Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a type of vinegar that’s often used for its potential hair and weight loss benefits. It’s also touted as a digestive aid due to its purported probiotic content.
So, here’s the big question: Is apple cider vinegar a probiotic?
Short answer: Not really. Keep reading for the full scoop.
First, a quick review: ACV is an apple product produced by a two-part fermentation process: alcoholic fermentation + acetic acid fermentation.
The result is a tangy vinegar swimming with beneficial organisms, including:
- acetic acid bacteria
- polyphenolic compounds
- lactic acid bacteria
You might have caught that “beneficial organisms” could be code for“probiotic.” But just because ACV contains some probiotic organisms doesn’t make it a probiotic.
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit health when taken in certain amounts. ACV doesn’t fit the definition.
- First, the number of live organisms in ACV varies greatly based on how the ACV is made. Some ACV might not contain any live organisms at all.
- Second, it’s still unclear how the probiotic bacteria in ACV impact health when consumed in normal doses.
One 2016 study did pinpoint lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria as the two main bacteria groups in commercial ACV samples. The lactic acid bacteria group, which includes the Lactobacillus species, is one of the most important groups of probiotics. You’ll find it in fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and, yes, ACV.
But again, just because vinegar is a fermented food doesn’t mean it should be labeled as a “probiotic fermented food.” The population of live microorganisms in ACV isn’t defined clearly enough, and there’s no crystal-clear health benefit linked to the probiotics it *may* contain.
Though your bottle of ACV might contain probiotics, it doesn’t belong in the same category as probiotic supplements (which have a known quantity of probiotics) or yogurt (which contains active probiotics *known* to benefit health).
Though you shouldn’t depend on ACV for your probiotic intake, it might offer other health perks.
But we before we dive in, we should mention that ACV isn’t a cure-all. Most health claims surrounding ACV are pretty exaggerated, and you should be wary of ACV products claiming to treat, prevent, or cure disease.
ACV may benefit metabolic health when consumed in higher doses
Supplementing with ACV could be good for your metabolic health (e.g. blood sugar and blood lipid levels).
A small 2021 research review of 9 studies found that ACV consumption significantly decreased these:
- total cholesterol
- fasting blood sugar levels
- HbA1C (a long-term marker for blood sugar management)
BUT, these benefits were linked to ingesting at least 15 milliliters (about 1 tablespoon) of ACV per day — and usually for more than 8 weeks. That adds up to be a lot of vinegar.
These potential metabolic perks might be due to ACV’s flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant properties.
Other potential benefits related to ACV consumption
Although studies are limited, supplementing with ACV may:
- Help you feel full faster. Some research suggests that vinegar’s acetic acid content may improve satiety.
- Reduce oxidative stress. A small 2019 study found that drinking 20 milliliters of ACV a day for 8 weeks reduced markers of oxidative stress in people with type 2 diabetes or folks with high cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
- Improve your mood. A small 2021 study found that daily ACV consumption for 4 weeks helped boost the moods of healthy college students. However, more research is needed to confirm this potential benefit.
These findings are promising, but more research is needed. Most potential benefits are linked to weeks or months of large daily doses of ACV. You’re unlikely to notice health benefits from the ACV drizzle in salad dressing or marinade. Plus, the jury’s still out on how mega-doses could really affect overall health.
ACV might not be the probiotic superstar you’d hoped it would be, but don’t fret. There are plenty of other foods and bevvies brimming with probiotics.
Just remember: Many fermented foods have probiotic strains without proven health benefits. Others that do contain perk-proven probiotics don’t offer enough to impact health. Your best bet is to nosh on a variety of fermented foods to boost your probiotic intake.
Here are some foods and drinks with probiotics:
- Kimchi. This traditional Korean dish is made with fermented veggies like cabbage and radish.
- Sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage dish dates back to the Roman Empire and is chock-full of lactic acid bacteria. Be sure to purchase unpasteurized sauerkraut, such as Cleveland Kraut.
- Natto, miso, and tempeh. These fermented soy products are great sources of probiotics.
- Kefir and yogurt. These fermented dairy products can be good sources of probiotics, protein, calcium, and B vitamins. You can even make your own probiotic-rich yogurt with probiotic capsules or starter cultures from companies like Cultures for Health.
- Kombuchas. Some kombuchas can be good sources of probiotics. That said, many include tons of added sugar, so read the label before purchasing booch.
- Probiotic supplements. These supplements contain specific amounts of one or more probiotic strains that have been proven to benefit human health in some way.
Some cheeses, fermented grain drinks (like boza and bushera), and non-heat-fermented vegetables also contain probiotics.
What about DIY fermentation?
If you’re crafty in the kitchen, try making your own fermented foods and bevvies like yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz contains a ton of beginner-friendly fermented food and beverage recipes and can help you become a fermentation pro.
Though some types of ACV contain probiotic microorganisms, the vinegar cannot be classified as a probiotic. That’s because the type and volume of microorganisms varies too much. Plus, there’s no clear health benefit related to the probiotic organisms ACV may contain.
To fill up on probiotics, eat a variety of fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Probiotic supplements might be helpful for some people, but it’s always best to check with your doctor or dietitian first. They can help you pinpoint the right probiotic for your health needs.