Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been lauded as a cure-all for gastrointestinal issues ranging from digestive problems to weight management to high blood sugar levels — and of course, bloating.
Yet how do these claims hold up in scientific research studies? Are there any other benefits to drinking apple cider vinegar? Or, is the ACV craze simply a fad concocted by the natural foods industry?
Find out if apple cider vinegar helps with bloating, how to take ACV, and when you should skip vinegar altogether and just head to your doctor’s office.
The Science Behind Apple Cider Vinegar
There’s little scientific evidence to back up the benefits of apple cider vinegar, but that doesn’t mean ACV doesn’t have plenty of health benefits.
Most of the studies on the health benefits of ACV are relatively newer, smaller studies. This means that the studies could be completed in a shorter amount of time (as researchers can review patient history and results much more efficiently), though they aren’t considered as effective.
Most doctors warn against basing major medical decisions on the results of small studies and anecdotal evidence. Yet if your symptoms aren’t severe and you’re not on heart medication or a diabetic, you’re probably safe to take ACV in small doses (as long as you check with your doctor first).
Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is believed to tote a long list of benefits (in addition to anecdotal evidence supporting that it might help with bloating). For centuries, doctors believed that it could be used as an antibiotic (though that theory was debunked long ago).
We need more research on the benefits of ACV, but scientists studying its benefits believe that this popular ingredient may help aid in weight loss, improve insulin stability, improve heart health, reduce the risk of cancer — and possibly reduce belly bloat.
May Aid in Weight Loss
Some studies suggest that when paired with a healthy diet, ACV may aid in weight loss. Researchers asked dieters to consume ACV daily (along with a restricted-calorie diet). The dieters that consumed ACV lost more weight than those in the control group (that only restricted calories alone).
Some doctors believe that ACV may help aid the digestive system and help break down foods easier.
Others claim that it can curb your appetite, reduce cravings, and help burn fat. Yet, there is little research regarding this, and most of the research studying ACV and weight loss are extremely small. ACV is also often used in detox diets.
If you want to lose weight with the help of ACV, you should talk to your doctor first. As long as your doctor gives you the all-clear to add more vinegar to your diet, all you have to lose is a few dollars per bottle.
May Improve Insulin Stability
Some small studies also suggest that ACV may help manage diabetes. A study published by the American Diabetes Association found that vinegar may improve insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Other studies suggest that vinegar could help reduce blood sugar levels even after eating heavily refined carbs.
If you’re diabetic, you’ll want to consult your doctor before adding vinegar to your diet, as some studies show that ACV could negatively impact your blood sugar levels. Vinegar may also interact with some medications for diabetes.
May Improve Heart Health
Researchers are also studying how vinegar can improve heart health. So far, some studies show that adding vinegar to your diet may help lower cholesterol levels when eating a cholesterol-rich diet. Other studies have shown that vinegar can help reduce blood pressure.
Yet, all of these studies have been performed on animals, and the results may not translate over to humans. We need more research (specifically human trials) before we can substantiate these claims.
Again, you’ll want to talk to your doctor before adding vinegar to your diet for heart health reasons, as vinegar may interact with some heart medications.
May Reduce Risk of Cancer
There are also some slivers of evidence that ACV may help reduce the risk of cancer (or may help prevent cancer). Again, these findings are not substantiated as we need more research before we can use ACV to prevent cancer.
Unlike most vinegar, ACV is alkalizing, not acidic. Some scientists think that cancer is spread by high acidic and low oxygen levels in the body’s cells, as cancer cells create lactic acid.
Again, there isn’t enough research to substantiate that ACV could prevent cancer, but there are some animal studies and human tissue studies that point to these hypotheses. In these studies, animal cells were treated directly with ACV (the animals didn’t consume the ACV), so it’s uncertain whether drinking vinegar could help reduce the risk of cancer at all.
How Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help With Bloating?
There is some anecdotal evidence that suggests that ACV could help reduce bloating and treat conditions associated with bloating, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some researchers believe that ACV could help kill bad bacteria and promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
It may help ease indigestion and gas. This vinegar may also help the body digest foods that are difficult to digest; such foods may include FODMAPs, lactose, or complex carbohydrates.
If you suffer from food sensitivities, you may also find that ACV helps to decrease bloating and other uncomfortable side effects of this condition, such as gas and cramping. ACV may also help ease constipation, which is another cause of belly bloat.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar to Reduce Bloating
Got the all-clear from your doctor to add ACV to your diet? There are plenty of ways to consume ACV. From tinctures to shots to smoothies and salad dressings, this vinegar is versatile and easy to use.
It’s only a few dollars a bottle, too, making it one of the most budget-friendly at-home remedies, too.
