A rotten apple spoils the barrel: the fad of drinking apple cider vinegar to lose weight

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Claire George
Claire George is a student at the State University of New York College at Geneseo. She is studying early childhood and childhood education with a concentration in natural science. She would like to encourage children to become curious about science at a young age. She has written for the Global Literacy Blog, an initiative at the State University of New York College at Buffalo.

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Vinegar has been used for thousands of years for a variety of medicinal purposes, from fighting infections to healing wounds. In recent times, apple cider vinegar has been lauded by alternative medicine advocates (including Dr. Oz) for its supposed health benefits – clearing up acne, curing illness, and preventing heart disease. During the past few years, daily drinking of apple cider vinegar has become a popular trend for losing weight. It has been promoted by celebrities such as Kourtney Kardashian. However, the claims about apple cider vinegar’s role in weight loss do not measure up to the scientific reality: it plays an inconsequential role in weight loss and can even cause harm when misused.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made from fermented apple juice. It contains acetic acid. It can be found in a variety of everyday foods, from salad dressings to marinades. People who follow the so-called “apple cider vinegar diet” tend to drink anywhere from a teaspoon to a couple of tablespoons of it daily. Some choose to take it in the morning; others drink a little before each meal, and still others opt for a glass at bedtime.

Natural medicine advocates suggest the use of Bragg® Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with The Mother because, they claim, this unfiltered vinegar with its cloudy bits “retains many of the health benefits of ACV”. It is commonly mixed in a glass of water to dilute its strength. The quantity of apple cider vinegar to drink is not universal, but the general rule is “1 to 2 teaspoons before or with meals”. A quick search of the Internet reveals a variety of recipes for apple cider vinegar weight loss drinks mixed with anything from frozen fruit to lemon juice.

However, some adherents to the diet prefer to take a small shot of apple cider vinegar by itself. “The person uses a shot glass and consumes vinegar once or twice a day” (Burkhart 64). It becomes a daily ritual in which the user believes they are making a bigger difference in their body weight than could be produced by exercising or eating healthy.

There is no standard approach to this dietary fad; each participant has their own regimen to achieve weight loss. Apple cider vinegar pills, for example, can be found on grocery store shelves near the pharmacy. These pills are the choice for those who prefer not to drink the acidic liquid. The goal of adding apple cider vinegar to one’s diet is weight loss, but there is no consensus on how that goal is supposedly made possible.

Apple cider vinegar’s role in contributing to weight loss is attributed to different parts of its composition, depending on who you ask. For example, it contains acetic acid: acids have long been wrongly associated with weight loss. Even before apple cider vinegar, lemon juice – which is also acidic in nature – was believed by some people during the seventies and eighties to aid weight loss.

Natural medicine advocates claim that apple cider vinegar reduces body fat because “It contains a lot of organic acids and enzymes that speed up your metabolism and increase the rate at which body fat is burnt”. A related occurrence was observed to be true in rodents, and the results are used by alternative medicine supporters to justify the extreme measures of their diet:

Studies in obese rats and mice suggest that acetic acid can prevent fat deposition and improve their metabolism.

Shmerling

Natural medicine proponents flock to studies that confirm their preconceived ideas, ignoring the lack of evidence for the fad they are following. Before generalising apple cider vinegar’s benefits across species, this hypothesis must first be extensively tested in human beings.

Still others claim that cider vinegar’s weight-loss benefits arise from its ability to suppress the appetite. By this way of thinking, having less of an appetite makes weight loss inevitable.

Lack of scientific data

A wooden board stacked with red apples. There is a glass decanter on the board filled with vinegar

All in all, drinking apple cider vinegar is a popular way to achieve weight loss because it is easier than eating well or working out regularly, a task which causes many people to give up after a short period of time.

Despite the erroneous claim that apple cider vinegar is a miracle drink, the reality is quite the opposite. There is a lack of scientific data about the effects of apple cider vinegar on human weight loss. Adherents to this diet point to a trial in which the experimental group drank vinegar daily.

