Benefits of apple cider vinegar, 16 scientifically-backed tips

This new, slightly odd, apple cider vinegar diet could not be more simple...

A bottle of apple cider vinegar and apples
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Apple cider vinegar has many benefits, from a natural health remedy to a cleaning product. 

People have used apple cider vinegar for years as a healthy cooking ingredient and natural remedy for various ailments. Made by fermenting the sugars from apples, it can be drunk when diluted. Although more research is needed into many of the claims, people use it for everything from treating dandruff to cleaning their skin. Some studies have also shown that it can aid in weight loss and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook says: “Producers make apple cider vinegar by fermenting the juice of apples. You can buy it pasteurised or raw. The raw varieties may contain more natural bacteria and also cloudy sediment commonly known as ‘the mother’.”

While there is evidence for many of the benefits of apple cider vinegar, further research must be done in this area. So if you are planning to use it to help with any health condition seek advice from your GP first.

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the sugars from apples and turning them into alcohol. Manufacturers then add bacteria to the fermented alcohol which turns it into acetic acid, the active ingredient in vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has a strong flavour and smell and can be either a clear filtered liquid or a cloudy unfiltered liquid. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar contains a substance known as ‘the mother’. This means it includes proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria.

Apple cider vinegar can be used in cooking, dressings and marinades, in the same way as you would use white wine vinegar.Or alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons into a glass of water to drink. While it is safe to consume apple cider vinegar daily, you should always dilute it as it is acidic. Studies have shown that acid in food and drink is one of the main causes of tooth decay. So if drunk neat regularly, apple cider vinegar could cause erosion of tooth enamel and the lining of the oesophagus.

16 benefits of apple cider vinegar

1. Apple cider vinegar for weight loss

One of the biggest claims of apple cider vinegar is that it may aid weight loss. This is why it is popular with people who are trying to lose weight with changes to their diet.

In this study 39 participants were put on a restricted-calorie diet for 12 weeks. Some participants also took 30ml of apple cider vinegar daily, while the others did not. At the end of the trial, researchers found those who had taken the apple cider vinegar had significantly reduced body weight, BMI and hip circumference. It also caused appetite reduction.

Nutritionist Nicola Shubrook, who runs Urban Wellness, explains: “Rather than working directly on weight loss, apple cider vinegar may help some individuals with better blood sugar balancing and increased feeling of fullness. This may then help with weight loss as it can lead to fewer calories being consumed.”

Apple cider vinegar is also fat-free and contains very few calories. It is, therefore, a good option to cook with or drizzle over food if you are trying to eat healthily.

2. Apple cider vinegar can improve cholesterol

High cholesterol can be dangerous as research has shown that raised levels of LDL cholesterol, often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Once again, more research is needed, but this meta-analysis of nine studies where apple cider vinegar was taken by the participants found that overall cholesterol levels decreased. Nicola agrees: “There is some evidence that consuming apple cider vinegar may offer benefits in optimising cholesterol levels.”

In addition, this study found that HDL cholesterol, often referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ was raised when participants took apple cider vinegar.

3. Apple cider vinegar may boost immunity

Many people believe apple cider vinegar boosts their immunity and helps them to fight illnesses like colds and coughs. This is especially true for products which contain ‘the mother’.

As the issue of antibiotic resistance continues to be a growing issue globally, some initial research has been carried out to investigate whether apple cider vinegar could be used as an alternative antimicrobial to fight bacteria including E.coli. While the initial results were promising, scientists agree more work must be done in this area.

4. Apple cider vinegar can help to control blood sugar levels

There have been a number of studies that show that apple cider vinegar can help to control blood sugar levels. This could be particularly beneficial for people following a type 2 diabetes diet, who need to control their blood sugar levels carefully.

For example, this study found that taking vinegar at bedtime favourably impacted glucose levels in participants with type 2 diabetes when they woke up the next morning.

However, taking apple cider vinegar on its own is unlikely to be enough to achieve these results alone. So it should form part of a balanced diet.

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5. Apple cider vinegar can aid digestion

Issues with digestion and bloating are very common, particularly as we get older. Anecdotally many people suggest that apple cider vinegar helps them to digest their food more easily. However, there is currently no research to support this. In fact, this small study actually found that apple cider vinegar had the opposite effect on 10 patients with diabetes, who found it took even longer for the food to move out of their stomachs.

However, registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook suggests that some people may find apple cider vinegar does help with digestion, as our stomach’s acid levels decline over time. She says: “There are different aspects of gut health that need to be considered with apple cider vinegar. Anecdotally, some people find that it helps with digestion because as we age our stomach acid levels naturally decline and apple cider vinegar is a mild acidic which can therefore help with digestion.”

If you do plan to use apple cider vinegar to help with your digestion you can either:

  1. Drink it first thing in the morning. (You can add to herbal tea or squeeze in some lemon juice to help mask the taste if required)
  2. Drink it before eating a meal
  3. Take it in a supplement form, available from health food shops

6. Apple cider vinegar for healthier hair and scalp 

While the benefits of apple cider vinegar for your hair and scalp have not been confirmed by research, many people swear by using it to reduce the build-up of products and oil in hair due to its high pH level. If you are planning to use an apple cider vinegar rinse you should not do it more than once a week. Also, it is not recommended for people with very dry or frizzy hair.

Here is how to do an apple cider vinegar rinse:

  1. Mix 100ml of apple cider vinegar with 500ml of water in a spray bottle
  2. Spray the apple cider vinegar evenly on your hair
  3. Leave it in for three to five minutes before rinsing (avoid getting any in your eyes)
  4. Condition and rinse your hair as normal

7. Apple cider vinegar in the bath

Apple cider vinegar’s antimicrobial properties may help to soothe minor skin irritations and rashes when used in the bath. However, in this small study 11 participants with eczema were asked to soak one arm in diluted apple cider vinegar and the other just in water for 14 days and no improvement was found. In addition, some participants experienced irritation from the apple cider vinegar.

If you use apple cider vinegar in a bath, dilute 200ml of it and make sure you mix it well. Then soak in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also add some essential oils to your bath if you are not keen on the smell. Due to the high acidic levels of apple cider vinegar, you should not do this more than once a week. Also, if you have sensitive skin it is not recommended.

8. Apple cider vinegar on the face

Some people report using apple cider vinegar on their faces to treat conditions such as eczema or acne. Initial research has found that apple cider vinegar can be used to treat a number of different bacteria, including E.coli, which may explain why some people have reported it to be helpful for these conditions.

Apple cider vinegar is a natural astringent. This means it could help to cleanse the skin and tighten pores. To use it as a skin toner after cleansing, add one tablespoon to 400ml of water. Then wipe it over your face with cotton wool. However, due to its acidic nature, you should avoid using apple cider vinegar neat on your face. Also, if you have sensitive skin you should try it on a small test area first.

9. Apple cider vinegar for dandruff

Dandruff is a common problem, which can lead to an itchy head and flaky scalp. Many people believe that apple cider vinegar is beneficial for treating the condition, due to its natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. Studies into the treatment of dandruff have shown that acidic compositions can help to reduce the cell growth of common skin infections. As apple cider vinegar is acidic, this may explain why it helps.

10. Apple cider vinegar on warts

Some people use apple cider vinegar as a natural remedy to treat warts. The human papillomavirus causes warts and while they are harmless, some people have them removed via surgery or freezing. However, anecdotal evidence suggests the acid in apple cider vinegar can help the wart eventually fall off by destroying the infected skin.

Here is how to use apple cider vinegar on warts:

  1. Mix two parts apple cider vinegar to one part water (never use neat apple cider vinegar)
  2. Soak a cotton ball in the solution
  3. Fix the cotton ball over the wart with tape
  4. Keep on overnight if possible and remove the next morning
  5. Repeat the process until the wart falls off

However, researchers have advised caution when using apple cider vinegar for removing things like moles and warts, after treating a 14-year-old girl with chemical burns from using apple cider vinegar on some moles.

11. Apple cider vinegar on skin tags

Although skin tags are not harmful they can sometimes be annoying and some people choose to have them removed. In the same way that some people used apple cider vinegar on warts, others use it on skin tags.

Here is how to use apple cider vinegar on skin tags:

  1. Mix two parts apple cider vinegar to one part water (never use neat apple cider vinegar)
  2. Soak a cotton ball in the solution
  3. Fix the cotton ball over the skin tag with tape
  4. Keep on for up to 30 minutes and then wash the skin
  5. Repeat the process until the skin tag falls off

As outlined above, use caution when applying to the skin. Stop if irritation occurs and seek further advice from a dermatologist.

