Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help Weight Loss?

Few foods are as storied as the apple. Thanks to its widespread availability, it may not seem like a very exotic fruit, but it’s still significant to people and cultures all around the world -- not just as a healthy staple, but as a mythological symbol (and an icon of science, as well).((Alimentarium: The apple of discord and beauty))((Science Mag: How the apple conquered the world)) Part of the fruit’s fame lies in its versatility. From its sweet derivatives (like applesauce and apple juice) to the tangy (like apple cider vinegar), this gem of nature has a lot to offer in terms of health benefits. As for that vinegar? It might just be a little-known but vital way of peeling off the pounds.

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help Weight Loss?

A lot of people want to know whether apple cider vinegar actually helps with weight loss. In a word, yes. Scientists have more than one theory about the underlying biological mechanisms, but the short answer is that it does make a difference. The knowledge we’ve gained from scientific inquiry goes a long way toward helping explain a part of apple history -- the fact that vinegar from apples has been used as a medicinal tonic across many cultures, dating back centuries. Studies using human subjects have shown that not only does apple cider vinegar help reduce weight, it also lowers body fat and serum triglyceride levels (triglycerides are the main constituent of the body’s fat cells).((Biosci Biotechnol Biochem: Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects)) The research in question comes from a study of 144 Japanese adults suffering from obesity. They were split into three separate groups -- one group added a single tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to their daily intake; one added two tablespoons, and the third group consumed a daily placebo. The treatment took place over a 12-week period. Other than limiting how much alcohol they drank, participants were not asked to change anything else about their diet or exercise routines. The results were striking. On average, members of the group that drank one tablespoon of vinegar every day lost 2.6 pounds, experienced a 0.7 percent decrease in body fat, and dropped triglyceride levels by 26 percent -- no small feat. The group that consumed double the vinegar, however, saw even more impressive results -- in addition to the same 26 percent drop in triglycerides, those participants lost an average of 3.7 pounds and 0.9 percent of their body fat. As for those who only had a placebo, no weight loss occurred. In fact, those participants gained weight -- 0.9 pounds on average. One study is good, but science demands replication. Was the weight loss benefit from the Japanese study on obesity just a fluke? Not at all, based in part on the following: In terms of metabolism, humans and mice are quite similar, which is why the furry little guys play a big role in lots of nutritional studies. A separate, six-week-long experiment (also in Japan) showed that mice, too, experience weight-loss effects from adding apple cider vinegar to their diets. Actually, the results were remarkably similar to the human trial; mice who took a high dose of vinegar gained less weight than those who took a lower dose, and both groups gained less than those who took none at all. This is despite each group being fed the same high-fat, high-calorie diet.((J Agric Food Chem.: Acetic acid upregulates the expression of genes for fatty acid oxidation enzymes in liver to suppress body fat accumulation))

How Does This Happen?

Again, there’s some debate about this. In at least one study, researchers were able to demonstrate that acetic acid (apple cider vinegar’s main ingredient) may lower blood sugar levels by aiding the liver and muscles in absorbing glucose from the bloodstream. The lowered blood sugar and insulin reduction that goes along with it, may promote the body’s ability to burn fat. And the more fat you’re able to burn at rest, the better everything goes.((Br J Nutr. : Effect of acetic acid feeding on the circadian changes in glycogen and metabolites of glucose and lipid in liver and skeletal muscle of rats)) Acetic acid intake also correlates with levels of AMPK, an enzyme that contributes to cell homeostasis. The higher the AMPK availability, the greater the body’s fat-burning ability -- and the less sugar produced by the liver, two things that can contribute to the kinds of results seen in the apple cider vinegar studies.((Biochem Biophys Res Commun. : Acetic acid activates hepatic AMPK and reduces hyperglycemia in diabetic KK-A(y) mice)) Apparently, consuming extra acetic acid like that found in apple cider vinegar has an effect even on a genetic level -- an additional study that treated obese, diabetic rats with acetic acid heightened the expression of certain genes that govern the body’s likelihood of retaining belly and liver fat. In other words, when you’ve got extra acetic acid, your genes are likely to tell your body not to add belly fat to your body -- a welcome message.((Biosci Biotechnol Biochem.: Improvement of obesity and glucose tolerance by acetate in Type 2 diabetic Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty (OLETF) rats)) Yet another study suggests that the whole thing could be as simple as the fact that acetate consumption reduces appetite. And when you eat less (even if it’s just a little bit less), you give your body a chance to adjust to a lower percentage body fat, etc. ((Source: The short-chain fatty acid acetate reduces appetite via a central homeostatic mechanism.))

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Alone Work for Weight Loss?

It’s easy to get caught up in the headlines and the idea that something as simple as tossing a bit of vinegar down the hatch can help us accomplish our biggest health goals, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Apple cider vinegar can help with weight loss, but that doesn’t mean any of us should go out and stop exercising. Regular exercise, proper hydration, plenty of sleep, and a balanced diet are still crucial factors in both body mass measurements and overall wellbeing (which is something I can personally vouch for).((Dr. David Minkoff M.D.: At 70-years-old, here’s how I’ve competed in 42 Ironman races (and how you can, too)))

Additional Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar isn’t just good for knocking inches off your waist, either; it’s got loads of other upsides for your health. For instance, it’s a probiotic, meaning it contains friendly bacteria that help support a healthy digestive ecosystem. On top of that, it’s got a decent amount of antioxidants, those helpful little molecules that negate free radical damage. And those lowered triglyceride levels do more than just help you retain a pretty shape -- they reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, too.

How to Reap Its Benefits

If you’re worried about the taste, it’s not as bad as you think. A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with water actually goes down quite nicely, especially when you add in a dash of honey. There are also plenty of other ways to incorporate it into your food, such as in a salad dressing, deviled eggs, or creamy vegan queso dip.((TheKitchn: 21 Recipes That Make Use of Apple Cider Vinegar)) Be mindful, though -- you can get too much of a good thing. Too large a dose of the tonic can burn your throat (ouch!) or give you a stomach ache, not to mention interfere with your bowel regularity. Also, be sure to brush your teeth shortly after drinking it. The primary ingredient is acid, which can wreak havoc on your tooth enamel. To be on the safe side, you can use a straw as an easy workaround for this. Safe consumption practices include splitting the dose into portions rather than swigging it all at once, and heavily diluting it no matter how much you take. This also helps prevent your throat from feeling raw afterwards. As far as the “right” dose, a review of apple cider vinegar’s therapeutic benefits found that 15 mL a day was enough to confer most of those. That’s about one tablespoon, or half of what was taken by the biggest losers in the Japanese weight-loss study.((ScienceDirect: Therapeutic effects of vinegar: a review))

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that apple cider vinegar is probably the least expensive yet most effective health supplement you can pick up from any basic grocery store. There’s plenty of reason to believe that it can help you shave off -- or keep off -- the pounds. An apple a day might not keep the doctor away, but based on all this evidence, a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar just might.

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