite the many people out there promoting the acid-alkaline health concept, they actually encourage the consumption of highly acidic apple cider vinegar while strongly opposing the consumption of supposed acid-forming foods. It just doesn’t make sense!

True, many of the foods that get blamed for creating an acidic environment are typically unhealthy (fried foods, processed white flour foods, alcohol, hydrogenated oils, etc), but they are unhealthy for reasons other than causing acidity.

Stick to a plant-based diet, with healthy, lean meats (if you desire), and stay away from processed white flour/sugary/processed foods and you won’t have to worry about supposed acid-forming or otherwise unhealthy foods in the first place.

Research

There is some interesting research looking at vinegar and a few diseases.

-A couple of studies showed that people taking apple cider vinegar might lower their blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.

-A follow up to one of the above studies showed moderate weight loss in the people taking vinegar.

-A few studies in rats showed decreased cholesterol and lowered blood pressure. These effects haven’t been shown in humans (yet).

-Studies done in labs show vinegar may kill cancer cells, but observational studies in humans show that taking vinegar may increase bladder cancer, and another shows it decreased esophageal cancer.

Knowing this, I wouldn’t attribute quite as much glory to apple cider vinegar as it garners. Sure, it’s fine to use on foods, and it may improve your digestion a bit if you drink a diluted teaspoon or two right before meals. But I don’t think it has any special, unique qualities to it beyond how it works on digestion as an acid.  At the same time, I think using it in small amounts is probably fine, and won’t do you any harm.

Dr. Jason Barker
Dr. Jason Barker


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