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8 Truths (and Myths) You Need to Know About Apple Cider Vinegar

27 Jul, 2017
By Daniela Massenz
Apple cider vinegar - universal health and beauty hero or overrated? We sift through the tall tales and tricky claims to bring you the truth.
 
Apple cider vinegar's been with us since waaaay before Hippocrates was a glint in his father's eye and, indeed, the Father of Medicine extolled its virtues as a remedy for a sore throat (mixed with a bit of honey), among other medicinal uses.
 
Nowadays, we understand that apple cider vinegar (ACV) is yet another form of probiotic-rich fermented food (if you choose the cloudy, unfiltered kind), and you could be forgiven for thinking that it is the cure for all ills if you're to take the many, many benefits 'wellness' media claims as gospel.
 
First, you need to understand that not all cider vinegars are the same. For maximum gut and general health benefits, you should choose organic, unfiltered and unpasteurized ACV. The cloudiness comes from the live culture and 'mother'.
 
Apple cider vinegar is claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antioxidant and antiseptic properties, which is why it can be used (diluted) as a household cleaning wash to remove certain funguses and bacteria. It also contains malic acid, which is said to help with constipation or acid-reflux.
 
We know it has numerous benefits for our health, beauty routine and even housework, but (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) this inexpensive household staple can actually be harmful if not used correctly, and it may not live up to all the claims if you look carefully. Let us separate the myth from the truth for you here...

CAUTION!

Some pundits recommend drinking a shot of ACV straight, but this can be dangerous. It can burn your oesophagus, and if you inhale some (because of the strong fumes), you could damage your lungs.

Despite its claim on helping to reduce acid, if you have stomach problems or an ulcer, drinking it neat could also cause problems, and it’s not good for your tooth enamel.
Related: 16 Popular Beauty Myths We All Fall For: Truth or Lies?

Healthy Hints

  1. CLAIM: Studies show ACV can reduce blood pressure, triglycerides and total cholesterol in rats fed a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet.

    MYTH: Great! - if you're a rat and you're concerned about heart disease. However, there have been no human studies as yet. It can't hurt, but don't rely on this rather than exercising and eating a healthy diet.

  2. CLAIM: Google ACV health benefits and the top results show it has a positive effect on diabetes.

    TRUTH: The expert on this is American dietitian Carol Johnston, who has done numerous studies on the effects of acetic acid (the main component in all vinegars) on diabetic blood glucose levels.

    Her studies indicate vinegar - not only ACV, but red and white wine vinegars, pomegranate vinegar or even white distilled vinegar – has an anti-glycaemic effect and can help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, insulin-resistant pre-diabetics, as well as in healthy people.

    As reported by CNN, the improvement was slight for all but those at risk for diabetes, ‘In pre-diabetics, it was too good to be true. It fell a good bit and stayed that way. It may be this is the group that could benefit the most.'

    How it works is that acetic acid helps to block the absorption of carbohydrate-rich foods, but not fatty foods. On WebMD.com, Johnson explains, ‘It doesn't block the starch 100%, but it definitely prevents at least some of that starch from being digested and raising your blood sugar”.

    CAUTION! If you're taking medication for diabetes, you shouldn't stop taking it and substitute it with vinegar. If you're thinking about using it to help manage your blood sugar, talk to your doctor first and monitor your blood sugar levels regularly as your medicine dosage may need to be reduced.
 
  1. CLAIM: ACV can help with weight loss - in rodents as well and in humans this time.

    MYTH: A Japanese study on humans is the one most cited, where 175 overweight but healthy subjects were divided into three groups and given drinks containing 30ml, 15ml or 0 vinegar over 12 weeks.

    After the study, body weight, BMI, visceral fat, waist circumferences, and triglyceride levels were measured and showed a reduction in all of the human guinea pigs in the 15ml and 30ml group.

    While some ACV-loving sites claim a 'significant reduction', Johnston and other dieticians' reaction is more 'meh!'. With between only one and two kg lost over the 3 months, you wouldn't normally consider this a hugely successful diet.

    Again, it can't hurt, but it should be part of a healthy diet, portion control and exercise plan. The generally accepted best way to use ACV or any other vinegar is on salads, in a 4 to 1 ratio with good quality extra-virgin oil, like olive or walnut oil.

    Related: All You Need to Know About Losing That Belly Fat - Forever
     
  2. CLAIM: ACV helps to soothe insect bites and sunburn.

    TRUTH: This one is liked by the experts. Either dilute it and apply it directly to the bite, or for multiple bites or a sunburn, add two cups to your bathwater and soak. Not only will it reduce itching, it soothes pain, swelling and redness.

Beauty Bonus

  1. CLAIM: Apple Cider Vinegar is an excellent tooth whitener.

    MYTH: This one makes dentists wince, especially as some 'experts' advise dabbing it neat on to your teeth. Don't do it! Depending on how it's produced, many ACVs have a pH of 2 or 3 (as strong as stomach acid) and could strip the enamel from your teeth and you’ll be visiting your dentist to have cavities filled.
     
  2. CLAIM: ACV works a charm on cuticle infections.

    TRUTH: American dermatologist Dr. Marie Jhin is happy with this one, she told CNN. You know those very painful, swollen infections you get when you can't resist the temptation to rip off a hangnail? Jhin suggests vinegar is effective in treating these. She recommends mixing a quarter cup of vinegar with three-quarter cup of water and soaking nails.
     
  3. CLAIM: ACV helps eliminate dandruff.

    TRUTH: This is another goody. Mix a quarter cup each of apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray it onto your scalp after shampooing, let it soak in for 15 minutes and rinse. Do this twice a week. The vinegar's acidity makes it antifungal, so it's harder for the fungus that causes dandruff to grow on your scalp. It also helps to exfoliate the scalp and will give your hair a glossy shine.

    Extra tip: ACV works well as an (almost) instant conditioner to add shine and bounce as well as tame your hair - even if you are not shampooing (bye-bye dry shampoo). But as Well&Good found out, it may be easier to find a product which includes it as an ingredient rather than go neat. Read more here.
     
  4. CLAIM: ACV is a natural pimple zapper and deodorant.

    MYTH: It may be antibacterial, but we don't recommend applying it neat to your 'pits or your zits, as some suggest, as this could cause burning and a rash. If you want to try it, dilute it with water substantially. Then we're not sure how effective it would still be. It could still be a good toner, but if it makes your skin feel dry or irritated, stop immediately.

    Related: All About Acne: Myths, Facts and Best Advice

Last tip: First thing in the morning or 20 minutes before your meal, have a cup of hot water with two tablespoons of ACV and a up to a teaspoon of honey. It is delicious, less bracing than lemon water, and may leave you less hungry so you don't feel tempted to guzzle.

There are more potential health benefits - here's what happened when one Well & Good beauty editor drank a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning for a week.
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