For many years, apple cider vinegar (ACV) has had a weight loss reputation. But does it? In spite of decades of people clamoring it really worked, there was no evidence – until now. Some research is saying yes, ACV really helps you lose weight. In this apple cider vinegar review, I'll show you what research on ACV really says and in the process give vindication those who said it worked -including my own mom. This review will also compare ACV pills to liquid vinegar. I'll also show you possible ACV side effects too. Let's see what we can discover.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV), also known as cider vinegar is made by adding yeast and bacteria to apple juice. The yeast and bacteria turn the sugar in apple juice into vinegar through fermentation. The sour taste comes from the acetic acid in the vinegar. Acetic acid key to understanding vinegar weight loss and health benefits.
It was the 1990s and I was doing a live radio show about how most weight loss supplements didn't work when someone called in. The voice on the other end of the phone said: “It's Joey Cannon's mom!” Yes, MY MOM called the radio show to extol the virtues of -wait for it – apple cider vinegar. She didn't tell me she was going to do this. She just blindsided me.
That was my mom…
To say it was embarrassing was an understatement. My mom went on and on about how apple cider vinegar really worked. Stuff like this happened regularly, as anyone who knew my mom could verify.
Of course, I dismissed her claims – and I did it live on the radio.
Looking back, I really could have handled this better. I should have remembered the old science proverb: lack of evidence does not necessarily mean something doesn't work.
It just means nobody has investigated it yet.
If my mom were around today I would apologize because it's starting to look like she may have been right.
Let's now look at the apple cider vinegar weight loss research.
Apple Cider Vinegar Research
In 2009, researchers in Japan recruited 155 overweight women and men to take part in a 12-week study to test the weight loss effects of 2 different amounts of apple cider vinegar. The people consumed 16 oz of either:
- 0.5 ounce apple cider vinegar (750 mg acetic acid)
- 1 ounce apple cider vinegar (1500 mg acetic acid)
- No vinegar (placebo)
After the 12 weeks were over, researchers saw some very interesting results. Those consuming vinegar had the following health benefits:
- reduced body weight
- lower body fat
- reduced visceral body fat
- lower body mass index
- lower waist circumference
- lower triglyceride levels
All these effects were significantly better than the placebo group (which did not drink ACV). How much ACV did they drink? Not much. The amounts ranged from 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon per day.
While the weight loss was significant, it came to about 2.5 to 4 pounds more than those who did not consume vinegar. While this may not seem like much, it's important to remember the people did not change their diet or exercise any differently.
In another investigation, researchers in Iran randomly gave ACV or a placebo to 39 overweight women and men who also consumed a reduced-calorie diet (they ate 250 fewer calories a day) for 12 weeks. Those taking cider vinegar used 2 tablespoons of per day (consumed at lunch and dinner).
While the reduced-calorie diet did lower body weight (no surprise) those who also consumed 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar a day lost even more weight.
Those drinking the vinegar almost 9 pounds; it was just over 5 pounds in the diet-only group. In addition, those drinking apple cider vinegar also had:
- higher good HDL cholesterol
- lower triglyceride levels
- reduced appetite
While apple cider vinegar didn't reduce total cholesterol or bad LDL cholesterol, it's interesting it did seem to reduce appetite. Other researchers have shown cider vinegar slows down gastric emptying – in other words, the time it takes for food to leave the stomach. This might partially explain AVC's appetite-reducing benefits.
How Does Apple Cider Vinegar Work?
While the science is complicated, experts think the acetic acid in vinegar activates an enzyme called AMPK which helps us make energy (ATP). Where do we get the energy from – our fat cells! So, by triggering the AMPK enzyme, ACV ramps up energy production, causing a reduction in body fat and body weight.
How Much ACV Works?
From the vinegar weight loss research, it appears 1/2 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons per day is all you need. I would not use much more than this. See the side effects section below for why. I know apple cider vinegar can be tough to swallow (literally) so feel free to add it to yogurt or smoothies.
ACV: Filtered vs. Unfiltered
Unfiltered ACV contains what is called “the mother.” The Mother is a combination of bacteria, yeast and various minerals and other compounds. Filtered apple cider vinegar does not contain the Mother. In other words, companies “filter” most of this stuff out. While some feel unfiltered ACV has additional benefits (such as on the microbiome), more research is needed.
Pasteurized ACV vs. Not Pasteurized ACV
Pasteurized apple cider vinegar has gone through a pasteurization process to kill the bacteria. Given that the low pH of vinegar likely kills the bacteria anyway, whether or not pasteurization is needed is open to debate. Another name for non-pasteurized vinegar is “raw vinegar.”
How To Drink Apple Cider Vinegar
Because vinegar is an acid, it might burn the throat if you use it straight. As such, it may be best to drink it diluted in a liquid rather than just swallowing a tablespoon or two at a time. Diluting it in a liquid is exactly what the researchers did too. It doesn't matter what you dilute it with whether its water or add it to smoothies.
Are ACV Pills Better?
Because cider vinegar doesn't taste too good, some might decide to use ACV pills instead. When it comes to pills, I recommend caution. When the Dr. Oz show and Consumerlab looked at ACV supplements, they found the amount of acetic acid varied greatly, ranging from 0.4% to 23%! The amounts Consumerlab found were different than what was listed on their labels. In other words, the supplements could contain more or less than what their labels said. That's not good.
Remember, anything over 20% is considered toxic.