12. Apple cider vinegar as a probiotic 

According to the NHS probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut. Products like yoghurt often have probiotics added to them.

Although apple cider vinegar is not actually a probiotic, many people consider it to be a probiotic food. This is because, like foods such as kimchi and kombucha, it has been fermented to contain healthy bacteria. There is currently little research in this area, but supporters of the benefits of apple cider vinegar for gut health recommend consuming the type which contains ‘the mother’.

Registered nutritionist Nicola explains: “Apple cider vinegar is a natural antimicrobial, which may help in supporting a healthy microbiome. Plus raw apple cider vinegar may contain more probiotics as it is not pasteurised.”

13. Apple cider vinegar for cleaning  

Many people use apple cider vinegar as a cleaning product. It has seen a rise in popularity recently, as people become more aware of the chemicals in products and turn to natural options.

Fans of the benefits of apple cider vinegar use it for everything from wiping over countertops to cleaning drains. Some people also prefer using it to normal vinegar as they favour the smell. However, this study found that natural products, including vinegar, were less effective than commercial household disinfectants against bacteria.

To use apple cider vinegar for cleaning:

  1. Mix one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle
  2. Spray onto surfaces and wipe away with a damp cloth. (Although the vinegar shouldn’t be acidic enough to damage worktops, you may want to test a small area first)

14. Apple cider vinegar for sore throats

Apple cider vinegar is often used as a sore throat remedy. This may be because of its antimicrobial properties.

To use apple cider vinegar for a sore throat:

  1. Dilute 1-2 tablespoons in a glass of warm water
  2. Gargle with it and then take a few sips
  3. Repeat the process every couple of hours

15. Apple cider vinegar as an anti-inflammatory

Conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout can be painful and lead to mobility issues.

Although it is mostly anecdotal, many people with conditions like arthritis say that apple cider vinegar acts as an anti-inflammatory. They claim that taking it helps their joints to be less painful. This may be because of the minerals found in apple cider vinegar, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. However, there is still a lack of research in this area.

In addition, according to the NHS, losing weight can help to relieve pressure on your joints, which apple cider vinegar is known to help with.

16. Apple cider vinegar to soothe sunburn

There’s nothing worse than spending slightly too long in the sun and discovering you’re a fetching shade of pink. Apple cider vinegar is believed to restore the balance of your skin’s pH levels, so can be used as a remedy for sunburn and heat rash.

To soothe the skin add 200ml to a warm bath and soak in it for 10 to 15 minutes. Alternatively, can add 100ml of apple cider vinegar to one litre of water and soak a cloth in it. Then gently apply the cloth to your sunburn. Never apply apple cider vinegar neat to your skin.

Is apple cider vinegar safe to drink? A nutritionist’s verdict

Registered nutritionist Nicola says: “Generally, for most people, apple cider vinegar is safe to consume on a daily basis. Currently, there is no evidence to support using it daily or in what dose. However, adding 1-2 tsp to hot water first thing in the morning may be beneficial. Or you could use 1 tbsp in water before meals to help with digestion if you struggle with low stomach acid. When drinking apple cider vinegar it must always be diluted. Never drink it neat because of the acidic content.”

However, Nicola also warns that there are some people who should not drink apple cider vinegar. She says: “Those who have trouble consuming more acidic foods or struggle with acid reflux should not consume apple cider vinegar. Also, anyone with sensitive teeth or tooth enamel problems, as the vinegar can erode tooth enamel. Plus, anyone who is taking medication that affects potassium levels in the body, such as diabetes medication or diuretics, as the apple cider vinegar may lower potassium levels.”

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Emily-Ann Elliott
Health and family writer

Emily-Ann Elliott is an experienced online and print journalist, with a focus on health, travel, and parenting. After beginning her career as a health journalist at The Basingstoke Gazette, she worked at a number of regional newspapers before moving to BBC News online. She later worked as a journalist for Comic Relief, covering stories about health and international development, as well as The Independent, The i, The Guardian, and The Telegraph. Following the birth of her son with neonatal meningitis, Emily-Ann has a particular interest in neonatal health and parental support. Emily-Ann has a degree in English literature from the University of Newcastle and has NCTJ and NCE qualifications in newspaper journalism.