Medically Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf MS, RD on January 9, 2020.
Everyone has a different opinion on what you should take to lose weight. But, a lot of people will tell you the same thing: apple cider vinegar.
Most of us are familiar with vinegar. We use it in salad dressings, to pickle vegetables or even as a natural cleaner around the home. Can it really cause weight loss?
Of course, like with most things, the answer isn’t simple. There isn’t quite enough evidence yet to conclusively say either way. But, the evidence that is there is highly promising.
There is also a considerable amount of research into the way it works. We have a good idea of what is happening in your body when you take apple cider vinegar.
Here, we’ll take a look at what vinegar is, what active compounds it contains, and how these can affect your weight. Then, we’ll go over what the best way to use it is.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Vinegar is made by fermenting alcohol or sugar. Fermentation is a process that is performed by microorganisms like bacteria.
In apple cider vinegar’s case, the sugar in a batch of apples is broken down into alcohol by crushing them up and adding yeast. This is essentially how you make apple cider, the popular alcoholic drink.
To make vinegar requires a further step. Over the course of a few weeks, bacteria will naturally ferment the alcohol into acetic acid, the main component of vinegar. These are a specific type of bacteria. In some fermentations, natural bacteria or yeast from the environment will colonize the product and cause the reaction to happen. In vinegar making, the bacterial culture is usually added manually (1).
It’s the acetic acid that gives vinegar its strong, distinctive smell. This aroma lends vinegar to its main use, which is as a flavoring ingredient in cooking. Vinegar is also used as a cleaning product due to its antimicrobial activity and has several other food-related uses, like as a preservative and pickling agent.
What’s In Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar consists of around 5-6% acetic acid. It’s also got small amounts of other acids, like malic and gallic acids.
Vinegar also contains trace amounts of a range of other compounds. These include mineral salts, vitamins, amino acids, and phenolic compounds that can have a range of beneficial effects. These compounds can act as antioxidants, antimicrobials, and reduce blood pressure (2).
The acetic acid is mostly responsible for the way apple cider vinegar can help with weight loss. So, how effective is apple cider for losing weight, and how does it work?
Evidence For Apple Cider Vinegar Increasing Weight Loss
Several scientific studies, in both rats and humans, show that apple cider vinegar can help to shed pounds.
A team of researchers in Mexico used a mix of healthy and obese rats to study the effects of the vinegar on weight gain. When they overfed the obese rats, the ones who were taking vinegar gained less weight.
For the healthy rats, the ones on the vinegar supplement didn’t gain much weight, while the control group quickly gained a lot (3).
Another team, who were using mice, came to the same conclusion. They overfed their mice and measured how much weight they gained. When they gave the mice apple cider vinegar, they gained 10% less weight than the others (4).
What about studies in humans? The most promising evidence so far comes from a large-scale Japanese study using obese volunteers. 175 people took part in the study. They were assigned randomly into three groups. One took two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day, another took one tablespoon, and the final group took none.
Otherwise, the subjects were asked to eat and exercise as normal. After 12 weeks, the group taking two tablespoons of vinegar had lost, on average, 2.5% of their total body mass. Meanwhile, the group without vinegar actually gained weight (5).
The vinegar groups also improved their body mass indices (BMI), reduced their hip and waist circumferences, and reduced their cholesterol levels by 3.1%.
While more evidence is needed, it does seem that a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day can help with weight loss. So, how does it work?
Natural Appetite Suppressant
The most basic way apple cider vinegar can help you lose weight is by suppressing your appetite. Eating fewer calories than you burn makes the body break down its fat reserves to provide energy.
Reducing your caloric intake is the most effective way to achieve that negative energy balance, but eating less is often the hardest part of any diet when we’re used to eating a lot of food.
One team of researchers managed to pin this effect down to a specific mechanism in the brain. Using rats, they measured reduced brain activity in certain brain regions that control appetite. They also measured increased concentrations of regulatory proteins involved with appetite. These effects were caused by acetate, which is a natural breakdown product of acetic acid (8).
However, a word of warning is necessary. Some of these effects may be simply due to an increase in nausea among some people after consuming vinegar on its own. The strong acid content of vinegar makes it unpalatable on its own.
While nausea does reduce your appetite, it is an unpleasant feeling and is not necessary to achieve the benefits of apple cider vinegar. Later, we will discuss better ways to consume vinegar to avoid undesired side effects.
Normalizes Blood Sugar Levels
When you consume food, the levels of glucose sugar in your blood go up. This causes an increase in blood concentrations of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that removes sugar from your blood and stores it in the liver and muscles for later use.
