Apple cider vinegar: what does it work for and how to use it

Apple cider vinegar is used for everything from high blood sugar to hair rinses, but how effective is it and how should you be using it?

how much apple cider vinegar should you drink?
(Image credit: Getty)

Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy, used for generations as a general health tonic, a hair conditioning rinse, and even as skincare. But which of apple cider vinegar's benefits are supported by robust research rather than just anecdotal evidence? And if you're planning to take it internally, how much apple cider vinegar should you drink?

First things first: drinking too much apple cider vinegar can be bad for you (vinegar is particularly hard on tooth enamel). But before we get onto the question of the correct dosage, let's explore the evidence behind the claims that apple cider vinegar has health benefits, so that you can decide for yourself whether this natural remedy is for you.

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1. Apple cider vinegar and weight loss

There are some medical studies that prove apple cider vinegar aids weight loss. A Japanese study from 2009 found that both BMI and waist circumference were reduced in people who took apple cider vinegar daily. 

It's important to note, however, that these studies do not claim that apple cider vinegar can dramatically reduce your weight on its own. What seems to be the case is that supplementing an otherwise effective weight loss strategy with apple cider vinegar will improve results, but it won't have an effect without adjusting your nutrition and exercise levels at the same time. 

2. Apple cider vinegar and lower blood sugar levels?

This is another health benefit of apple cider vinegar supported by solid scientific research. A study published in Diabetes Care in 2004 showed that taking apple cider vinegar after a high-carbohydrate meal improved insulin sensitivity with people with insulin resistance. As such, apple cider vinegar may be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes.

3. Apple cider vinegar and improved heart health? 

There is some evidence that apple cider vinegar improves heart health by lowering cholesterol, but the studies were performed on rats, which doesn't necessarily prove the same link in humans. It is unlikely to do any harm, though.

4. Apple cider vinegar and acne 

No – this is the one health claim that hasn't been supported by any scientific research, and all the evidence is purely anecdotal. It may be that applying apple cider vinegar topically to the skin may help some types of acne because it's astringent and antibacterial, but there are many other skincare ingredients that have a proven efficacy against acne (e.g. salicylic acid) that you could try first. 

5. Apple cider vinegar and dandruff

There is some evidence that apple cider vinegar does help to balance the PH of your scalp, while many commercially made shampoos have been found to be too alkaline, which can lead to either a dry scalp that flakes and itches, or an oily scalp that's over-compensating for being stripped of its natural oils. Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic, which is actually good for the acid mantle of your scalp. Simply pour a solution of two to five tablespoons of the vinegar in water over your scalp after washing, let sit for a few minutes, then rinse. Try using a milder shampoo to maximise results. 

There is some evidence that ACV is anti-bacterial, so if your dandruff is caused by bacteria, then it might help. If the reason for your dandruff is different – a nutritional imbalance, for instance – it's likely you'll need to seek alternative treatments. Trial and error is useful here, and ACV certainly won't do any harm, so long as you used it diluted. 

How much apple cider vinegar should you drink? 

There is no exact recommended dosage, but anywhere between 1–2 teaspoons and 1–2 tablespoons a day is considered safe. One of the best ways to add apple cider vinegar to your diet is by mixing it into your salad dressing, but you can also dilute in a large glass of water (we recommend using a straw if you're planning on drinking it to limit contact with your teeth). It's always best to start with the smallest dosage to help your body get used to it. For maximum efficacy, always choose apple cider vinegar that's organic and unfiltered.

Is organic apple cider vinegar best?

Many people who are part of the online health and wellness community claim that to enjoy maximum efficacy, only apple cider vinegar with 'the mother' – the cloudy substance that is the by-product of vinegar production – should be used. The claim is that there are more of the beneficial nutrients in 'the mother' – however, there are no studies that have proved this. Instead, what has been shown to make a real difference is whether your apple cider vinegar was organically produced or not.