Apple cider vinegar diet: Does it really work?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling

People search for information on a wide variety of health topics in Google and other search engines. That’s no surprise.

But I was surprised to learn that “apple cider vinegar weight loss diet” was among the fastest-rising health topic searches for Google in 2017. And then I found out that apple cider vinegar has been used medicinally for centuries!

Why the renewed interest? And, more importantly, does it work?

What is the apple cider vinegar diet?

Apple cider vinegar comes from apples that have been crushed, distilled, and then fermented. It can be consumed in small quantities or taken as a supplement. Its high levels of acetic acid, or perhaps other compounds, may be responsible for its supposed health benefits. Although recommendations for “dosing” vary, most are on the order of 1 to 2 teaspoons before or with meals.

What can the apple cider vinegar diet do for you?

For thousands of years, compounds containing vinegar have been used for their presumed healing properties. It was used to improve strength, for “detoxification,” as an antibiotic, and even as a treatment for scurvy. While no one is using apple cider vinegar as an antibiotic anymore (at least, no one should be), it has been touted more recently for weight loss. What’s the evidence?

Studies in obese rats and mice suggest that acetic acid can prevent fat deposition and improve their metabolism. The most widely quoted study of humans is a 2009 trial of 175 people who consumed a drink containing 0, 1, or 2 tablespoons of vinegar each day. After three months, those who consumed vinegar had modest weight loss (2 to 4 pounds) and lower triglyceride levels than those who drank no vinegar. Another small study found that vinegar consumption promoted feeling fuller after eating, but that it did so by causing nausea. Neither of these studies (and none I could find in a medical literature search) specifically studied apple cider vinegar.

In all, the scientific evidence that vinegar consumption (whether of the apple cider variety or not) is a reliable, long-term means of losing excess weight is not compelling. (On the other hand, a number of studies suggest that vinegar might prevent spikes in blood sugar in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes by blocking starch absorption — perhaps that’s a topic for another day.)

Is there a downside to the apple cider vinegar diet?

For many natural remedies, there seems to be little risk, so a common approach is “why not try it?” However, for diets with high vinegar content, a few warnings are in order:

  • Vinegar should be diluted. Its high acidity can damage tooth enamel when sipped “straight” — consuming it as a component of vinaigrette salad dressing is a better way.
  • It has been reported to cause or worsen low potassium levels. That’s particularly important for people taking medications that can lower potassium (such as common diuretics taken to treat high blood pressure).
  • Vinegar can alter insulin levels. People with diabetes should be particularly cautious about a high vinegar diet.

So what?

If you are trying to lose weight, adding apple cider vinegar to your diet probably won’t do the trick. Of course, you’d never suspect that was the case by the way it’s been trending on Google health searches. But the popularity of diets frequently has little to do with actual evidence. If you read about a new diet (or other remedy) that sounds too good to be true, a healthy dose of skepticism is usually in order.

Related Information: Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Comments:

  1. Eliza Oshumba

    Jesus didn’t push fish, wine, and red meat on anyone. If you want to eat/ not eat it, then you have free will. But don’t blame Jesus for this.

  2. Sherry

    It works for me. Keeps you feeling healthy. It also keeps your teeth white, just add water with it before you rinse your mouth out with it. Gets rid of excess water weight too. I drink two cap fulls in a glass of bottled water before going to bed at night.

  3. Deborah

    Sipping gently with a straw keeps most of the vinegar off your teeth.

  4. Jim Ripley

    Have been using Apple Cider vinegar for over a year now, I mix it with v-8 juice. haven’t noticed any results ,except I don’t like the v-8 juice unless it has acv in it !

  5. Jim Ripley

    Have tried Apple cider for over a year now, every morning in v-8 juice . No noticible results, except I don’t like the v-8 juice unless it has apple cider vinegar in it.

  6. Jen

    I tried it and it didn’t work.

  7. Bob

    Firstly, I enjoyed reading this newsletter. You are a good writer not too technical, practical with a twist of wisdom. I understand that Apple cider vinegar is a probiotic though acidic going down once it gets digested it releases basic properties. I use a table spoon everyday and I understand that a good probiotic pill may contain as much as 40 billion beneficial bacteria, fermented foods and beverages contain way more and cheaper. I can also attest to its anti-inflammatory and pain benefit. I suffered at one time from severe arthritic joint pain in my little finger for about 6 months before doing something about it. I was given Celebrex for it and received some temporary relief that lasted about 30 mins. I heard about organic apple cider vinegar and took 2 table spoons at a time which gave me more pain relief for about the same amount time. Eventually I realized that MSG intolerance was the cause of the pain and inflammation and could stop taking apple cider vinegar every few hours which did cause me some stomach upset in that quantity.

  8. Buddy Silver

    “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”!

    Yeah!

    But that was before they started spraying them with deadly insecticides.

    Salmon is good for you!

    Yeah! Wild salmon – NOT farmed salmon.

    Veggies are good for you!

    Yeah! Organic grown veggies — NOT insecticide drenched veggies.

    Do YOU get my drift?

    Jesus is to blame for GOUT!

