Health

7 Benefits & Uses of Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is one of those pantry staples that moonlights as a natural remedy and multi-purpose elixir, rubbing shoulders with other pantry-superstars like coconut oil and raw honey. A tall glass of the golden stuff mixed with water has almost become the conventional morning beverage, with wellness insiders whispering tales of its various health properties. Apple cider vinegar's ever-expanding circle of devotees praise it as the go-to remedy for everything from digestion woes to natural beauty alternatives and (seemingly) everything in between. 

Though many of the claims floating around the natural wellness world are yet to be substantiated in the science world, apple cider vinegar has an extensive history as a natural remedy in folk medicine.

It is said Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine himself, used apple cider vinegar for a host of maladies, from a tonic for the common cold and sore throat to use as an antibiotic. Vinegar is said to have been used by Sung Tse in ancient China to avoid infection during autopsies, and it's reported Christopher Columbus took barrels of apple cider vinegar with him to prevent scurvy.

apple cider vinegar

Perhaps the most fascinating account in history is the Vinegar of the Four Thieves legend. While there are varying versions, the story goes that during one of the bubonic plague outbreaks that ravaged Europe, four thieves used a vinegar concoction as a prophylactic, so they could rob the dead. One account tells that when the four thieves were caught they were sentenced to death, but the magistrate was so intrigued by the fact the thieves had eluded sickness, even though they regularly encountered infected corpses, he agreed to grant clemency if they revealed how they did it. The thieves admitted to dousing themselves in a solution made from a selection of herbs, garlic, and vinegar to ward off the pestilence and they were set free.

Several small studies have shown apple cider vinegar has the potential to reduce blood sugar spikes and improve insulin sensitivity. These studies found that adding vinegar to high-glycaemic meals may reduce blood sugar spikes by about 20 percent.

Fascinating fable aside, apple cider vinegar does appear to have some merit with several studies boosting its credibility (more on this later).

But let's back up a bit here; what exactly is apple cider vinegar?

What Exactly Is Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is the product of fermented apples, taken through a two-step process. First, crushed apples are exposed to yeast to activate the fermentation of natural sugars, resulting in alcohol. Next, bacteria are introduced in a second fermentation to convert the alcohol into acetic acid, one of the constituents credited for the vinegar's long list of purported health benefits.

As the bacterial culture develops over the course of weeks – sometimes months – a cloudy sediment called 'the mother' is formed. The mother is a complex structure of bioactive substances, or beneficial bacteria, similar to SCOBY in kombucha. The mother is the main component of apple cider vinegar celebrated for its health properties. 

Apple cider vinegar

Uses & Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

While more research is needed, some of the anecdotal claims attributed to apple cider vinegar – most notably the mother – appear to have some substance. And a quick google search will reveal just how popular it is in the world of natural beauty, even as a household cleaner. Here's a look at some of the potential health benefits of apple cider vinegar and a few ways it can be used outside the kitchen.

Blood Sugar Balance

Several small studies have shown apple cider vinegar has the potential to reduce blood sugar spikes and improve insulin sensitivity. These studies found that adding vinegar to high-glycaemic meals may reduce blood sugar spikes by about 20 percent. The American Diabetes Association suggests there is basis that vinegar can "significantly improve postprandial insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects." Stating "acetic acid has been shown to suppress disaccharides activity (3) and to raise glucose-6-phosphate concentrations in skeletal muscle (4); thus, vinegar may possess physiological effects similar to acarbose or metformin."

Bath Soak

For a full body soak your skin will love, add one or two cups of apple cider vinegar to your next bath and soak for at least 15 minutes. The vinegar's high acidity levels have an alkalising effect on your skin, assisting with its never-ending quest to balance pH levels. Studies have shown apple cider vinegar has effective antifungal properties against candida, so it may be a natural way to ease fungal and yeast infections on the skin. Anecdotal reports also suggest an apple cider vinegar bath soak can help soothe sunburn.

apple cider vinegar bath soak

Antibacterial

Thanks to its acetic acid content, vinegar is an effective way to kill pathogens and harmful bacteria. Historically, vinegar has been used as a tincture for a diverse range of things, including cleaning wounds, as a disinfectant, to ward off head lice, and remove warts; as a treatment for ear infections, fungal infections, and dropsy; even as a natural preservative for food.

