Does apple cider vinegar actually do anything?
An investigation into the internet’s favorite home remedy.
If something claims to be a miracle cure—for cancer, for overeating, for run-of-the-mill acne—you should start by assuming it isn’t. Life is hard and long and there are no easy shortcuts, especially when it comes to your health. That includes the internet darling that is apple cider vinegar.
Proponents of the fermented liquid seem to think it can cure just about any ailment, and sometimes advise taking shots of it to stave off illness. Cider vinegar is just one in a sea of trendy superfoods that plague the web, but it’s a great example of how easy it is to ascribe unfounded health benefits to generally innocuous ingredients. Apple cider vinegar won’t magically make your problems go away, no matter how much you believe in it. Most of the “evidence” in support of its benefits comes from shoddy journals and pseudo-doctors.
In fact, there seems to be just one thing it could theoretically be good for. Well, actually, two. Apple cider vinegar is a great way to catch flies. Way better than honey.
So here’s a round-up of some of the most common suggested uses for what is essentially just half of an excellent salad dressing—and the reasons that the remedies (mostly) don’t work.
Weight loss/heart disease
A handful of mouse and rat studies (mostly in subpar “scientific” journals that don’t require the same rigor as legitimate journals do) seem to have convinced the internet that taking shots of vinegar can stave off diabetes. But human studies have shown such small weight-loss benefits as to be considered insignificant.
It’s possible that vinegar is somewhat helpful to your metabolism, but the results so far suggest it won’t be a miracle treatment. According to a couple of small studies, the acetic acid in vinegar could stave off blood sugar spikes that otherwise prompt your body to store fat, but that mechanism hasn’t been thoroughly proven yet. If you’re trying to improve your cardiovascular health or shed some pounds, you’re far better off doing high-intensity interval training combined with some type of strength training, plus eating a balanced diet with plenty of fiber and whole foods. Those interventions have much better evidence supporting them.
In general, it's true that fermented foods are good for your gut health. The bacteria doing the fermenting stick around in vinegar like they do in yogurt, and consuming those microbes can help seed your gut's microbiome. But while apple cider vinegar could theoretically be microbiome-friendly, there isn't really evidence to support that idea. A far more assured path is to just eat more fiber. Garlic, onions, and bananas all taste much better than a dose of vinegar, and are excellent sources of dietary fiber. Fiber helps create an environment your gut bugs will love. And if you're still hankering for a probiotic food, go for fermented solids like pickled veggies, sauerkraut, or kimchi.
Just...no. Please do not try to treat your cancer by drinking vinegar of any kind. Even if Japanese scientists really did kill cancer cells by exposing them to apple cider vinegar, that does not prove that vinegar will treat cancer inside your body. If you just leave cancer cells in a petri dish for too long they will die, but that doesn't mean we can treat cancer by telling patients to wait it out. Please please please see a doctor if you have cancer. The treatments are scary and certainly far from perfect, but they're still your best shot.
No, no, no, no. Do not try to whiten your teeth with vinegar. Acid, whether it be in lemons or soda or apple cider vinegar, destroys your protective layer of enamel permanently. Please try any of the widely available whitening kits, or see your dentist, if you're that concerned about yellowing teeth.
Again, there are no studies on this because, frankly, sore throats aren’t of the utmost concern to most researchers. That being said, drinking acid will probably not help your sore throat feel better.
Your pain is caused by swollen glands in your neck, plus inflammation produced by your body as it tries to fight off an infection. It’s not like the bacteria or viruses are sitting inside your throat and you can just kill them with vinegar. The problem is in your blood vessels. Anti-inflammatory drugs will be much more likely to give you relief, plus cough drops for that tickling sensation. The actual consumption of the vinegar won’t hurt you (though the strong smell might make you a bit nauseated), but as we said before, the acid isn’t good for your teeth. Drinking it or even just swishing it around in your mouth is generally inadvisable.
Warts are caused by human papillomavirus, and apple cider vinegar cannot kill a virus inside of your body. If you’ve got a wart, you should freeze it off yourself or go to a dermatologist to get them to do it for you. All you’ll do with vinegar is give yourself a minor chemical burn.
It's true that the acid in vinegar could help kill the bacteria and remove the dead skin that cause zits, but it's also really irritating to your skin. If you feel compelled to use vinegar instead of an over-the-counter remedy, at least dilute it down so you don't give yourself a chemical burn. And again, if your acne is stubborn, go see a doctor.
Anything to do with your vagina
DO NOT PUT VINEGAR IN OR ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR VAGINA OR VULVA. Your vagina is self-cleaning, and all your vulva (that's the outer bit) needs is a gentle soap cleanse. The pH balance inside your vagina is delicate, and messing with it is likely to give you bacterial or yeast problems.
And now, presenting the only thing apple cider vinegar might maybe be okay for: Dandruff
There is a chance that vinegar might actually help with your dandruff. Depending on what's causing the flakes on your scalp, apple cider's antimicrobial properties could help treat any fungi growing up there, or possibly help loose skin slough off so it washes away with the vinegar rinse.
That being said, there are lots of shampoos specifically formulated to treat dandruff, and if those aren’t giving you relief you should really just head to a dermatologist. There are [multiple causes of dandruff] that they can identify for you, along with medications they can prescribe. Plus, it might not be dandruff. Several conditions cause flaky skin and other scalp problems that look like dandruff, but aren’t. A dermatologist will be able to figure that out and can help you treat whatever it is. And as an added bonus, any medication they prescribe you won’t make your head smell like salad dressing.