Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has generated a great deal of discussion and ensuing research in recent years due to its presumed ability to act as a natural home remedy to a long list of ailments.
ACV is produced when apple juice is fermented first to alcohol (making wine) and then to acetic acid (making vinegar). And ever since the Babylonians first converted wine into vinegar in 5,000 BCE, many have revered vinegar for its presumed healing qualities. Even today's avid supporters claim that ACV can cure arthritis, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent cancer, and assist in digestion and weight management.
Although first documented for its medicinal purposes by Hippocrates, vinegar did not receive considerable focus from the medical community until the publication of a book entitled Folk Medicine in 1958 by a notable Vermont doctor, DC Jarvis. While his claims that Vermonters used ACV to treat migraine headaches, diabetes, chronic fatigue, arthritis, and a variety of other ailments drew some applause, most within the scientific community were skeptical and cautious about Dr. Jarvis' claims.
Dr. Jarvis' supporters claim that ACV contains minerals and trace amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, chlorine, sodium, sulfur, copper, iron, silicon, fluorine. They also suggest that ACV can attribute its healing qualities to its vitamin content of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and the provitamin beta-carotene.
These claims cannot be further from the truth. In fact, a nutritional analysis of one tablespoon reveals that ACV contains minuscule amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, a mere 15 mg of potassium, and absolutely no fibre or vitamins.
ACV supporters rebut this analysis with claims that ACV loses its nutritional value when it is pasteurized. They suggest consuming only the organic and unpasteurized version, in which no chemicals or preservatives have been added and, as such, maintains what is called the "mother" - the cobweb-like floating substance that contains all the nutritional health value.
Apart from these initial nutritional analyses, a limited number of crucial studies have been more recently published that focused specifically on the efficacy of ACV as a healing agent. And what has acquired the most attention with the most promising results are studies on ACV and the role it may play in regulating blood glucose levels and limiting weight gain.
Results from a 2006 study conducted using rat models showed that vinegar may potentially lower cholesterol levels. This reduction in "bad" cholesterol is thought to be attributed to the way in which the soluble fibre, pectin, found in ACV, binds cholesterol and removes it from the body as it passes through the digestion system. It is yet to be proven that these reductions are also seen in humans.
Several studies have shown that taking vinegar before a meal may help lower post-meal glucose levels by delaying gastric emptying. Specifically, two 2007 studies concluded that two tablespoons of AVC supplementation can lower blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes.
These results, although showing potential, have raised some concerns that ACV supplementation may prove to be disadvantageous to people with diabetes because they may have less control over their blood sugar levels. Where the advantage of ACV supplementation may be realized is in healthy individuals who are looking to control their weight.
Results of a 2005 study may provide the first scientific evidence to substantiate the thousand-years-old belief that ACV may be an effective weight loss supplement. The 12-person study found that the participants who consumed vinegar diluted in water with a piece of white bread containing 50 g of available carbohydrate had a "significantly lowered" blood glucose response, and these participants felt fuller and more satisfied than those who ate the bread alone.
Beyond touting the potential benefits of ACV, it is necessary to mention possible side effects associated with using ACV as a supplement. Due to its acidity, ACV can be caustic and may even burn the esophagus if not properly diluted, and long-term risks may include decreased potassium levels or diminished bone mineral density.
With its recent comeback in popularity, ACV is once again the focus of both natural health practitioners and clinical researchers. At this point, however, there is little scientific evidence to support its medicinal qualities, and further studies are needed to support claims of its therapeutic benefits.
Until there is conclusive evidence about the health benefits of ACV, it is better to stick with proven treatment methods for your medical conditions.
Brennan Robertson, Hon. B.Sc. (Nutrition)
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