This story was originally published in June 2020.
Apple cider vinegar — made from apples that have been crushed, distilled and fermented — has been used for centuries in cooking, cleaning and medicine. The amber liquid, heralded for its high levels of antimicrobial acetic acids, is incredibly versatile for a number of household tasks.
“Here is another timely topic in the time of pandemics: its primary property is as a topical agent for disinfecting,” said Anne-Marie Davee, registered dietician and a University of New England Nutrition program faculty member. “It’s been used as a face wash and a toner. In cooking, we’ve used it for centuries as a preservative with pickling [and] in salad dressing. Those are things that we’ve known for a long period of time.”
Now, apple cider vinegar is touted as an agent for weight loss. According to Harvard Health, “apple cider vinegar weight loss diet” was among the fastest-rising health topic searches for Google in 2017.
“It’s a natural substance, it’s on the grocery store shelves, it’s inexpensive [and] you don’t need a prescription,” Davee said. “It’s a known agent, so I think that helps with the growing popularity. It’s just a common household item that may have this potential benefit.”
Although the exact recommended “dose” varies depending on who you ask, Davee said she most often hears that about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before a meal will help reduce blood sugar and promote weight loss.
What does science say about apple cider vinegar for weight loss?
There is a growing body of research about apple cider vinegar for weight loss. An oft-cited 2009 Japanese study of obese adults found that subjects who ingested apple cider vinegar over a 12-week period lost more weight than their control counterparts. A more recent 2013 study showed that drinking apple cider vinegar in conjunction with consuming a low calorie diet will result in more weight loss.
Scientists have also looked beyond weight loss when it comes to the health benefits of apple cider vinegar. A 2005 study showed that apple cider vinegar provides a modest improvement in blood sugar, which is why it may be helpful for those with prediabetes and diabetes. In a 2018 study, vinegar was shown to improve cell function in the pancreas of diabetic rats for a better insulin response and reduced blood sugar.
Some of the findings make intuitive sense to Davee based on the composition of apple cider vinegar.
“The action of pectin and soluble fiber, which is naturally in apples hence apple cider vinegar, delays the emptying of the stomach and the release of food into the bloodstream,” Davee said. “It slows the release of blood sugar into the blood.”
However, Davee and other experts warn that the scientific evidence that apple cider vinegar aids weight loss is not yet definitive. While the studies begin to hint at the potential for apple cider vinegar, most of them only focus on a relatively small period of time, and many of them also study homogenous populations, have small sample sizes or have only tested mice and rats thus far.
“These are claims that are not backed by scientific evidence,” Davee said. “In the limited studies that are available for weight loss, they were also lowering their caloric intake and exercising, which is key.”
What does apple cider vinegar do?
The claims for apple cider vinegar for weight loss did not come out of a vacuum, though. Davee said that apple cider vinegar does increase the drinker’s sense of satiety — the feeling of fullness — but this does not necessarily mean it is a weight loss catch-all.
“Apple cider vinegar is apples that have been fermented with yeast, so they have soluble fiber that helps promote satiety,” Davee said. “However there is not a significant body of evidence to say that it is going to help you [with weight loss].”
Organic or raw apple cider vinegar may have benefits for digestion because it contains a “mother,” the cloud of yeast, proteins, enzymes and, as Davee says, “friendly bacteria” created during the fermentation process.
”Some individuals might utilize the organic apple cider vinegar to assist with digestion,” Davee said. “There’s no scientific evidence behind this, but this has been claimed as a digestive aid for certain individuals.”
Side effects of using apple cider vinegar for weight loss
Apple cider vinegar may help with weight loss in unpleasant, unexpected ways. One of the reasons apple cider vinegar has been shown to be effective for weight loss is because it increases nausea and causes indigestion.
“There’s also been cases of esophageal burns if consumed in excess undiluted,” Davee said. “[Apple cider vinegar can also cause] drug interactions for individuals on diuretics or taking medications to reduce potassium or those with kidney disorders.”
The biggest side effect Davee has seen, though, is the erosion of tooth enamel. That is to say, apple cider vinegar should not be used as a pre-rinse to prevent cavities or whiten teeth, as some websites claim.
“It’s highly acidic,” Davee said. “I think that the side effects, which are changes in tooth enamel, would be a big red flag or any burning sensation in your throat or esophagus would be another red flag. Individuals really have to proceed with caution.”
Davee said to be cautious of catch-all cures for systemic health problems.
“With the rising rates of adult obesity, people are always looking for that quick fix, the sort of magic potion,” Davee said. “However if you’re trying to seek it as a weight loss aid or to control blood sugar, be sure that if you do choose to use it do so in moderation and do so cautiously. The scientific evidence is limited.”
However, Davee doesn’t seem the harm in giving apple cider vinegar a shot in your healthy eating regimen, as long as you do so in moderation.
“As a registered dietician, I would recommend trying this in moderation in small amounts. If you’re seeking one of these health benefits and decide what your personal tolerance is for this,” Davee said. “My first advice would be to use it in salad dressing and see how that goes.”