While it was also widely used as a preserving or pickling agent, it did not take long for vinegar’s amazing health benefits to shine through.
Hippocrates (c. 420 BC), the Father of Medicine, used a specific type of vinegar—apple cider vinegar (AVC)—for a variety of health aliments, including common coughs and colds (1). In fact, a look at the history of vinegar proves this fermented food was used by almost every culture for everything from a food and preservative to a highly prized medicinal.
What Makes ACV So Potent?
Vinegar, in general, is made from almost any form of carbohydrate that can be fermented. This includes grapes, dates, potatoes, beets, and even coconuts, to name just a few. But one of the most powerful ingredients in use is apples. Vinegar made from apples actually undergoes two fermentation processes that result in a host of beneficial enzymes and life-giving nutrients.
ACV goes through the normal fermentation process that all vinegars go through. Bacterial cultures and yeast are added to water and fresh apples. Together, these microorganisms convert the sugar-rich juice into alcohol. In the second stage of the fermenting process, a different species of bacteria known as acetobacter are introduced (2). These bacteria facilitate in turning the alcohol into acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its recognizable sour taste (3) .
The main difference between ACV and regular vinegar, however, is something that first started in 1934 when a group of French vintners developed the Orleans Method.
This continuous brewing method involved oak barrels, which were used as fermentation vessels. Once fermented, vinegar was siphoned off through a spigot in the bottom of the barrel. About 15 percent of the vinegar, however, was left behind, and this liquid contained a substance known as the “mother of vinegar.”
This “cobweb-like,” amino acid-based substance, is only found in unprocessed, unfiltered vinegar. Brewers learned to use the mother to make new batches of vinegar by carefully adding it to another barrel containing a new batch of cider in order to “quick start” the fermentation process (4).The mother’s complex structure of beneficial bioactive compounds includes acetic acid, gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin and caffeic acid to name just a few. These potent nutrients provide powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties as well as an array of other health benefits (5, 6). They also give the liquid a distinct murky appearance, which may not be the prettiest to look at, but it is a sure sign your vinegar is a quality brew.
Most manufacturers pasteurize and filter vinegar as a way to prevent the mother from forming, but you actually need mother to experience some of the many amazing health benefits associated with ACV. That why it’s important to buy raw unfiltered vinegar.
Apple Cider Vinegar Health Benefits
Vinegar is a complex food containing vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polyphenols and many non-volatile organic acids such as citric, lactic, and malic acids.
These combined ingredients, according to researchers, may explain its broad range of medicinal uses and properties that include the following.
1. Prevents Infections/Kills Bacteria
Hippocrates first recommended using vinegar for treating sores and ulcers as well as other ailments such as respiratory illnesses that tend to become infected. Today, we know his claims certainly had merit as research shows vinegar is both a household disinfectant and a powerful antimicrobial for wounds.
While many studies show vinegar is effective against a variety of nasty bacteria, a more recent 2015 study further shows that even highly diluted acetic acid is an effective alternative agent for preventing infections and killing the bacteria found in burn wounds (7).
2. Lowers Cholesterol
One of the many health benefits of apple cider vinegar is its ability to lower cholesterol. According to a 2006 animal study published in the British Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that consuming ACV can help to lower cholesterol by essentially increasing bile production in the liver (8) .
3. Lowers Blood Pressure
A 2001 study shows that acetic acid does, in fact, help to significantly lower blood pressure as well as renin activity, a plasma enzyme that plays a major role in the body’s regulation of blood pressure, thirst, and urine output (9).
4. Protects Your Heart
Researchers, who continue to look for natural alternatives for heart health, have recently turned towards vinegar.
One such study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that a higher intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in ACV, is protective against fatal coronary artery disease also known as Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD).
The study suggests that eating more foods like oil-based salad dressings that provide a good source of polyunsaturated fats, including ALA, can be effective for reducing the risk of fatal IHD (10).
5. Prevents Cancer
To date, there is plenty of research detailing the potent anti-tumor properties of vinegar. One such study shows that vinegar can repress the growth of human leukemia cells (11). Another study shows that vinegar can stop the growth of colon, lung, breast, bladder and prostate cancer cells (12).
A more recent study published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology further suggests acetic acid may be an effective treatment for various types of cancer as it can form acetate ions in your stomach, which may account for direct anti-tumor effects.
Researchers state, “Acetic acid is a powerful anticancer agent. Topical application of acetic acid may be a feasible approach for the treatments of gastric cancer and possibly other malignancies.” (13).
While the various acids in ACV have anti-cancer abilities, researchers also know that ACV contains a variety of polyphenols, which are potent anti-oxidants that have further anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
6. Prevents and Treats Diabetes
Researchers first determined that vinegar can help to lower blood glucose levels in 1988. They surmised that acetic acid may delay gastric emptying rate, thereby lowering glucose levels (14). In 1995, however, another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition further reported that while acetic acid can, in fact, lower glucose levels, it is a result of its acidity and not gastric emptying (15) .
Subsequent studies show vinegar can possibly “inactivate” several digestive enzymes known to break down carbohydrates into sugar, thereby slowing the conversion of complex carbohydrates (such as potatoes) into glucose that then enters your bloodstream (16). In fact, one study published by the American Diabetes Association reveals that vinegar can improve insulin sensitivity in 19 percent of people with type 2 diabetes and in 34 percent of people with pre-diabetes (17) .
Another 2007 study adds that taking 2 tablespoons of ACV before bed can lower your waking blood sugar levels by up to 6 percent in people who have type 2 diabetes (18). For diabetics, researchers state that consuming vinegar can be a vital tool to help regulate blood glucose levels.
7. Promotes Weight Loss
One clear health benefit of apple cider vinegar is weight loss.
ACV can help by essentially making you feel full, thus reducing the amount of food and calories you eat (19).
A 2005 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that individuals who consume just a small amount of vinegar along with a high carb meal can reduce their calorie intake by as much as 27%, which translates to a weight loss of up to 1.5 pounds. They attribute the results to the acetic acid in vinegar.
Other studies show that drinking vinegar daily can reduce belly fat and waist circumference as well as lower blood triglycerides and overall weight, making it a possible prevention for metabolic syndrome (20).
The study shows that drinking:
- 15mL (1 tablespoon) can result in a weight loss of 6 pounds, or 1.2 kilograms
- 30mL (2 tablespoons) can result in a weight loss of 7 pounds, or 1.7 kilograms.
8. Boosts Energy
According to animal studies, acetic acid in ACV can help your muscles turn carbs into energy to increase your energy output during intense exercise. Endurance athletes often drink diluted vinegar before “carb-loading” prior to competitions (21).
There is some evidence that ACV can help with sinus infections as it can kill bacteria and help break down mucous. It is also used as a gargle for its antibacterial properties in cases of sore throats.
Some studies further suggest the pectin in ACV can soothe intestinal spasms, as well as improve stomach acid levels, thus reducing acid reflux (22).