I love me some vintage remedies.
I think there’s something timeless and empowering about nourishing and healing ourselves with food and herbs.
It’s what our great-grandmothers would have done out of necessity. But somewhere along the way we seem to have lost touch with this valuable (and often effective!) wisdom.
(Don’t get me wrong, I also love doctors and modern medicine. I just think we could all do with a bit more prevention, rather than running our bodies down until things break and relying on pills to fix it. And to me that’s what food and herbs are about – boosting and nourishing our bodies, to keep us healthy as long as possible.)
One home remedy that seems to crop up everywhere is Apple Cider Vinegar.
I’m a bit skeptical of remedies that are purported to be ‘miracle cures’ and ‘fix everything from acne to diabetes’.
At the same time, I’ve found that when an ingredient has been used as a traditional remedy for hundreds of years, it’s usually worth investigating further.
(Here’s tip about home remedies: if there are tons of remedies for the same thing – like curing a cold – it’s a good sign that none of them work very well. Because if a remedy worked, there would just be one remedy, the one that worked! At the same time, if you see something used repeatedly throughout history, there’s probably some truth to it, and it’s at least somewhat effective – so it’s worth investigating further.)
And that’s the case with Apple Cider Vinegar. It has been used for hundreds of years to boost health, and while it fell out of favor for a time, Apple Cider Vinegar seems to be back in a big way.
So what is Apple Cider Vinegar? Does it really have health and beauty benefits? Read on to find out!
What is apple cider vinegar?
We’re all familiar with vinegar ranging from the strong clear white vinegar you use to color Easter eggs, to light brown malt vinegar sprinkled on fish and chips, to thick and sticky balsamic vinegar on salads. You might even remember some fun experiments with vinegar as a child (vinegar and baking soda volcanos, anyone?)
But when people talk about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, they’re referring to a specific type of apple cider vinegar – raw and unpasteurized.
Vinegar is formed through fermentation, and is named from the French vin aigre which means “sour wine”. If you take apple peelings and ferment them with the right bacteria, first it will turn alcoholic (a type of wine), and then if it keeps fermenting, it will sour and turn into vinegar.
You may have seen a clear, honey-colored apple cider vinegar in the grocery store. These inexpensive apple cider vinegars are usually pasteurized and filtered, and while they’re fine for cleaning and external use – they’re not what you want for internal use.
When buying apple cider vinegar, you want to look for raw, unpasteurized vinegar which contains a mother (a colony of acetic acid bacteria.)
Don’t let the mother freak you out. We’re just not used to fermented foods these days – but our great-grandmothers would have thought it was totally normal. Much like kombucha and sauerkraut and sour dough bread, these naturally fermented foods are a traditional way to preserve food (and often give it added health benefits!)
Apple Cider Vinegar: the miracle cure?
While apple cider vinegar has been used for hundreds of years, it’s reputation as a cure-all was really launched in 1958 with D.C. Jarvis’ Folk Medicine: The honey and cider-vinegar way to health “the famous book that swept Britian and America”!
A quick google search of Apple Cider Vinegar remedies turns up thousands of results stating that vinegar helps weight loss, diabetes, acne, acid reflux, cures colds, prevents cancer, and on and on. But looking for real, scientific sources for these claims is another matter – they’re few and far between!
That’s a common problem with many alternative health claims – there just aren’t enough studies around food and herbs to prove whether they are effective. Plus, many studies try to extract an active ingredient to test, rather than using the whole plant or food, which isn’t how these items were traditionally used. So lack of studies doesn’t necessarily mean that the substance isn’t effective – it just means it hasn’t been studied enough.
So what evidence is there for Apple Cider Vinegar?
There are a few studies supporting the use of apple cider vinegar. In particular, it seems that taking a small amount of apple cider vinegar (2 Tb) before meals, stabilizes blood sugar (prevents insulin and glucose spikes after a meal). As a side effect, over a period of 4 weeks of taking apple cider vinegar before meals, study participants had an average weight loss of 2lbs, without changing anything else in their diet or lifestyle. (source 1, source 2)
There are other studies which indicate that apple cider vinegar may lower cholesterol (but just in rats, not in humans yet – source) or lower rates of heart disease (source)- but neither of these are conclusive studies. If you’d like to read more about apple cider vinegar’s proven uses, you might enjoy this article or this article.
If it’s natural, it must be safe, right?
Always, always look to traditional usage – how did people traditionally consume that food? What did they use it for?
Great-grandma would have used raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in cooking, or mixed with water.
Never take apple cider vinegar undiluted. Cider vinegar is very acidic (pH 4.25-5) which can burn your esophagus, damage your teeth or irritate your skin when used straight.
Also, great-grandma would not have taken apple cider vinegar pills! Aside from the fact that these pills will be vastly more expensive than using natural cider vinegar, there is question about their ingredients (including whether they even contain apple cider vinegar at all!) and in one case, a woman experienced esophagus damage from an apple cider vinegar pill (source)
In general, the whole food or herb is much better and safer to use than taking pills.
And finally, remember: just because a little is good, more is not better! (I learned this lesson with kale smoothies.)
Apple cider vinegar was traditionally used as a condiment. That means including up to a few tablespoons per day in salad dressings, cooking and diluted in water. One woman in Austria consumed 250ml (about 1 cup) of ACV per day for several years, resulting in a host of medical problems including osteoporosis and low potassium levels! (source)
Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It’s worth checking with your doctor about taking apple cider vinegar if you’re on any prescription medications or have low bone density or low potassium levels!
So what is Apple Cider Vinegar good for?
Even though there isn’t much scientific evidence apart from stabilizing blood sugar and minor weight loss (which still sounds like worthwhile benefits to me!), I do think apple cider vinegar is worth having in your cupboard.
- Apple cider vinegar makes an amazing hair rinse, because it slightly acidifies the hair after shampooing, leaving it silky, soft and shiny. Find my ACV hair rinse recipe here.
- Because of these pH restoring properties, diluted ACV also makes a great skin toner when mixed with rosewater. Get my ACV skin toner recipe here.
- It was used as a traditional ‘rehydrating’ drink after exercise and to help you cope with hot weather better. I don’t have evidence for this, but I use it myself and it works!
- Try starting your day with a tablespoon of ACV in a mug of warm water. The warm water is hydrating and gets your bowels moving, and the apple cider vinegar … well, again, there is no hard evidence here but I find it really refreshing, cleansing and thirst quenching. My mother swears it makes her joints feel less achey.
- Seasoning food with vinegar can help with the absorption of minerals from vegetables.
- Adding a splash of ACV to your pot of chicken stock can also help with the extraction of minerals from the bones into the stock.
- Here are 150 household uses for vinegar, including tons of cleaning uses (feel free to use the cheap filtered stuff for cleaning!)
What’s your experience with apple cider vinegar? How do you use it? What results have you noticed? Let us know in the comments!