Spring cleaning isn’t just for closets. After months of cold weather and cravings for rich meals, our bodies deserve a reset. Thanks in part to an ever-expanding selection of health drinks, this question burns as intensely for some as a teaspoon of ACV (diluted in water) on a sore throat. Rumors are its health benefits include everything from increased energy and weight loss to improved digestion. Yet many of the claims associated with it remain unproven, so let’s to take a closer look at the trend.
Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is rich in enzymes and probiotics, much like other raw fermented liquids such as kombucha. Probiotics aid digestion, keep us “regular” and prevent bloating (as yogurt commercials have informed us for years). Yet those benefits only are gained if you ingest the raw stuff sold by all-natural producers such as Bragg, because pasteurization kills probiotic strains. You’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot when you see cobwebby strands of the “mother” floating in your bottle of amber liquid. If you’re looking for a way to wake up and energize your digestion, a morning shot of apple cider vinegar might make sense.
Raw apple cider vinegar also contains acetic acid, which research shows can help block starch absorption. This can directly benefit pre-diabetics because blood sugar may be less likely to spike if you consume vinegar before a starchy meal. A related claim is that vinegar “increases energy levels” by stopping blood sugar spikes cold — but for the general population, however, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Scientific evidence shows only a very slight beneficial effect on non-pre-diabetic subjects. Likewise, studies have shown ingesting apple cider vinegar helped protect mice from the ill effects of high-fat diets by improving blood-sugar levels and cholesterol. Unfortunately, replicating these results in humans has been elusive.
As a key feature of many cleanse diets, apple cider vinegar is also touted as a great way to combat “toxic overload” — a vague diagnosis which purportedly threatens all of us who enjoy happy hour, dessert or both. However, the claim that apple cider vinegar cleanses the liver of “sludge” or toxins is more anecdotal than scientific. Similarly, the notion that apple cider vinegar can melt fat or promote weight loss isn’t backed by hard facts. It’s certainly plausible that adding a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to 8 ounces of water can suppress appetite — but one study concluded this resulted mainly from nausea caused by consuming highly acidic vinegar. (It’s also worth noting that drinking 8 ounces of plain water before a meal can dull appetite as well, with zero vinegar added.)
“Sour” is one of the more polite words that can be used to describe drinking undiluted raw apple cider vinegar. But that’s exactly what fans of the stuff have done for years, taking a spoonful straight, every single morning. A gentler option is to mix it with 8 ounces of water, lemon juice and a bit of stevia.
Does this mean you should start guzzling? Probably not. Most health experts caution against overdoing it with apple cider vinegar, since it has the potential to negatively affect tooth enamel and irritate your stomach lining. In small doses, however, it might be well worth integrating into any healthy lifestyle.
Originally published March 2018