This tells me, the quality control of ACV pills is not as great as with drinking the liquid. If you are going to take ACV pills, investigate the companies you do business with. While I'm sure most brands are fine, when Consumerlab tested 6 different products, 2 of them were listed as “Not Approved.” They were:
- Piping Rock Mega Potency Apple Cider Vinegar Mega
- Natures Life Apple Cider Vinegar 500 mg
The reason they were not approved was because Pipping Rock ACV pills contained 35% acetic acid while Natures Life contained less acetic acid than its label said (claimed 175mg acetic acid but only had 12.7mg per tablet). Because of the Consumerlab findings, Pipping Rock brands now carry a warning about its high level of acetic acid.
Which was the best value at the lowest cost this brand:
How Long Does ACV Last?
Liquid apple cider vinegar does not have to be refrigerated and should last a long time. To be safe, use within 2 years of purchasing it for best results.
Does ACV Improve Digestion?
Some might drink cider vinegar before meals to improve digestion. While there's nothing wrong with this, there isn't much evidence ACV improves digestion. Lack of proof doesn't mean it doesn't work. Rather, it just means more research is needed. So, if you like to take a shot of apple vinegar before a big meal, have at it.
How Much ACV Is Too Much?
Do not use more than 2 tablespoons of ACV per day. The weight loss research tells us there is no reason to do this and we know this amount is safe. Two tablespoons is the highest amount of apple cider vinegar which research has shown helps weight loss. Even less than 2 tablespoons have shown to be beneficial in weight reduction. If you are just starting to use ACV, dilute a half a teaspoon in a liquid to get used to the taste and see how you respond.
Remember, it's the acetic acid that makes ACV work. Most vinegar products contain between 4% -6% acetic acid. This is safe for humans. While the upper limit for human consumption is not known, it's worth remembering that anything over 20% acetic acid is considered a poison. Products containing this much acetic acid would be household cleaners, something nobody should be drinking.
Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects
Vinegar has been used for thousands of years. It's safe. When using it for reasons other than making salad dressings here are some things you should consider:
- Stop using it at least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Speak to your doctor if you have any medical issues like diabetes
- Speak to your doctor first if you are breastfeeding or pregnant
Various reports over the years have also highlighted other adverse reactions you should be aware of:
- Because of the acidity, it's possible drinking too much might cause dental problems by eroding tooth enamel. One report describes this happening although the girl consumed 8 oz (250 ml) of apple cider vinegar a day. This is much more than is typically consumed.
- Be careful using near the eyes. Vinegar is used for many reasons other than weight loss -even shampoo – so this is just smart to remember.
- Apple cider vinegar might reduce blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood. It also seems to make insulin work better. This can be both good and bad for diabetics who take medications. Speak to your doctor if you take diabetes medications.
- Vinegar may cause hiccups. One report of this stems from a 72-year-old man who used 2 tablespoons for 2 weeks. His hiccups lasted 9 days until he went to the hospital. While the chance of this happening to most people is likely a long shot, it's something to keep in mind.
- Drinking very large amounts of ACV long term may cause osteoporosis and low potassium levels. This evidence stems from a 28-year-old woman who drank over 8 oz (250 ml) of apple cider vinegar for 6 years. This is proof of the reputation apple cider vinegar has a natural health remedy. Sometimes people take a good thing to excess.
- Be careful with apple cider vinegar tablets/capsules. If they get stuck in the throat, they can burn the throat /esophagus. When in doubt, liquid vinegar is better. Another reason to avoid the tablets is some brands tested may not even contain vinegar at all.
Granted all this seems to be from extreme cases of abuse and misuse. I highly doubt most people would have any problems with ACV, especially if using the low amounts used in weight loss research.
Is Lemon Juice An Alternative?
What's better: apple cider vinegar or lemon juice? Both are acids after all. One reason for asking this question is lemon juice tastes better than vinegar. So, does lemon juice help weight loss as apple cider vinegar seems to?
While they are both acids, one difference is that apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid. Lemon juice contains citric acid. Lemon juice does not contain acetic acid. The chemical structures of acetic acid and citric acid are different.
More importantly, there doesn't seem to be any evidence citric acid helps weight loss or activates the AMPK enzyme-like acetic acid does. As such, I don't think drinking lemon juice would be an alternative to vinegar. On the plus side, lemons contain citrus bioflavonoids which are healthy and lemon juice, added to tea, tastes great.
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Detox?
I've heard some people drink apple cider vinegar to detox / cleanse themselves after a night of drinking too much. One website says it helps your liver breakdown “toxins” and balance pH. While there is no evidence that it rids the body of toxins (we are never told which toxins it eliminates), when it comes to balancing pH, that's a myth. If you are healthy, blood pH is always the same because too acid or too alkaline would kill us.
If to drink vinegar after a hangover, a teaspoon or two won't hurt you. Just don't expect any miracles. And if I can preach at you for a moment, come on, your an adult. It's time to put away childish things like getting drunk.
Are Expensive Brands Better
No. Consumerlab looked at 6 different brands of liquid ACV. The more expensive brands were not better than lesser priced products. All products tested varied from 4%-6% acetic acid, which is right on par with what they should have.
The Best Kind of Apple Cider Vinegar?
No study has highlighted one brand as being the best for weight loss. Neither the 2009 or 2018 weight loss studies summarized above specifically mentioned the brand they used. I thought this was interesting – and refreshing – because the 2009 study was conducted by a vinegar company called Mizkan Group Corporation (“Big Vinegar”).
Does ACV Really Help Weight Loss?
Research does indeed appear to support what people have long been saying – apple cider vinegar helps people lose weight. While the effects appear to be modest, losing 5-10 pounds could mean knee and hip joint stress, reduced appetite, lower blood sugar and triglycerides, and higher HDL levels. Given the low cost of vinegar and the fact it has more evidence than many over-priced weight loss supplements you've seen on TV and the web, there isn't much downside to giving it a try. I can hear my mom looking down on my now saying I told you so Joe…