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What's the Deal with Apple Cider Vinegar?

There is no shortage of claims about all the marvelous health benefits that vinegar, particularly the apple cider variety, can do. But are the claims substantiated?

There are plenty of books, pamphlets and ads promoting apple cider vinegar as a “nutritional power house” that fights cancer, curbs arthritis, reduces blood pressure, dissolves fat, cleans out “bad” cholesterol, reduces fatigue, treats ulcers and even improves memory. Sometimes, though, regulatory authorities get fed up with the unsubstantiated blather.

“Jogging in a Jug”, a dietary supplement with apple cider vinegar as a key ingredient, was created by former Alabama dairy farmer Jack McWilliams in the early 1990s with claims of providing the same health benefits as jogging, including alleviating heart disease and arthritis while “cleansing the internal organs.” The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission determined these claims were unsubstantiated, and in 1995 penalized McWilliams’ company, Third Option Laboratories, to the tune of $480,000. Furthermore, any future advertising had to state that “there is no scientific evidence that Jogging in a Jug provides any health benefits.” 

But this is only one apple cider vinegar product. There are plenty more out there on the market. So is there any actual evidence that apple cider vinegar can provide any sort of health benefit? Perhaps (surprisingly), there is. But the effect is far from earth shaking. Dr. Carol Johnston at Arizona State University has shown that a couple of teaspoons a day may help improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics. It seems acetic acid inhibits some of the enzymes that digest sugar and starches, meaning that these are more likely to pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed and therefore have less of an impact on blood sugar.

What about the claim that apple cider vinegar will “melt the fat away?” Dr. Tomoo Kondo and his group at the Central Research Institute in Japan have looked into this. In a properly controlled double-blind study of 155 obese patients, they found that about four teaspoons of vinegar a day over three months resulted in a weight loss of about a kilogram and a reduction in waist size of about 1.5 centimeters. Maintaining these losses, however, required continuous ingestion of vinegar. A possible explanation is that acetic acid interferes with some of the enzymes involved in lipogenesis, the conversion of sugars to fat. Interesting yes, but the amount of weight lost is too small to be of great clinical relevance.


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