Apple cider vinegar has been a popular home remedy seemingly forever, used for everything from soothing sore throats to helping with weight loss. It is made by exposing crushed apples to yeast, which ferments the fruit’s sugars, converting them into alcohol. Next, bacteria are added, fermenting the solution further and turning the alcohol into acetic acid, the primary active constituent. From here, some apple cider vinegars are filtered and made clear, while others remain unfiltered and murky, retaining the beneficial bacteria and enzymes.
There’s no question that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties, which is the main reason why it’s heralded as a health tonic. But does this potent, sour-tasting swill really deliver? Let’s take a look at what the science suggests about some of apple cider vinegar’s most common health-related uses.
Soothe a sore throat
This use of vinegar for sore throats and nagging coughs dates back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who prescribed it mixed with honey. The reigning theory about why drinking apple cider vinegar may help is because of its antimicrobial prowess—i.e., it could zap the infectious bugs that are making you sick. However, there isn’t much of any research to support its efficacy for easing sore throats, and there is concern that its high acid content can burn the throat, causing even more irritation.
Still, some people swear by apple cider vinegar for this purpose, so if you want to give it a try, go ahead—just be sure to cut it in half with water to dilute the acid before gargling. And to temper the lip-puckering taste, try the Hippocrates method of swirling in some honey.
Apple cider vinegar is sometimes touted as a teeth whitener: Just rub some on your choppers with a cotton swab before brushing, and it’ll strip those pesky wine and coffee stains away! Not so fast. Again, there’s zero research to back this practice that we could find. But even beyond that, many dentists caution against brushing with apple cider vinegar because the acid can erode tooth enamel, just like the acid in soda and coffee can do. Besides, another home remedy—baking soda—works well to whiten teeth without being overly hard on them, so we’d suggest trying that over apple cider vinegar any day.
Aid in weight loss
Here’s a prime example of an oft-repeated health claim that stems from a few small human trials being blown out of proportion. While there is a short stack of evidence to suggest apple cider vinegar may have some benefits for weight loss, the case is far from closed.
The study that gets the most play is from 2009. After 175 obese adults consumed either a beverage containing vinegar or a placebo every day for 12 weeks, the vinegar drinkers had very slight reductions in body weight (read: only two to three pounds), body max index, waist circumference and visceral fat compared to those given the placebo. So while you can’t argue that there were benefits, are they enough to merit sipping vinegar daily? Probably not. We’d recommend regular exercise and a nutritious diet instead.
Another sometimes-cited study, from 2014, found that acetate, which is formed from acetic acid, may impact the part of the brain that controls appetite. In other words, it could help you feel full faster. But can we really take this to mean that apple cider vinegar, which contains acetic acid, will stop us from reaching back into a bag of chips? That would be quite a stretch. As more proof, a second study from 2014 denounced vinegar as an appetite suppressant because it merely made participants nauseous. So while they may have consumed less food afterward, it was apparently only because they didn’t want to hurl.
Stave off or reverse diabetes
There has been a good shake of research on the effects of vinegar (not specifically apple cider vinegar) on blood sugar, and some of these studies have yielded promising results. For example, human and rat studies suggest that acetic acid has a beneficial blood-glucose effect, in part because it may delay gastric emptying and slow the digestion of starchy foods. A trial of 11 type 2 diabetics found that consuming vinegar before bed moderates waking glucose levels. And another small study found that vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
But here again, while these results suggest potential blood-glucose benefits of acetic acid or vinegar, they fall way short of proving that apple cider vinegar can prevent or treat type 2 diabetes, as multiple internet articles suggest. Also concerning is that if you’re taking diabetes medications, vinegar may amplify their effects. Just like with losing weight, if your goal is healthy blood sugar control, reach for fresh fruits and veggies before a bottle of apple cider vinegar.
Can apple cider vinegar really help control acne? Maybe. Kind of. When you dab it on a pimple, it will dry out the blemish, which could help it clear up faster. But don’t expect this spot treatment to prevent future zits from appearing. There is no research showing it stymies acne.
Ease itchy skin
Surf the web and you’ll find all kinds of common itches that apple cider vinegar can presumably squelch: bug bites, itchy scalp, fading sunburn, psoriasis, eczema, generally dry skin. Well, here’s some good news: There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it works for these woes, likely because of the acid. And since apple cider vinegar is antimicrobial, it could fight off the causes of certain itches. To try it, either dab a cotton ball or washcloth in apple cider vinegar and apply to the itchy spots, or drop a few cups of the stuff into your next bath.
Apple cider vinegar certainly has beneficial characteristics—antiseptic, antioxidant, acidic (helpful in some instances)—which could confer a few minimal health advantages. However, many of its purported perks are likely more hearsay or hype than legit. In general, though, if you want more apple cider vinegar in your life, use it to make a tasty salad dressing or meat marinade instead of drinking it in hopes of some miraculous health outcome.