Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is gaining popularity these days as a wonder cure for diabetes, weight loss, heart disease and much more. The question however is – Is there science behind these claims or is it a classic case of excellent marketing?
Vinegar has been used as a medical therapy for thousands of years. Recorded vinegar history starts around 5000 BC when the Babylonians were using the fruit of the date palm to make wine and vinegar. Vinegar residues have been found in ancient Egyptian urns traced to 3000 BC. As well, recorded vinegar history in China starts from texts that date back to 1200 BC.
During biblical times, vinegar was used to flavour foods, as an energising drink, and as a medicine, and it is mentioned in both the old and new testaments.
In ancient Greece, around 400 BC, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for a variety of ills, including coughs and colds.
Scientific evidence adds to age old wisdom by inferring vinegar’s significant role in key biochemical metabolic pathways –
- Reduction in Postprandial Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels – When taken with or just before meals, ACV inhibits enzymes necessary for the digestion of starches and other complex carbohydrates, thus preventing them from being broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. Vinegar also slows gastric emptying, so it delays the uptake of glucose and other nutrients. (Yusoff et al, Nutrients 2015, 7(8), 7012-7026 )
- Like Metformin, Stimulates AMPK – Vinegar stimulates an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) that is a key player in glucose and fat metabolism, insulin signalling, and energy balance. AMPK increases fat oxidation, improves glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity, and lowers gluconeogenesis, or glucose production in the liver. This is similar to how common diabetic drug Metformin works (Zhou et al, Role of AMP-activated protein kinase in mechanism of metformin action. J Clin Invest. 2001 Oct 15; 108(8): 1167–1174).
- Nitric Oxide Mediated Protection Against Heart Diseases – Vinegar-induced AMPK activation boosts nitric oxide (NO) release in the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels.NO relaxes the arteries, protects against an atherosclerosis-the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease. (Sakakibara et al, BiosciBiotechnolBiochem. 2010;74(5):1055-61).
- Blood Pressure Regulation – Animal studies demonstrated vinegar decreases blood pressure by down‑regulating AT1R expression via the AMPK/PGC‑1α/PPARγ pathway (Na Lixin et al, Eur j Nutr, April 2016, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 1245–1253).
- Protection Against Cancer – Vinegar is also a dietary source of polyphenols, compounds synthesised by plants to defend against oxidative stress. Ingestion of polyphenols in humans enhances in vivo antioxidant protection and reduces cancer risk.
- Reduces Belly Fat – Researches demonstrated vinegar (pomegranate) consumption resulted in marked reduction in visceral fat as confirmed by CT scan(Park et al, Journal of functional foods, Volume 8, May 2014, 274-281).
While the evidence behind apple cider vinegar and other vinegar seem promising, there are a few things to keep in mind. Always take your vinegar diluted (1 tablespoon in 180 ml water). Undiluted shots have been known to wear away tooth enamel and damage the oesophagus. Also, too much apple cider vinegar may lower potassium levels in the body. If you are on medications, discuss with your doctor before starting vinegar supplementation.
Lastly, and most importantly – Making vinegar a daily habit won’t cancel out the effects of unhealthy eating. Think of it as one piece of your wellness puzzle, and not a panacea.