Skin Health

Apple cider vinegar is often touted as a fantastic natural skin toner due to its astringent properties. Combine one-part vinegar to two-parts water (dilute further if you have sensitive skin) and apply to your face with a cottonwool ball, ideally after cleansing. Apple cider vinegar's naturally high acidity levels can help balance skin's pH levels and lock in moisture. Enjoy a facial steam bath to open your pores first for extra points.

Household Cleaner

Wellness insiders are familiar with the antimicrobial properties of vinegar, and apple cider vinegar is no exception. These microorganism-killing properties make apple cider vinegar a stellar natural household cleaner, with some research showing vinegar is an effective way to prevent bacteria like E.Coli. Just mix one-part vinegar with one-part water and add a few drops of essential oil (we love oregano essential oil for its antibacterial properties). Store in a spray bottle and use it to wipe down benches, tables, and refresh cutting boards. 

Aid Digestion

Apple cider vinegar is full of probiotics, beneficial bacteria and enzymes thanks to the mother, so it may be able to aid in digestion and overall gut health by stimulating digestive juices, controlling harmful yeast and bacterial growth, and assisting with the absorption of important nutrients. It has also been praised as a natural way to help alleviate gas and bloating, and aid heartburn and indigestion.

Hair Rinse

An apple cider vinegar hair rinse is a great way to eliminate leftover residue from hair products, leaving hair refreshed and shiny. Mix one-part vinegar to two-parts water; after shampooing, pour the mixture all over your hair and massage it into your scalp. For best results leave it sit for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

apple cider vinegar hair rinse

How to Choose a Good Apple Cider Vinegar

Not all apple cider vinegars are created equal. To reap the highest nutritional benefits, there are a few things you need to look out for when buying a bottle of the golden stuff.

Choose Organic

Organic apple cider vinegar is made from apples that haven't been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers, theoretically contaminating the apples during processing. Organic apple cider vinegar eliminates the risk of consuming potentially harmful toxins and will have no GMOs or additives, so it is considered the healthiest choice.

The Mother

Your apple cider vinegar should look a little murky, often with sediment settled on the bottom. This cloudiness is the mother, a complex structure of protein, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. Without it you will be missing out on the key nutritional components of apple cider vinegar.

apple cider vinegar with the mother

Choose Raw, Unfiltered, Unrefined, and Unpasteurised

If you're buying apple cider vinegar with 'the mother' you'll be getting a raw unfiltered, unrefined, and unpasteurised version. This means the vinegar has not been heated or processed, so the mother is still present and intact.

Our pick is Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, a raw, unfiltered version with 'the mother', made from 100% organically grown apples.

How to Incorporate Apple Cider Vinegar Into Your Diet (with recipes)

Yes, tolerating a glass of water with a splash of apple cider vinegar is a great way to start the day but there are so many more (delicious) ways to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet.

This recipe for Berries with a Cashew Nut Cream from our friends over at Food Matters makes a delightful breakfast or dessert that's packed full of flavour and nutrients.

apple cider vinegar dessert recipe food matters kitchen
Image: Food Matters

And this recipe round-up from the Daily Burn shows just how creative you can be when using apple cider vinegar in recipes!

How NOT to Use Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar should never be consumed or applied to the skin undiluted. The acidic nature of the vinegar means it has the potential to burn your throat, damage tooth enamel, and irritate skin.

It is suggested you consult your health care professional prior to using apple cider vinegar if you're on any form of blood sugar medication as it has the potential to lower blood sugar levels.

Do you incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet, or use it as a natural remedy or solution and have found it beneficial (or not)?

Let us know in the comments below.

Sarah Vercoe

Article by Sarah Vercoe

Sarah is a freelance writer and award-winning photographer with a special interest in health, travel, and fitness. Based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, she can be found hiking the trails of Noosa National Park, or, more likely, chasing after her one year old daughter, Illyana.

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