Apple Cider Vinegar: Healthy or Hype?

It has probably come up at a holiday gathering or dinner party – people start comparing home or natural wellness remedies, and someone, invariably, mentions apple cider vinegar and “the mother.” Intrigued, you probably seek more details, and hear anecdotes about how it’s a life-changer, and that a tablespoon a day eases stomach distress, limits weight gain, controls blood pressure and sugar levels, and keeps the user regular.

While some people swear it’s a magic elixir, the medical jury is still out on the long-term benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar, though apple vinegar is an anti-oxidant, and with “the mother” present, contains probiotics, which aid in digestion. So, what is “the mother,” you might wonder?

Well, in case you were worried, “the mother” is nothing like the worm found south of the border in some bottles of tequila. And to understand its origins and value, let’s start with a chemistry lesson.

Vinegar comes from the French phrase vin aigre, meaning sour wine. The sourness comes from acetic acid. When yeast is added to pulverized or juiced apples, it digests the sugars in the apples and converts, or ferments them into alcohol. A bacteria, acetobacter, then turns the alcohol into acetic acid. The “mother” refers to the combination of yeast and bacteria formed during fermentation. If you look at an apple cider vinegar bottle that hasn’t been pasteurized, you can see strands of the “mother” floating around.

Many people attribute apple cider vinegar’s positive effects to the “mother.” It is a probiotic, similar in nature to what you find in cultured yogurts. Aside from probiotics, apple cider vinegar has a vitamin profile similar to apple juice, just a lot more sour-tasting. It is loaded with B-vitamins and polyphenols (plant-based antioxidants). These probiotics, acetic acid, and the nutrients in in the apple cider vinegar are responsible for its health benefits. But “how healthy” is a question whose answer researchers tend to differ on.

Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Vinegar is used in cooking, baking, salad dressings, and as a preservative. There’s a lot of acid in it, so drinking vinegar straight isn’t good for us. However, while consuming apple cider vinegar straight won’t hurt (as long as we don’t imbibe too much or suffer from kidney disease), it also will not cure cancer, diabetes or control blood pressure, regardless of the myths you may have heard and would love to believe.

On the contrary, it can cause serious problems, including stomach distress, heartburn and tooth decay.

Vinegar has been used as a remedy since the days of Hippocrates. The ancient Greek doctor treated wounds with it. The polyphenols it contains are antioxidants, which can curb cell damage that can lead to other diseases, such as cancer. But studies on whether vinegar actually lowers our chances of contracting cancer are mixed.

Overall, apple cider vinegar is safe. If you’re looking to take some for health reasons, most people recommend adding one to two tablespoons to water or tea.  But before you start ingesting it daily, there are negative side effects including:

  • The acid in apple cider vinegar can erode teeth enamel, so drinking some water after you swallow your cider is a good idea.
  • Acidic foods or liquids like vinegar may exacerbate acid reflux and stomach distress.
  • If you have chronic kidney disease, your kidneys may not be able to process the excess acid from drinking apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar may moderately lower blood glucose levels, but it won’t cure or control diabetes or replace medications you may be taking for diabetes, cholesterol or blood pressure.  As with any supplement, medicine or herb you may be considering, the smart bet is to check with your physician before you proceed.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!