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All the health benefits of apple cider vinegar

All the health benefits of apple cider vinegar

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Viewed by some as a panacea for a whole range of health issues, do these claims stand up to scrutiny?

Claims about the healing properties of apple cider vinegar (ACV) range from the intriguing (it can help your hair and skincare regimen) to the outlandish (it can cure cancer).

With so much noise around this seemingly inoffensive store-cupboard stalwart, how do we get to the truth? Is this product, made with fermented apples, yeast and sugar, the solution for achieving great health and wellbeing, or should we most definitely not believe the hype?

Blood sugar regulation and diabetes

A study from 2021 suggests that ACV could be beneficial for controlling blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes. But Eli Brecher, a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) for ARVRA wellness, cautions that the effect found in such research is moderate. “Smaller studies have reported that one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar can lower your blood sugar after meals. But it’s important to keep in mind that it really can’t replace diabetes medications or a healthy lifestyle.”

In the non-diabetic population, regulating blood sugar is equally important as it helps with responses to food, and with digestion. “The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar may slow down carbohydrate digestion, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar,’ says Jennifer Walpole, a registered nutritional therapist specialising in women’s health. Regulating the body’s insulin responses and avoiding sudden blood sugar spikes and crashes, can in the short term prevent lethargy and cravings, and in the long term may help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Heart health

Coronary heart disease is, according to the British Heart Foundation, responsible for around 68,000 deaths a year in the UK. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes are major risk factors for the development of heart disease and research indicates that ACV could help prevent it. A study in 2020, analysing the results of a range of clinical trials which investigated the effect of ACV on lipid profiles and glycemic indicators, showed that ACV consumption significantly decreased lipid levels, another risk factor for several cardiovascular diseases.

Gut health

ACV supports digestive enzyme function, aiding nutrient absorption, explains Walpole: “However, while its acidity might contribute to gut health, it can also trigger heartburn in those prone to acid reflux.”

Brecher notes that probiotics are another way ACV can support gut health. As ACV is fermented, if purchased in its raw, unfiltered state (stating that it is with “the mother” on the label), this means it contains some probiotics (healthy bacteria) which can help support the gut – but this can only happen in conjunction with, and not instead of, a balanced diet.

Walpole advises that there are plenty of natural ways to achieve the same goals as ACV, minus the potential drawbacks. “Several foods, including rocket, cruciferous vegetables [broccoli, cauliflower] are known to stimulate digestive enzyme production.”

Skin health

According to Abbas Kanani, a superintendent pharmacist with Chemist Click, “apple cider vinegar contains polyphenols, an antioxidant which can help protect cells from damage by free radicals. It also offers antibacterial and antifungal properties for the skin.” Dr Ross Perry, a GP and the medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics has some practical tips for including ACV in a skincare regime: “Apple cider vinegar can be used as a toner, to clarify and refresh the skin. Simply add a tablespoon to 400 ml of water and use a cotton pad to cleanse.”

There are, according to Dr Perry, a number of other skin benefits of ACV: “It can work as an exfoliator as besides acetic acid, it contains malic acid and this benefits those with acne-prone skin as it gently exfoliates, helps to unclog pores and eliminate bacteria. By decreasing the production of melanin, malic acid in apple cider vinegar also helps with hyperpigmentation.”

ACV can also help to ease the symptoms of sunburn. Simply add to a bath and soak for 15 mins or saturate a flannel and apply directly onto skin. Using diluted ACV topically is said to help those with skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis or acne – however organisations including The National Ezcema Association only state that it ‘possibly’ may help. And some recent studies indicate that it could in fact cause the skin to become irritated.

Hair health

With its antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, ACV can, however, help improve hair and scalp health. Hair expert Nicole Petty at Milk + Blush, says diluted ACV can be used as an effective home treatment. “It can help treat dandruff or itchy/dry scalps due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that target yeast and dead skin cells. Its acidity means that, when rinsed through hair, it works as a clarifying shampoo, restoring the natural Ph balance of the hair and removing build-up – the accumulation of products and oils on your hair and scalp – making your hair products
work more effectively.

Petty suggests this once weekly treatment: “Start by shampooing and conditioning your hair before mixing two to four spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar with one cup of water, pouring over your head and gently massaging it onto your scalp. Leave for a few minutes (no longer than five) and thoroughly rinse with cold water to seal the hair cuticle. While it can be used on any hair type, apple cider vinegar is particularly beneficial for curly or dyed hair”.

Anti-microbial properties

Hippocrates, father of medicine, documented using vinegar to clean wounds over 2000 years ago and ACV does indeed have antibacterial and anti-microbial properties. The acids contained within help kill pathogens, including dangerous strains of bacteria like E.Coli.

A 2014 study found that acetic acid was able to block the growth of mycobacteria – a strain responsible for diseases including tuberculosis and leprosy.

Weight loss

One of the most seductive claims about ACV is that when taken regularly it aids weight loss. Some studies suggest this is because vinegar promotes feelings of fullness. One study noted that when ingested alongside solid food, participants experienced appetite suppression for two hours after the meal and didn’t snack for the next three and 24 hours.

A randomised clinical trial conducted in 2024 showed participants who took daily doses of ACV at 15ml per tablespoon for 12 weeks experienced 6-8kg reduction in weight and improvement in everything from body fat ratio and BMI to cholesterol levels and lipids in the blood.

Brecher says: “While research has shown that apple cider vinegar might have benefits for supporting weight loss, more research is needed to prove this.

“One study showed that a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar twice a day helped some people who were already following a reduced-calorie diet to lose a few extra pounds, but the study was small and short term. There is no proof that the vinegar ‘sped up metabolism’, as many like to claim. The weight loss could be due to the placebo effect or that it made people feel nauseous.”

Source: The Telegraph

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