Healthspan editorial April 09, 2019

Made from apples using a fermentation process that develops live bacteria, acids and minerals; apple cider vinegar is the latest trend to take flight. But which of its health benefits ring true and which are lacking scientific proof?

Apple cider vinegar helps with diabetes – True

So says the American Diabetes Association, two tablespoons of vinegar before bedtime could help moderate blood sugar levels. Another study by the BBC confirmed drinking diluted apple cider vinegar lowered blood sugar levels1.

Apple cider vinegar has effects similar to that of the anti-diabetes drug acarbose. It works by slowing the breakdown of complex sugars in the gut which reduces spikes in blood glucose levels that are linked with cell damage and premature ageing.

Not only that, apple cider vinegar reduces the glycaemic index (GI) of foods like potatoes. ‘Consuming two teaspoons of cider vinegar with a carbohydrate-rich evening meal reduces the expected rise in blood sugar after breakfast the next morning by as much as 20%’, says Dr Sarah Brewer.

What is the glycaemic index (GI)?

GI ranks carbohydrate-containing foods by their potential to raise blood sugar. Foods with a high GI tend to raise blood sugar levels, making the glycaemic index a valuable tool for planning meals if you have diabetes.

Apple cider vinegar can aid weight loss – True

A traditional folk remedy for weight loss, some swear by apple cider vinegar as a diet wonder, helping to suppress appetite and keep you feeling fuller for longer. One Japanese study on 155 overweight, yet healthy, adults aged 25-60 years tested the theory, giving participants either a daily dose of 500ml of diluted apple cider vinegar or a placebo that mimicked the taste. After 12 weeks, those supplementing with apple cider vinegar lost an average of 1.9kg, while the placebo-takers gained 0.3kg.2

Apple cider vinegar and dental health

Glass bowl of apple cider vinegar

While a small amount of apple cider vinegar daily poses no threat to your health, some dietitians caution its effects on teeth – especially in regard to tooth enamel erosion and oesophageal irritation. The advice is to dilute the vinegar rather than swig it straight from the bottle, or to take apple cider vinegar tablets.

Apple cider vinegar could reduce acne – True

A lack of research exists linking apple cider vinegar directly to a reduction in the acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (or P. acnes), but there are studies on the acids present in apple cider vinegar - acetic, citric, lactic and succinic acid – that kill P. acnes. One study, on 22 people that applied lactic acid lotion to their faces twice a day for a year, showed a significant reduction in acne – with only two people reporting a less than 50% improvement.3

Apple cider vinegar and acne

Women touching the side of her face

If you'd like to treat acne scarring, research shows applying apple cider vinegar to leftover blemishes could remove the damaged outer layer of the skin and promote regeneration. It’s possible the lactic acid contained could also improve texture irregularities and pigmentation. But this is best avoided if you have sensitive skin.

Apple cider vinegar cures a sore throat – False

Some claim the antibacterial properties of apple cider vinegar are medicine for a sore throat. What they don’t realise is most colds and sore throats are caused by viruses, not bad bacteria which is what antibiotics are prescribed to treat.

To avoid lurgies, the better advice is to arm your immune system with vitamins like C and D that will prevent you from catching a cold in the first place.

If you are struck down, pelargonium and echinacea could help you recover. A study carried out at the Common Cold Research Centre at Cardiff University shows taking echinacea for four months may reduce the risk of catching a cold and lessen its severity if you do catch one. For more information, read our guide on echinacea.

Apple cider vinegar is good for your hair – True and false✅❌

Some people think apple cider vinegar as a hair wash improves scalp health, strengthens hair and adds shine. The idea is that dull, brittle or frizzy hair is higher on the pH scale (highly alkaline) and an acidic substance like apple cider vinegar can lower that pH level and bring hair health back into balance. Research does back this up, with one study on shampoo pH showing high alkalinity contributes to hair breakage and dryness and that shampoos tend to be highly alkaline.4

Apple cider vinegar and an itchy scalp

Supposedly, bacteria or funghi can lead to scalp problems and apple cider vinegar acts as a disinfectant. The alpha-hydroxy acid in apple cider vinegar can also help exfoliate scalp skin – leaving you with less dandruff. But this claim has less research to back it up, so it's down to the individual to decide whether this works or not.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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