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Vinegar Not Beneficial for Weight Loss, Study Shows

Salad with vinaigrette
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Key Takeaways

  • Acetic acid, found in vinegar, has been touted as a treatment for high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, and obesity.
  • A systematic review of 16 studies on acetic acid found that it has a small effect for lowering blood sugar and triglycerides but no effect on cholesterol levels or weight loss.
  • More studies are needed to pinpoint the correct dose and long-term efficacy of acetic acid for type 2 diabetes and high triglycerides.

If you’ve ever dabbled with weight loss, you’ve probably noticed ads for the fat-burning power of apple cider vinegar. You may have also wondered “does it really work?” For many years, acetic acid, found in apple cider vinegar, has been advertised as a solution for everything from high blood sugar to high cholesterol to weight loss.

In a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers reviewed acetic acid and its effects on blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and body fat percentage.???? Among other results, they found no impact on weight, body fat percentage, or BMI.

What Is Acetic Acid

Of course, it’s always desirable to find a food or beverage with therapeutic effects for type 2 diabetes, heart health, or your weight, especially if it has fewer side effects than a medication. For years, researchers have been exploring whether acetic acid can be beneficial.

Acetic acid is a by-product of fermentation. It’s what gives vinegar its characteristic sour taste, and it is also found in fermented foods such as kimchi.

Much of the research on the benefits of acetic acid for weight loss or blood sugar control come from animal studies, which have been erroneously extrapolated to humans.?????

Some human studies have shown promising results for using acetic acid on post-meal glucose response or as an add-on to other treatments for type 2 diabetes.???????

But many of these studies have weak designs or were not conducted for long enough to determine any effect, so the answers remain elusive.??

What Did this Meta-Analysis Find?

The best way to examine the totality of the research is to perform a meta-analysis and systematic review. That’s when many studies on the same subject are grouped together to get robust, evidence-based answers. In this case, researchers combed through 4,246 studies on these topics and narrowed down their analysis to 16 studies that met specific criteria.

The 16 studies included in the analysis were all randomized controlled trials conducted in humans, not animals. The studies all lasted at least one week, used acetic acid as a food or drink (rather than a pill), and measured blood glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, and/or body mass index (BMI).

From the meta-analysis, researchers learned that consuming between 750–3,600 mg of acetic acid daily for up to 12 weeks showed:???

  • No changes in weight, body fat percentage, or BMI
  • Slightly lower fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes
  • No effect on HbA1c, a measure of blood glucose over time
  • Slight reduction in triglycerides in adults with overweight and obesity and people with type 2 diabetes
  • No changes in HDL or LDL cholesterol levels

Dr. Nicole Kellow is a senior research fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics & Food at Monash University in Australia and was one of the researchers on this study.

She notes that the effects on blood glucose and triglycerides were quite small, so longer trials are needed to see if there are larger effects over a longer period of time.

“According to the research conducted so far, there seems to be limited metabolic benefits associated with daily acetic acid consumption, but trials of longer duration (at least 3 months) are needed to confirm this,” says Kellow.

The researchers say that 10 of the 16 studies in the meta-analysis showed a high level of bias, and four had an unclear risk of bias. Plus, some studies were poorly designed.

“Many studies did not look at the acetic acid content of participants' usual diet, and no studies measured the acetic acid concentration in participants' blood to see if it increased enough to have health benefits,” explains Kellow.

Rosie Schwartz, RD

While acetic acid may indeed offer benefits, including it in your daily routine doesn't take the place of current recommended lifestyle strategies for blood sugar control, triglycerides, cholesterol, and/or weight control.

— Rosie Schwartz, RD

Benefits of Acetic Acid

Acetic acid is known to have some benefits for human health.

“Locally, acetic acid in the large intestine helps to keep intestinal cells healthy, and systemically, acetic acid is absorbed into the bloodstream and positively impacts the function of organs and tissues throughout the body,” says Kellow.

Rosie Schwartz, RD, a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice, enjoys vinegar in salad dressing but doesn’t recommend it alone as a therapeutic agent.

“While acetic acid may indeed offer benefits, including it in your daily routine doesn't take the place of current recommended lifestyle strategies for blood sugar control, triglycerides, cholesterol and/or weight control,” says Schwartz.

Dietitian and blogger Brittany Brockner MS, RD, LD, in Long Island, NY, agrees. “It should not be used as a replacement for traditional treatments,” she says. “Instead, use it as an addition to your diet. Add it to dressings or marinades for a tasty and nutritious boost.”

 

Adding Acetic Acid to Your Diet

If you choose to add 750–3,600 mg of acetic acid to your diet for the mild effects on lowering blood sugar levels, do it in conjunction with a balanced diet and some physical activity.

The studies in the meta-analysis used different sources of acetic acid, including:??

  • Red date vinegar
  • Fermented kimchi
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • White vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Pomegranate vinegar

“The amount of acetic acid delivered in these studies could easily be consumed through 1-2 tablespoons (15ml to 30ml) of vinegar per day,” says Brockner.

Whether you choose balsamic, malt, or apple cider vinegar, most contain between 4% to 6% acetic acid.?? Choose the one you prefer for flavor.

Other than using vinegar in salad dressing, Schwartz recommends adding a generous splash to dishes like a vegetable or lentil soup, ratatouille, meat stew, roasted vegetables, or stir-fry sauce.

Acetic Acid and Your Teeth

“It's best to avoid drinking vinegar as a beverage because it’s an acid, so it can erode your tooth enamel and irritate your throat and esophagus,” says Schwartz.

Kellow says that the longest study included in her team’s review only lasted 12 weeks, so erosion of tooth enamel was not reported because the duration wasn’t long enough to see any negative effects.

There’s no need to drink vinegar anyway, given its uses on a variety of foods. Also, Schwartz says that its effectiveness is greater when incorporated into food, due to the longer time of exposure of its active ingredient within the intestine.

Kellow notes that there have been some reports of large quantities of vinegar resulting in electrolyte disturbances in people taking diuretic medication, and she advises speaking with a doctor or pharmacist before drinking vinegar.

What’s Next?

As noted in the meta-analysis, most of the studies have been quite short (eight weeks on average), so longer studies are needed to note any true long-term effects of acetic acid on human health.

What This Means For You


It’s too soon to recommend acetic acid as a therapeutic agent because the studies cannot yet pinpoint the correct daily dosage, how long it needs to be taken for, and how many times daily to take it.

“Acetic acid likely needs to be consumed on a number of occasions during the day in order to maintain increased acetic acid levels in the blood,” says Kellow.

She says that if acetic acid is taken as a supplement in the future, it will need to be consumed in a form that allows it to reach the large intestine. “There are studies currently in progress investigating this,” says Kellow.

 

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