The most widely quoted study of humans is a 2009 trial of 175 people who consumed a drink containing 0, 1, or 2 tablespoons of vinegar each day. After three months, those who consumed vinegar had modest weight loss (2 to 4 pounds).

Shmerling

Although this weight loss was observed only in those who drank vinegar, it was a negligible amount. Losing four pounds in three months averages to one-third of a pound of lost each week. This number falls below the CDC’s consideration of successful, gradual weight loss as “about 1 to 2 pounds per week”. The other problem with this 2009 study is that it was short in duration and could not investigate the long-term effects of vinegar ingestion on body weight. Therefore, apple cider vinegar’s impact on sustainable weight loss is inconclusive. Weight loss is a more complex process than is entailed by simply drinking a little apple cider vinegar each day. It requires a commitment to a healthier diet, smaller portions, and frequent exercise.

Additionally, another cause for concern with the apple cider vinegar diet is the claim that it suppresses the appetite and therefore helps with weight loss. Though eating fewer calories leads to weight loss, drinking apple cider vinegar to achieve that goal comes with a catch. Drinking vinegar of any type can cause nausea, because of its acidity. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that:

vinegar ingestion enhances satiety… and that these effects are largely due to poor tolerability following ingestion invoking feelings of nausea.

Darzi et al. 675

Though consumers of apple cider vinegar for weight loss tout the acidity of vinegar as the source of its benefits, this property is actually the source of its problems. The nausea that results from ingestion of vinegar outweighs its assumed value as a mechanism for weight loss.

Long term health concerns

A diet that does not first and foremost require a healthier lifestyle is not truly scientific in its approach, nor is it capable of sustainable results. A person looking to lose weight should be skeptical of a diet promising great results without great effort. The supposed effectiveness of apple cider vinegar (or any acidic vinegar) for weight loss is immediately undermined because it causes pain and harm, which is not a component of a reasonable diet.

Finally, an impact of apple cider vinegar consumption on long-term health must be addressed. Drinking large quantities of apple cider vinegar or drinking the liquid unmixed puts an individual at risk for damage to the enamel of the teeth. Following the apple cider vinegar diet corresponds with an ignorance about the impacts of acidic substances on oral health:

The current trend for the usage of vinegar, lemons, and other acidic products is damaging the enamel in many patients and should be on our radar.

Burkhart 65

Weakening of the enamel can lead to sensitive teeth or even tooth decay if left untreated. Not only is apple cider vinegar’s acidity responsible for immediate discomfort, but it can fuel unwanted health problems. Fad diets are all the same in that they promise more than they can deliver – they are simply too good to be true.

Though apple cider vinegar is considered by alternative medicine proponents to be a wonderful solution to a multitude of health conditions, it does not play a significant role in weight loss. Studies fail to indicate considerable weight loss in humans and the ingestion of apple cider vinegar can result in adverse short- and long-term effects.

Works Cited

  • Burkhart, Nancy W. “What Is the Cause of Patients’ Enamel Loss? Investigative Process Examines Negative Impact on Oral Health.” RDH, vol. 37, no. 6, June 2017, pp. 64–76. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=123552548&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.
  • Darzi, J., et al. “Influence of the Tolerability of Vinegar as an Oral Source of Short-Chain Fatty Acids on Appetite Control and Food Intake.” International Journal of Obesity, vol. 38, no. 5, May 2014, pp. 675–681. Gale OneFile: Health and Medicine, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A368848585/HRCA?u=geneseo&sid=bookmark-HRCA&xid=6dad8fa0. Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.
  • Hills, Jenny. “How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) For Weight Loss (Science Based).” Healthy and Natural World, healthyandnaturalworld.com/how-to-use-apple-cider-vinegar-for-weight-loss/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.
  • Shmerling, Robert H. “Apple cider vinegar diet: Does it really work?” Harvard Health Blog, 29 Oct. 2020, health.harvard.edu/blog/apple-cider-vinegar-diet-does-it-really-work-2018042513703. Accessed 16 Oct. 2021.
  • “What is healthy weight loss?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Aug. 2020, cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021
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