Historically, vinegar has been used as a preservative or as an acid for cooking. Like some of the other foods we love, such as cheese, yogurt, and wine, vinegar is also made with the help of microorganisms that ferment sugars and convert them into acetic acid .
Vinegar is a liquid consisting of about 5 to 20 percent acetic acid, water, trace elements, and, in some cases, flavorings. It has been used as a treatment for many different ailments since the time of Hippocrates, around 420 B.C. .
Diluted acetic acid by itself cannot be thought of as vinegar because vinegar contains other minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. Other bioactive products in vinegar are gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, and caffeic acid.
Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of vinegar.
Fundamentals of Vinegar
Types of Vinegar
Vinegar is made from different fruits, rice, barley, and other foods that are high in sugar content. Some examples are rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and fruit vinegar. Depending on the type, they contain slightly different levels of acidity.
Different vinegar types are more popular in different countries and areas of the world. The one common theme amongst all vinegar is its beneficial properties and antioxidants.
How Vinegar Works
Vinegar is made by the fermentation process involving the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Acetobacter bacteria.
The method through which vinegar improves glycemic levels is not fully known. However, researchers believe the mechanism occurs after the translation of sucrase/lactase/maltase enzyme complexes .
Vinegar is thought to affect glucose levels by delaying the rate of gastric emptying. The acetic acid in vinegar also seems to suppress disaccharidase activity and increase glucose-6-phosphate levels in skeletal muscle. Therefore, it is thought that vinegar may also prevent carbohydrate breakdown, similar to the prescription drug acarbose (Precose) .
Health Benefits of Vinegar
1) Vinegar Contains Antioxidant
These antioxidants have many different beneficial effects that improve our overall health and quality of life.
Apple cider vinegar induced a protective effect against erythrocyte, kidney, and liver oxidative injury, and lowered the serum lipid levels in mice fed a high cholesterol diet. This suggests that it possesses oxidative stress scavenging effects, inhibits lipid peroxidation, and increases the levels of antioxidant enzymes and vitamins .
2) Vinegar Helps Control Blood Glucose Levels
In rats, blood glucose levels were significantly reduced when vinegar was fed in conjunction with corn starch. In humans, the results were not as pronounced. However, the area under the insulin response curve was reduced by 20 percent after the subject was administered 50 g of sucrose and 60 mL of vinegar .
In another blinded, randomized placebo-controlled experiment, the addition of vinegar to a high-glycemic meal significantly reduced post-meal blood sugar .
In theory, vinegar could be a potential treatment to slow the progression of diabetes. Vinegar also increased insulin-stimulated glucose uptake, allowing insulin to do its job better and enhancing carbohydrate metabolism .
Two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at bedtime helped to reduce fasting blood glucose levels in patients with type II diabetes .
3) Vinegar Helps with Weight Loss
Vinegar (apple cider vinegar) also increases satiety levels, indicating its usefulness in weight control. Satiety levels measure how much food people eat to satisfy their hunger.
In a double-blind clinical study, vinegar intake reduced body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects. A daily intake of vinegar, therefore, may be helpful in the prevention of metabolic syndrome by reducing obesity .
According to one study in animals, cider vinegar induced a significant reduction in weight gain .
Acetic acid is also effective in stopping body fat accumulation and liver lipids by up-regulating the expression of genes that are involved in fatty acid oxidation. This is beneficial, as it suggests that we are able to change the body’s internal responses to how fat/lipids are processed .
4) Vinegar May Be Effective in Treating High Cholesterol
In animals, apple cider vinegar significantly reduces hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. In another animal model, apple cider vinegar decreased triglycerides and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol .
5) Vinegar Inhibits Tumor Growth and May Prevent Cancer
Japanese rice vinegar (kurosu) inhibited the increase of human cancer cells by arresting the growth phase of the cell cycle .
An extract from Japanese rice vinegar containing ethyl acetate inhibited azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in male rats in comparison to control rats. After 40 days, the rats had significantly smaller tumor volumes, as well as longer lifespans .
A mouse model vinegar produced from RSDS (rice-shochu post distillation slurry) stimulated natural killer cell cytotoxic activity against human leukemia cell lines .
Because acetic acid in vinegar forms acetate ions in the stomach, it may possess antitumor effects .
6) Vinegar May Help Promote Heart Health
Studies have also reported that vinegar administration inhibited the renin-angiotensin system (hormone system) in non-hypertensive rats .
Trials investigating the effects of vinegar ingestion on the renin-angiotensin system have not been conducted in humans, and there is no scientific evidence that vinegar ingestion alters blood pressure in humans. More research is required to determine whether vinegar really has a significant effect in reducing blood pressure .
7) Vinegar Is Antimicrobial and Prevents Infections
Vinegar is slightly effective at inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa on wounds as a surface cleaning solution .
Vinegar is used in remote, poorly sourced locations as a mechanism for screening women for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection .
When the acetic acid in vinegar comes in contact with the viral lesions associated with HPV, it alters them, allowing midwives to detect infection with 77 percent sensitivity .
A preliminary study suggests that local excision plus a brief application of 99 percent acetic acid with rapid neutralization with sterile water under local anesthesia was effective in treating multiple genital warts in women with an acceptable rate of recurrence of 13.3 percent .
The acidity of vinegar also helps maintain vaginal pH levels. A half cup of white vinegar in a bath may help women get relief from vaginal infections caused by candida, according to some studies .
Vinegar has been used to treat lice, nail fungus, and warts. However, vinegar is ineffective compared to other treatments normally used for these ailments .
8) Vinegar Helps with Allergies
Apple cider vinegar also helps break up mucus by its natural antihistamine effect. In the USA, where seasonal, environmental or pet-related allergies are very common, vinegar helps lessen symptoms like sneezing and wheezing .
9) Vinegar Aids Digestion
Vinegar promotes a better acid/alkaline balance and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria again in the stomach. The ingestion of vinegar also allows for more minerals and vitamins to be absorbed from the foods we eat, because several vitamins and minerals require sufficient stomach acidity to absorb well .
10) Vinegar Helps Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Kurozu, a traditional rice wine vinegar, shows a tendency to suppress cognitive dysfunction and amyloid accumulation in mice. This particular study found that vinegar might help the production of proteins like HspA1A, a protein similar to HSP70, which help reduce amyloid formation in the brain .
11) Vinegar Prevents Kidney Stones and Urinary Tract Infections
Kidney stones form when a person’s urine becomes too acidic and concentrated, forming crystals from the uric acid or oxalates. Vinegar works by alkalizing the urine, thus preventing the formation of kidney stones. Vinegar may even help to break down the ones that are already formed .
Notes on Using Vinegar
Although vinegar’s use is considered safe by default, there are rare reports of literature regarding adverse reactions to vinegar ingestion .
- According to one case-control study in Serbia, vinegar ingestion was associated with a 4.4-fold greater risk for bladder cancer .
- Hypokalemia (low levels of potassium in the blood) was observed in a 28-year old woman who had reportedly consumed approximately 250ml of apple cider vinegar daily for six years .
Cautions / Side Effects
- Although vinegar is able to treat many infections, there are usually other more effective options.
- For example, although topical application of vinegar can treat warts; local anesthesia, excision, and neutralization is a much more effective form of treatment. Thus, patients should consult with their doctor before choosing vinegar as their main treatment option .
- Apple cider vinegar might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Therefore, blood sugar levels need to be monitored closely. Dose adjustments may be necessary for diabetes medications that are taken .
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