Get Tested for Gastrointestinal Issues
If you’re curious about ACV and want to use it to reduce bloating, you’re going to want to get to the bottom of your belly bloat issues first. Bloating can be caused by myriad reasons, and you’re going to want to rule out a few serious issues as well as isolate the exact cause of your bloating.
You can get tested for a huge list of gastrointestinal issues right at home. At-home test kit companies like EverlyWell can mail you a sample collection kit. Simply follow the instructions and mail your sample to the lab. You should get your results in a few days.
The most common gastrointestinal issues are food sensitivities (which are not the same as food allergies). Some people are also sensitive to fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs).
At-home test kit companies can also test for celiac disease or lactose intolerance (though they cannot test for food allergies).
Use ACV in Food and Drink
It’s important to always dilute ACV before consuming it. Drinking raw ACV can lead to digestive issues and strip tooth enamel. It can even burn your esophagus. Some people drink ACV in warm water (instead of lemon) when they want to detox.
If you’re struggling to find ways to incorporate ACV into your diet, you can always add it to a recipe that calls for vinegar. Or, try one of the below ideas.
Again, you should never drink ACV straight. Yet, companies like Bragg now sell ACV ‘shots’ (diluted ACV with juice, honey, and other ingredients). These shots come in small single-serving bottles. Just drink the whole thing in one sip or two, and the ACV shot should go down smoothly.
Virgin ACV Cocktails
If you love spicy cocktails (or the taste of ginger beer), you may want to try adding a tablespoon or two of ACV to some sparkling water. The result? A virgin cocktail that tastes like spicy ginger beer. You could even add a few other fruit juices to it (as long as those fruits aren’t creating your belly bloat in the first place).
Another easy way to add more ACV to your diet is to use it in salad dressing. Salad dressings are usually vinegar or mayonnaise-based (or sometimes both!), so swapping out your usual vinegar with ACV is an easy way to add this ingredient to your recipes.
Since ACV is so acidic, it goes well with meat (you can use it as a marinade), sweet ingredients (like honey or agave in a salad dressing), and to cut the richness of heavy foods.
If all else fails, add a tablespoon of ACV to your juice in the morning. It will add a tart kick to pretty much any juice, including orange, apple, and pineapple juices. Or, add it to a smoothie for an added health boost.
Risks of Consuming Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV may be touted as a miracle cure by some, but there are a few risks involved with using this ingredient. Some people may have a sensitivity to ACV and experience side effects such as heartburn stomach acid, and acid reflux.
If you suffer from any chronic conditions, you’re going to want to check with your doctor before taking ACV as this vinegar can interact with certain medications or complicate some conditions.
Other risks of consuming ACV include:
Strips tooth enamel
May cause burns
Lowers potassium levels
May negatively shift insulin levels
Before using ACV, you should always dilute it, as raw ACV can burn your throat or cause serious harm to your digestive system. It’s also important to only use ACV in moderation. Consuming too much ACV can lead to bigger health issues, disrupt your gut bacteria, and may even lead to ulcers or other chronic conditions.
Other Treatments for a Bloated Stomach
If you’re worried about ACV, are concerned it won’t work for long-term belly bloat, or just want to get to the bottom of your condition, you may want to try a few other treatments for a bloated stomach. The top treatments include lifestyle changes, supplements, and removing food sensitivities.
One of the main causes of belly bloat is swallowing too much air (resulting in gas). The most common ways you might swallow air are by chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages, or wearing loose dentures.
If you suffer from bloating and make the above lifestyle choices, you may want to try to stop chewing gum and drinking carbonated beverages (or get better fitting dentures) before trying some of the other treatment options.
Sometimes belly bloat can be caused by not getting enough nutrients or by hormonal fluctuations in your body. If you’ve taken an at-home vitamin deficiency test and discovered you have a deficiency, you may want to take supplements.
You may also want to try taking probiotics or prebiotics. Companies like HUM sell digestive enzymes to help reduce belly bloat and heal gut health.
Remove Food Sensitivities
If you’ve taken an at-home food sensitivity test and discovered you may have a sensitivity to dairy, wheat, beans, or other foods, you’ll want to try to remove those foods from your diet for at least a month; you can reintroduce the foods one-by-one (with two weeks in between foods) to see which ones cause bloating or other gastrointestinal issues.
Should I Use Apple Cider Vinegar to Treat Bloating?
The bottom line? You should always check with your doctor before trying a home remedy — especially if you suffer from chronic bloating.
Yet if you don’t have any preexisting conditions that prevent you from consuming ACV (such as heart issues, diabetes, or interactions with certain medications), you can probably try to add a tablespoon or two to your salad dressing and see what happens.
Most doctors only recommend using home remedies like ACV for a bloated stomach for one-off issues and make an appointment with an online dietitian or nutritionist, online doctor, or urgent care facility if you’re struggling with chronic bloating.