Apple cider vinegar: worth a shot?

What's all the hype behind apple cider vinegar? Is it good for your gut?

The first time I heard about the trend of drinking apple vinegar to benefit your health was actually in the hospital. A young woman had seriously burned the mucosal lining of her esophagus by giving the trend a shot. Turns out she's not alone. Before we go any further, just a quick public service announcement that if you're dead set on drinking vinegar, please dilute it with plenty of water. A quick online search of the trend yields pretty lofty claims ranging ranging from weight loss to preventing heart disease, or even indigestion. Are any of these backed by research?


Does apple cider vinegar cause weight loss?

This is probably the most common reason people jump on the apple cider vinegar bandwagon. The long story short on this claim is that yes, there is data suggesting very modest weight loss (3 lbs over 3 months in one study) with daily use, but this may simply be due to adverse effects it's been shown to cause including nausea and slower emptying of your stomach. There is decent data for vinegar lowering your blood sugar after a starch-heavy meal (and only with starches, not sugars), but my big takeaway from the research? All of these effects pale in comparison to eating healthy, getting plenty of dietary fiber, and ensuring you are properly hydrated.


Does apple cider vinegar prevent heart disease?

This claim comes from data mostly done in rats showing modest lowering of cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Research with humans is much more limited. There's observational, non-peer reviewed work out there, and one study that showed people who tended to have more vinegar in their diet also tended to have less heart disease, but that doesn't imply vinegar is the sole (or even an actual) contributor. There's just not enough quality research on the topic to delve much deeper than that.


Can apple cider vinegar prevent heartburn?

Here's one where the claims vary drastically from the facts. In our post on coffee intake, we actually explored the research into how beverage acidity influences upper GI symptoms such as indigestion and heartburn. Truthfully I was wholeheartedly expecting the idea that acidic beverages prompt heartburn would be a myth, but it turns out there's good research demonstrating a correlation between the two: acidic drinks correlate with worse heartburn. That doesn't bode well for apple cider vinegar, given its high acidity. A caveat here is differentiating the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion, which we discuss in our post on GI basics.

Bottom line? There are no quick fix alternatives to a healthy diet. Like many of the other trends we cover, this one is a classic case of do less - the data is mixed at best. If you want more vinegar in your life, put it on a salad and use it as an excuse to adopt a more plant-based diet. Or even try just an apple a day - it may even keep this doctor away.

-The Gut Doc


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