Some foods especially processed carbohydrates and sugar, cause glucose to enter the bloodstream faster than others. Sometimes, blood sugar spikes too fast, and the insulin response can’t keep up.
Evidence shows that apple cider vinegar reduces hyperglycemia after eating meals, especially when eating high-GI foods that hit the bloodstream fast. In one study, the vinegar reduced post-meal glycemic loading by 55% compared to a test group who took no vinegar (11, 12).
The reason this happens is that the acetic acid in the vinegar helps your liver and muscles take up sugar from your blood faster and store it for later use (13).
This is especially important for people who have type 2 diabetes. These people have developed insulin insensitivity, meaning that their bodies are unable to respond to changes in blood sugar levels. One study of type 2 diabetics found that apple cider vinegar increased insulin sensitivity by 34% (14).
Speeds Up Your Metabolism
Insulin is an important regulator of your metabolism, but there are also other important biochemical mechanisms involved.
One of these involves an enzyme called AMPK, which has been described as both a ‘fuel gauge’ and a ‘master switch’ for the metabolism. It is usually released when the energy balance of your body is low, like after a session of exercise. When your body senses AMPK in the bloodstream, it begins to burn your fat and sugar stores to increase your cellular energy levels again (15, 16).
Consuming acetic acid increases your blood levels of AMPK, just as if you’d done exercise. However, don’t skip the workout because these effects were compounded when exercise was done at the same time. Acetic acid also increased the production of some other, related enzymes that prevent your body from adding to your fat and sugar stores (17).
Puts Your Body Into A Fat-Burning State
When you have apple cider vinegar, your body starts producing more of several enzymes that are involved in fatty acid oxidation. This is the process that breaks down your fat cells and converts them into a form of energy that the heart and muscles can use (18, 19).
This fat-burning state is called ketosis because the energy molecules it produces are called ketones. It’s the same metabolic state that intermittent fasting aims to achieve, and it is the ideal state for your body to be in if you want to lose weight.
An additional benefit is a reduction of visceral fat, a type of fat that is especially harmful to our health. It is commonly called belly fat. It is distinct from the regular layer of fat that builds up under your skin, all over your body. Belly fat builds up around your internal organs and is linked with heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension (20).
What’s The Best Way To Consume Apple Cider Vinegar?
In all of the available evidence, only 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar are needed per day to achieve the effects in the studies.
As mentioned above, drinking straight vinegar isn’t always the best idea. It can cause nausea and heartburn, which is no one’s idea of a health benefit.
Acids like acetic acid can also damage your teeth when they’re not diluted. Acidity erodes the enamel on your teeth, the outer layer that protects the vulnerable inside parts. Enamel erosion makes your teeth weaker and more prone to cracks and chips. It is also quite painful since it exposes the nerve endings contained inside your teeth (21).
You can have apple cider vinegar in a salad dressing. Vinaigrette dressings are made by mixing 1 part vinegar with 3-4 parts oil and mixing.
Another simpler way is to dilute the vinegar into a glass of water and drink it. You don’t need to have your daily dose all at once, either. You can put a teaspoon or so into a glass of water several times a day to minimize any potential side effects.
Is Apple Cider Vinegar A Weight Loss Miracle?
Apple cider vinegar can definitely help you to lose weight, but it’s not going to do all of the work. There’s not enough evidence to conclusively say that it works for everyone or to say how strong the effects are.
It should not be used as a complete weight loss option, and it probably works best together with a good diet and plenty of exercise. The correct strategy is to use apple cider vinegar as a part of a holistic weight loss strategy, rather than as a standalone treatment.
If you’re a diabetic, you should also be very careful about taking apple cider vinegar. Since it alters your insulin levels, it can be dangerous for diabetics to take too much. Please consult with a doctor before attempting to use apple cider vinegar for weight loss, and always follow their advice.
Apple cider vinegar works in several different ways to help you lose weight. It can suppress your appetite, speed up your metabolism, and help promote a state of ketosis in which your body is burning fat.
It also helps with your blood sugar levels by interacting with insulin and a number of other regulatory systems. This also helps to control appetite and keep you on a diet plan, but diabetics should be careful because anything which affects insulin levels can be dangerous for them.
Apart from that, the harmful effects of apple cider vinegar are relatively minor. Too much of it can cause heartburn and nausea, but the risk of severe side effects is low.
You don’t need to take a lot to achieve the desired effects, either. Just a couple of tablespoons per day, in your food on diluted into drinks, will be enough.
As a part of a holistic weight loss regime, apple cider vinegar can help you to achieve your weight loss goals. As more research is done, we’ll gain an even clearer picture of just how it works and how to use it for weight loss.