What can apple cider vinegar do for you? If you’re a regular reader of health and wellness blogs, you probably think the answer is “EVERYTHING!” ACV (as the cool kids call it) is so commonly touted as a safe, natural, and completely effective panacea that it probably deserves its own sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
But if you’re a bit skeptical that a tart liquid made from fermented apples can cure diabetes, banish acne, soothe a sore throat, whiten your teeth, rid you of dandruff, and basically make your life perfect in every way, we can relate.
With all the fuss about apple cider vinegar, we had to look into what science actually says. If you’re a diehard devotee, you may want to look away.
Considering how much recognition ACV gets as a cure-all, you might think there’s tons of research to support those claims. But right now, that’s not the case.
“The scientific literature on humans ingesting vinegar is very, very limited,” says Carol Johnston, PhD, RD, who studies the medicinal uses of vinegar at Arizona State University.
However, scientists have found evidence that ACV may do a few things for you.
1. It promotes stable blood sugar
You know that light-headed, low-energy feeling you sometimes get after chowing down on too many refined carbs? That’s your blood sugar spiking — and then crashing. The acetic acid found in ACV (and most other types of vinegar, like white vinegar and red wine vinegar) has antiglycemic properties, and studies show that consuming apple cider vinegar before a meal can help keep those kinds of spikes at bay.
This could, in theory, have something to do with why people who take ACV claim that the stuff boosts their mood and energy, says Los Angeles-based holistic nutrition and wellness coach Nicole Granato.
The blood sugar benefits might even spell good news for people with diabetes, though researchers still have more to figure out.
“If they follow a protocol of drinking some vinegar before every meal for a year or more, does that reduce reliance on insulin medications? Reduce the progression of their disease? Those questions haven’t been answered yet,” Johnston says.
2. It can fight bacteria
ACV has been used to combat infections like ulcers and sores since the time of the ancient Greeks. In fact, there are plenty of studies documenting vinegar’s antimicrobial effects.
ACV seems to kill certain fungal infections, like thrush and yeast infections, and can also kill off E. coli bacteria and the bacteria that cause staph infections.
But just because ACV is capable of fighting bacterial infections doesn’t mean that using it to do so is always a good idea. Because it’s so acidic, pouring it into your ears to address an ear infection or using it on open sores or cuts is almost guaranteed to irritate your skin.
It’s not safe to use by itself for a sore throat, either, because it could do more harm than good. “You shouldn’t gargle vinegar. There have been cases where people have ended up in the hospital because they accidentally choked on it,” Johnston says.
3. It can soothe jellyfish stings
Weirdly, research suggests that if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, dousing the affected area in vinegar may help. It can deactivate nematocysts, the sharp barbs that jellyfish use to inject their painful venom.
As for the rest of the miraculous stuff you often hear, most of it is TBD. For now, the majority of these claims haven’t been studied enough.
1. It improves your skin
Anecdotally, plenty of people say that applying ACV to their faces helps get rid of acne and improve their skin’s texture.
“I have clients with chronic acne who steam their face with diluted apple cider vinegar, and within 2 to 3 weeks, there’s a difference,” Granato says. And since ACV has antimicrobial properties, it could help acne-prone skin, she says. But for now, there aren’t a lot of studies out there to back it up.
2. It gets rid of warts
Some research has suggested that putting acetic acid on your skin can destroy wart tissue. But this research is older and used super high concentrations of the stuff (up to 99 percent).
Since ACV and other vinegars are only around 5 percent acetic acid, they wouldn’t be nearly strong enough to remove a wart.
3. It clears up dandruff
Though an ACV rinse might make your hair look shinier, there’s no credible research to support the idea that it can clear up dandruff. (Johnston had never even heard of this until we asked her.)
4. It whitens teeth
ACV’s antibacterial properties could conceivably help get some plaque and germs off your teeth, Granato says. But there’s no research to suggest ACV can whiten teeth. In fact, it’ll probably leave your pearly whites in pretty bad shape.
“I can’t advocate whitening your teeth with apple cider vinegar at all,” Johnston says. “We don’t have a lot of acid protection in the mouth, and you don’t want to lose the enamel on your teeth.”
5. It helps with weight loss
In a 2009 study, participants who drank apple cider vinegar with their meals daily lost more weight over a period of time than those who didn’t.
ACV is a fermented liquid that comes from apples. It’s very acidic, consisting mostly of acetic acid and citric acid.
ACV contains several nutrients, including B vitamins, biotin, pectin, vitamin C, and amino acids. It also has other health benefits, including antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
There’s no one-size-fits-all ACV concoction. How much you should use depends on your body and the issue you’re trying to address. You should also always ask your doctor before trying any new health trend.
In case you do decide to use ACV as a remedy for certain conditions, here are some dosage recommendations.
For weight loss or blood sugar
If you’re drinking apple cider vinegar with the goal of more stable blood sugar or to help with weight loss, you need to dilute it with water.
A small 2009 study
ACV can be harmful to your tooth enamel, though, so it’s best not to take this dosage more two or three times a day. Also, you may want to start with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of ACV mixed with 8 ounces of water to see how your body reacts.
A small 2007 study suggested that similar dosages of ACV help with keeping blood sugar stable.
To fight bacteria and fungus
Apple cider vinegar can help kill a few types of bacteria and fungi, including Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphylococcus aureus (the bacteria that cause staph infections), and Candida fungi, which cause common infections like thrush and vaginal yeast infections.
A 2018 study
For the Candida fungus, an undiluted ACV is recommended. But even though ACV is known to kill Candida infections, you may want to be cautious about putting it directly on your skin.
ACV is highly acidic and may cause burning or irritation, which could lead to extreme discomfort, especially if the infection is down there.
To soothe skin
Apple cider vinegar is known to soothe skin after jellyfish stings. Some people also report that ACV can help clear up acne, though there’s not enough research to back that up.
For jellyfish stings, it’s recommended to douse the injured area with ACV, remove any tentacles left over from the jellyfish, and then soak the body part in hot water for 20 to 45 minutes. This is said to relieve pain and prevent further venom from being released by the jellyfish.
To address acne, ACV can be used as a face wash when diluted with 2 parts water to 1 part ACV. An ACV-soaked cotton swab can also be used as a spot treatment for acne.
The safe way to use apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar’s acetic acid has some beneficial properties, but in high concentrations, this acid can be a poison. So if you’re going to drink the stuff or use it on your skin, you’ve got to be careful.
Johnston and Granato agree that the best way to use ACV is in tiny doses. If you’re drinking it, dilute 1 tablespoon of ACV in at least 8 ounces of water and drink it no more than twice a day. Johnston recommends always chasing it with food, which can help clear the acid out of your throat faster and prevent irritation.
The same principle applies if you want to try using it on your skin. Dilute 1 tablespoon of ACV in a bowlful of hot water and dunk a face towel or rag in the mixture. “You can steam your face with the rag for 12 minutes,” Granato says.
Most of the research on apple cider vinegar has looked at its effects on blood sugar, and those studies seem to hold up. Experts agree that ACV has antibacterial properties too — but because vinegar is harsh, it’s not the best choice for use on sore throats or wounds (except those jellyfish stings).
As for the other stuff, there’s no scientific data to support using ACV for clearer skin, less dandruff, or whiter teeth. What’s more, it might be harmful. If you decide to try using it anyway, proceed with caution. “This is an instance where more isn’t better,” Johnston says.