Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about different uses for apple cider vinegar. Why is apple cider vinegar superior to other types of vinegar—and how should I be using it?
A: Vinegar, derived from the French vin aigre, which means, “sour wine,” has a long rich history of therapeutic applications. Vinegar has been employed to fight infection since Hippocrates (460–377 BC), who is often called the father of modern medicine. Honey and vinegar is a traditional remedy, often prescribed for persistent coughs. Vinegar has been used to disinfect households, though some question this since pathogens can purportedly survive this natural cleanser.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made from the grinding and fermenting of apples. The best ACV is generally unpasteurized, fermented, and naturally rich in enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids. This variety of ACV is usually a bit brown and cloudy. The “mother,” or primary cellulose produced by vinegar bacteria, is typically present in many varieties of ACV. Some manufacturers pasteurize vinegar to prevent these bacteria from forming but many feel the main health benefits—proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria—are yielded from the mother.
If you are simply cleaning your house, any inexpensive grocery store white vinegar will do just fine, though some find the scent of ACV to be more pleasant. If you are using vinegar for health purposes, ACV is a wise choice based on cost and effectiveness, as most of the available research on the beneficial properties found in vinegar use ACV. Like all remedies, natural and not, it is important not to overdo ACV topically or internally. Most of my patients go in and out of using it for nutritional benefits because moderation is key.
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There are also many unsupported claims about ACV that need to be considered. For example, vinegar has been used for treating wounds and sores, but today these recommendations are shunned. Claims have been made about ACV balancing pH, treating acne, and supporting weight loss. While some might experience these side effects, there are not enough clinical research to support these methods, so in my practice, I offer ACV as a remedy for the following specific areas.
Hair: Many people with dandruff and/or oily scalp find that rinsing with ACV helps reduce oil as well as dandruff. You can combine equal parts of vinegar and water and massage gently into scalp. Leave on your scalp for 30 to 60 minutes and rinse or simply wash your hair with it in the shower. ACV has a natural anti-microbial effect, so it inhibits bacterial growth along the scalp.
Blood Sugar: ACV has been studied for it’s anti-glycemic properties and experts advise incorporating the fermented product into your diet if you have issues with excessive glucose or for those experiencing symptoms of chronic candidiasis.
Digestion: ACV has been cited for assisting in the digestion of fat and protein. If you feel full after a meal and notice that you are bloated after eating generally you can try and see if this will benefit as a digestive aid. One study also noted that ACV consumption generated a decrease in oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress signifies an imbalance in free radicals and ability of the body to detoxify through neutralization by antioxidants; it is linked to aging and disease.
If you are ingesting ACV, be careful because the acidity of the vinegar can degrade the dentin of your teeth over time. When using as a digestive aid, start slowly with one teaspoon in a four- to six-ounce glass of water and sip with meals for a couple weeks. Use a straw to protect your teeth and rinse your mouth quickly with water after drinking. You may judge the taste and change the vinegar-to-water ratio based on this. If you are using it to lower your blood sugar levels, the studies suggest one or two tablespoons or 30 ml of unfiltered ACV in eight to 12 ounces of water an hour before bedtime.
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