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The question

I've heard that apple cider vinegar is good for you and can help you lose weight. Is it something you recommend taking? If so, how much is the right amount?

The answer

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If you believe what you read on the Internet, apple cider vinegar is a pretty darn powerful natural health product. It's claimed to do everything from controlling diabetes to lowering cholesterol to boosting weight loss.

Made by fermenting crushed apples, the vinegar is also touted to prevent constipation, ease arthritic joints, reduce heartburn, banish acne and treat eczema, among numerous other things. That's a whole lot of health benefits.

But here's the deal: Most claims are untested and, therefore, unfounded. The few health claims that do have (limited) scientific backing are often overhyped. Here's what we know so far about apple cider vinegar – and what we don't.

Speeds up weight loss

There's not much to go on here. Only one small study, published in 2009, has tested the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar on weight loss in people. And the results weren't that impressive.

For the study, 175 obese but otherwise healthy Japanese adults, aged 25 to 60, were assigned to drink, once daily, a 500-ml beverage that contained either one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (low dose), two tablespoons (high dose) or no vinegar (placebo) for 12 weeks.

At the end of the study, participants who consumed the vinegar drinks achieved greater weight loss than those who got the placebo drink. What's more, people who drank the beverage that contained two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar lost more weight than those who consumed the lower dose.

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But don't get too excited. After three months, the high-dose vinegar group lost 4.1 pounds compared to the low-dose group, who lost 2.6 pounds. In either case, it's hardly a dress (or pant) size. And four weeks after the study ended, most had gained back the weight.

Apple cider vinegar may help increase feelings of satiety but, as research suggests, this is likely due to a queasy stomach from drinking the solution.

Research conducted in mice has suggested that acetic acid – the acid that gives vinegar its characteristic sour taste – may prevent the buildup of body fat by activating fat-burning genes.

All in, don't count on apple cider vinegar to help you slim down.

Controls blood glucose levels

There's more promising evidence to support the claim that apple cider vinegar helps lower blood sugar. And that seems to be particularly so in people with prediabetes.

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If you have prediabetes, your blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as full-blown diabetes. People with prediabetes are at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes within 10 years if lifestyle changes are not implemented.

In a study published in the journal Diabetes Care (2004), researchers from Arizona State University asked people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes to consume 20 g of apple cider vinegar (about four teaspoons) diluted in water immediately before eating a high carbohydrate meal.

Doing so blunted the after-meal rise in blood sugar. It also improved how the body used insulin, the hormone that clears sugar from the bloodstream. These improvements were significant in participants with prediabetes but only slight in those with diabetes.

Acetic acid in apple cider vinegar is thought to slow the digestion of starch – e.g., carbohydrates in bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, potatoes and other starchy foods – preventing some of it from being absorbed into the bloodstream and raising blood glucose levels.

All vinegars, though, contain acetic acid and can dampen the rise in blood glucose after eating a starchy meal. That means balsamic, red wine, white wine or flavoured and distilled white vinegars will also do the trick.

Prevents heart disease, stroke, cancer

Studies in rodents fed a high fat diet have demonstrated that apple cider vinegar can help lower blood cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood pressure. But research has not been conducted in humans.

Nor have there been any human studies to substantiate apple cider vinegar's purported anti-cancer effects.

There's also not a stitch of evidence that a daily dose (or two) of the vinegar – or any vinegar for that matter – guards against arthritis, digestive upset, acne or eczema.

Still, is apple cider vinegar worth taking?

When it comes to blood sugar and weight control, apple cider vinegar is by no means a magic bullet. Focus your efforts on diet and exercise, strategies proven to help shed excess pounds and guard against Type 2 diabetes.

If you decide to add apple cider vinegar to the mix, I recommend consuming it in a homemade salad dressing made with at least one tablespoon of the vinegar.

If you prefer to drink it, dilute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in eight ounces of water and drink it at the beginning of a meal, once or twice daily.

Apple cider vinegar is sold filtered and pasteurized or unfiltered and unpasteurized. The unfiltered vinegar is cloudy and retains the "mother" bacteria that fermented the apples, which some experts contend is full of beneficial probiotic organisms.

Precautions

Do not drink apple cider vinegar straight. Undiluted vinegar – in liquid or pill form – can irritate the throat and esophagus and increase stomach acidity. Sipping it plain can also damage tooth enamel.

Prolonged large doses of apple cider vinegar can lead to dangerously low potassium levels in the body.

Since apple cider vinegar may reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, it could potentially amplify the blood-sugar-lowering effect of anti-diabetes drugs. Inform your doctor if you decide to try apple cider vinegar.

Some people with diabetes have delayed stomach emptying, a disorder caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. Apple cider vinegar could make this problem worse.

Probiotic foods can offer health benefits by promoting the activity of good bacteria in your gut. Leslie Beck explains what to add to your diet so you don't miss out.
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