    He pushed BREAD, FISH , RED MEAT & WINE!

  9. Jerry

    One of the huge credibility gaps between science and personal experience is vividly alit in this item. Science can’t find how something works; therefore it doesn’t work. Can’t find God? No problem; There is no God. Can’t find a numerical rhythm in PI? Again, no problem there isn’t any. Actually there really is.
    So we move into meds that work or not. Even though they’ll offer you a placebo. So what’s wrong with belief? We know a person can affect their health simply by changing perspectives.
    I do have a bone with science; even my own biology. Giving up the hunt is counter science. If you can’t find it, at least find out why not. After centuries of medicine we just now discover a new organ? Really? Is that because of scientific dogma? If science is so precise, why are so many discoveries accidental?
    Science does itself a disservice by spouting off and trying to convince people of things. Most believe GMO’s are bad and science will tell us one way or the other depending of the nation we ask. Depending on the death, sickness, environmental destruction, and other things of concern experienced in each of those nations. Our nation is truth challenged.

  10. Frank Leahy

    Frank
    I have taken apple cider tablets with water for years to relieve painful cramps. It works like magic but I have never seen this remedy anywhere in the media or in the medical literature.

  11. Ian Graham

    At the point where you wrote ‘Apple cider vinegar comes from apples that have been crushed, distilled, and then fermented’, I began to seriously doubt your knowledge of the subject.
    There is no distillation involved in the production of ACV. The apples are crushed and the juice extracted, then the juice is fermented (by yeast) to turn the sugar to alcohol. A secondary bacterial fermentation by acetobacter then turns the alcohol into acetic acid. The acidity of the vinegar is a mixture of this acetic acid and the naturally occurring malic acid from the apple juice.

  12. C Stewart

    Interesting re tooth enamel but I have never heard it recommended for weight loss but for arthritis and general health by keeping your gut healthy. All read that farmers in Vermont discovered it was excellent for cows that weren’t calving. (I think we are pretty safe!

  13. Idella O'Neal

    I used Apple cider vinegar in my diet mostly after consuming high fat intake calories. It help keep the weight off and I’ve lost weight. It works for me.

  14. nina

    I ate sauerkraut salad made with apple cider vinegar almost everyday for about 2 months, and it damaged my tooth enamel despite rinsing my mouth after eating it. I’m currently trying to remineralize a tooth, which my dentist wanted to fill. Just 2 weeks after I stopped consuming ACV and using products to remineralize, my teeth have improved. Dentist has pictures. Avoiding ACV like the plague.

  15. cal orey

    Disagree. Pair vinegar(s) with the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet/lifestyle…not to forget olive oil, tea, and honey–yes, you can lose unwanted weight–and more! Top experts show how it works!

  16. Carol Chang

    I was always concerned about the relationship between apple cider vinegar and my bones…will it dissolve my bones?

  17. Donald Wilson

    Apple Cider vinegar is an acid . Doesn’t many Cancers like an acidic body to live well within ? Our water here at home is slightly acidic already and we treat it so the Ph rises above 7.5 so I’ll leave the vinegars alone .

  18. TERRY SMITH

    Disregarding the pros and cons of vinegar for weight loss, I selected the apple cider vinegrette to use on my daily salad lunch because it was sodium free, fat free, and tastes good. Consequently, I eat more of my favorite spinach salads, which is low calorie and good for you. It is beneficial for my heart disease and health. I would contribute the health benefits to the veggies, rather than the vinegar, but hey, anything that makes veggies taste better without adding calories or sodium is not all bad.
    Pass the salad please.

  19. Richard kates

    I’d like to know about PREbiotic and probiotic. There is a DR Gunter (?)…..saying, a SIDE effect is weight loss.
    I wonder what Harvard Health thinks about it?

  20. SJ

    I tried this for about two weeks and suffered from itchy skin, particularly on my limbs and abdomen. It’s so irritating for your whole body to itch at once! As soon as I stopped taking ACV, the itching subsided drastically. It did cause me to feel fuller and not so hungry. I’ve now replaced it with lemon water. So far, so good.

  21. Gloria Abbott

    Is Apple cider vinegar use in treating blocked fallopian tube?

  22. Alan8

    A couple comments… They make apple cider vinegar capsules, which protect your tooth enamel and which don’t have an obnoxious taste.

    Apple cider vinegar is great for acid reflux; just take a couple of capsules 10 minutes before eating. The apple cider vinegar closes the valve that protects your throat from stomach acid.

  23. sara

    hi,months before i used this method apple cider vinegar for a month but i didn’t get any results that time i have 110 kg and i found a website with lot of advice i just follow that now my wight is 89kg . i’m not promoting that site or anything but i know the pain of being fatty ,so any one need this use it please mail me gracedaniyel@gmail.com thank you.

  24. Clive nass

    Would Apple cider vinegar either taken orally or applied to the affected area externally help for severe psoriasis at all ?

  25. Roy Parker

    I tried apple cider vinegar for 4 to 5 months, but didn’t see any positive result. So , I am not using it anymore.

  26. Seok huei goh

    Will Too much acv react or remove away most of our calcium in the body ?

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