Apple Cider Vinegar: A Reliable Health Aid Or All Hype?

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If you trust the Internet (and you shouldn't!), apple cider vinegar seems to be a silver bullet for common ailments ranging from dermatitis to yeast infections.

According to Rebecca Trepasso, a clinical dietitian at Henry Ford Health System, there's evidence to support some of these claims. But most of the data suggests that apple cider vinegar should be reserved for cooking, not medical treatment.

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is mostly apple juice with added yeast. That yeast converts sugar in the juice into alcohol through a process called fermentation. Bacteria in the juice then turns the alcohol into acetic acid, resulting in the strong taste and smell of vinegar.

Some "experts" say the cloud of yeast and bacteria lurking at the bottom of the bottle — sometimes called the “mother” — is what produces apple cider vinegar's health properties, including antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. That cloud is made of probiotics, linked with improved gut health and other perks.

"The interest in apple cider vinegar comes in part because people are leaning toward natural remedies and a mistrust of medications," Trepasso says. "And some evidence suggests that apple cider vinegar can be helpful in certain circumstances."

The Health Benefits Of Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has a long and storied past as a home remedy for wound healing and sore throats. In recent years, scientists have been exploring whether it can promote weight loss, improve heart health and even treat skin eruptions.

Unfortunately, research doesn’t back most of these claims, but some small studies link apple cider vinegar with a variety of positive effects, including:

"But the research is thin. And in some cases, apple cider vinegar has only produced these responses in animals," Trepasso says.

However, apple cider vinegar does have strong antimicrobial properties, inhibiting bacteria from growing in and spoiling food. So if you're looking for a natural way to preserve food, it’s a safe bet.

Cautionary Notes About Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar isn't inherently dangerous, but it still isn't a good idea to guzzle it by the cup. The high acid content can cause some ill effects, including:

  • Damaged tooth enamel: If you're using it as a dietary supplement, make sure to chase it with water.
  • Irritated skin and throat: "People who use apple cider vinegar to treat skin ailments may get severe skin irritations, almost like a chemical burn," says Trepasso. "And drinking it can irritate the tissues in the throat."
  • Acid reflux: It's no secret that acidic foods can be tough on the gastrointestinal tract. If you have a sensitive stomach or suffer from conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), apple cider vinegar may be more harmful than helpful.

The Bottom Line On Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has been linked to certain health benefits, yet there's little evidence to support these claims. Ingesting too much of it can't replace a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it could cause a variety of ailments from tummy troubles to eroding tooth enamel.

Instead of sipping apple cider vinegar to shed pounds or achieve a better lipid profile, talk to your doctor about how to address these issues. "Reserve apple cider vinegar for pickling foods, making salad dressings and home canning," Trepasso says. "If you're using it in cooking, you won't ingest too much."

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To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, call 1-855-434-5483 or visit Nutrition Services on henryford.com

Rebecca Trepasso is a dietitian who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell