Apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular natural health products around, with claims that it can do almost anything, including sanitizing toothbrushes, curing diabetes and whittling waistlines.
What are the real benefits of apple cider vinegar, according to science? CNN asked seven experts and looked at dozens of studies to bring you the facts. Here are five ways apple cider (or any vinegar) can help your health — plus a few popular preconceptions that didn’t pass muster.
Lowering blood sugar
What’s the most popular use for apple cider vinegar? If a simple internet search is any measure, it involves diabetes.
Registered dietitian Carol Johnston has been studying the effects of acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, on diabetic blood glucose levels, since 2004.
No vinegar, including apple cider, has been shown in studies to significantly alter or prevent diabetes, said Johnston, a professor of nutrition and an associate dean in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.
“If I was to show that vinegar slows progression to diabetes, then I would need hundreds of people and millions of dollars to do the studies, because diabetes has a lot of causes, including genetics,” Johnston said.
Weight loss, or dieting, is another popular use for apple cider vinegar, and there is some evidence that it can help.
The most cited study was done with 175 heavy but otherwise healthy Japanese subjects. The 12-week treatment produced lower body weight, body mass index, visceral fat, waist measurements and triglyceride levels. Sounds great, right?
“People didn’t really lose that much weight,” Drayer said. “Only 2 to 4 pounds in three months over a placebo. That’s only a third of a pound a week.”
Teeth cleaning and whitening
Speaking of teeth …
“Some people like to use it to remove stains and whiten their teeth,” according to one of many online articles touting apple cider vinegar for this purpose:
“I let out an audible gasp when I read about this! It made me cringe, to be honest with you,” said Chicago dentist and American Dental Association spokesperson Dr.Alice Boghosian. “You’re putting acid on your teeth, the last thing you’d want to do to promote oral health.”
A pH of 7 is neutral, and anything less is acid, Boghosian said, adding that many of today’s popular apple cider vinegars are in the 2 to 3 pH range — about the same as stomach acid.
The internet also touts apple cider vinegar as a treatment for skin infections and acne, a way to fight lice and dandruff, as a natural wart remover or an anti-aging treatment.
“It will dry out a pimple, but it’s not an anti-aging method,” said dermatologist Dr. Marie Jhin, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. “I wouldn’t recommend it. We have much more effective and safe methods today than this.”
While it can help with sunburn, there are many other good remedies so “we don’t usually suggest that to patients,” Jhin said.
Because of apple cider vinegar’s antimicrobial properties, it is often suggested as a natural cleanser for the home.
The acid is effective against mold, but according to the Pesticide Research Institute, an environmental consulting firm, so are salt, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and baking soda.
Many of those also smell better.
Apple cider vinegar is biodegradable, and because of its low pH, it’s great against alkaline grime such as hard water and mineral deposits, as well as soap scum.
Used for centuries to preserve food items such as pickles and pig’s feet, vinegar is now becoming popular as a natural preservative in processed meat and poultry items as well.
Most home pickling uses 5% distilled white vinegar because it doesn’t affect the color of the vegetables or fruits, but apple cider vinegar is a popular choice due to its mellow, fruity flavor. Do know, however, that it will turn most fruits and veggies dark.
Cough and sore throat
The use of vinegar medicinally starts with the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates. He would mix it with honey and use it for chronic coughs and sore throats, and the suggestion continues today across the internet.
Many parents might think this is a natural and safe option for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have an official stance on the use of apple cider or other vinegars as a health aid, but spokeswoman Dr. Jennifer Shu urges caution.
Heart disease and cancer
If you’re a rat worried about heart disease, put apple cider and other vinegars on your shopping list.
Studies show the vinegar can reduce blood pressure, triglycerides and total cholesterol in rodents fed a high-fat, cholesterol-rich diet. But full-blown studies have not been conducted in humans.
Freeman, who serves on the American College of Cardiology’s prevention board, said there could be some benefit due to its antioxidant properties, like other heart-healthy fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli and blueberries.
Medical reference: CNN Health