Apple cider vinegar is purported to have a number of impressive benefits. Chief among these is that apple cider vinegar can help you lose weight—allegedly. As I wrote previously, much of the hype around apple cider vinegar benefits is unsubstantiated by the available science. It has some provocative effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity that are not to be discounted, but otherwise, apple cider vinegar is not the miracle tonic some would have you believe.
I didn’t cover the question of whether apple cider vinegar can help you lose weight, though, so I’ll dig into that question today. I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical. You should be. Losing weight is a notorious struggle, especially if one follows conventional diet advice. If a cheap, readily available product could prompt dramatic weight loss, everyone would know about it. Apple cider vinegar would no longer be cheap and readily available because it would be the hottest commodity around.
So I think we all know that it’s not going to “melt the fat away” or any such nonsense. I’m more interested in whether it’s something you could add on top of an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle to give you a small leg up. And before you roll your eyes and accuse me of buying into some supermarket tabloid headline—One Secret Trick for Losing Weight without Even Trying!—there are some potentially interesting metabolic reasons to think that apple cider vinegar might do something here.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Weight Loss
If certain wellness influencers are to be believed, you can just drink apple cider vinegar or chomp down apple cider vinegar gummies or pills and watch the scale drop. Some people even swear that you can lose weight by putting apple cider vinegar on your feet. No, I’m not kidding.
You’ll be shocked to learn that these claims are overblown. They’re based on only two human studies (and a handful of rat studies that are suggestive but… still rats). In one, researchers put 44 adults on a low-calorie diet for 12 weeks.1 Half the participants also drank two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each day. The vinegar group lost 4 pounds on average, while the control group lost 2.3 pounds. That’s enough of a difference to be statistically significant, but it’s far from earth-shattering, especially when you consider that these folks dieted for three months to achieve such meager weight loss.
In the other study, 155 Japanese adults with BMIs between 25 and 30 drank zero, one, or two tablespoons of apple vinegar every day for 12 weeks.2 The vinegar drinkers ended up losing more body fat, both subcutaneous and the all-important visceral fat, compared to the no-vinegar control group. Weight loss was once again pretty modest: the low-dose (one tablespoon group) lost 2.6 pounds and 1.4 centimeters off their waists in 12 weeks, while the high-dose (two tablespoons) lost 3.7 pounds and 1.9 centimeters.
That’s it. I’d pay it little mind except in the Japanese study, the placebo (no vinegar) group gained a pound, while the vinegar groups both lost weight—even though they made no changes to their diets. All three groups ingested the same number of calories and the same amount of carbohydrates (around 300 grams per day) throughout the study.
That at least piques my interest. I’m not suggesting that everyone who is trying to lose weight should start drinking apple cider vinegar, but it does make me want to dig deeper simply for curiosity’s sake.
Why Apple Cider Vinegar Could Promote Weight Loss
Apple cider vinegar exerts a wide range of effects in the human body that, while not a panacea for weight loss, are pretty interesting. More specifically, the acetic acid in the vinegar has been widely studied, and scientists have developed a number of conjectures about what it does. To name a few:
Satiety: Participants in the first study described above had lower appetite when they drank vinegar. Other studies have found the same.3 The generally accepted explanation is that vinegar delays gastric emptying, meaning that food sits in your stomach for longer.4 The alternative, less pleasant, explanation is that vinegar makes you feel nauseous, so you don’t want to eat anything.5
AMPK activation: AMPK is part of the body’s energy barometer, helping the brain gauge how much energy you have on board and adjusting energy usage (fat burning versus fat storage, for example) and hunger accordingly. Greater AMPK activation can also suppress appetite and improve insulin sensitivity.6
Fat browning: Adipose tissue isn’t just the white globs you probably picture when you think of fat. Some is brown fat, so named because the mitochondria-rich cells take on a brown hue. Compared to white fat, brown fat is more metabolically active, meaning it burns more calories than white fat. When you consume acetic acid, it breaks down to acetate, and acetate has been shown to promote the “browning” of adipose tissue.7 This alone wouldn’t lead to massive weight loss, but its effects are non-zero.
Better blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity: Apple cider vinegar can help you get off the blood sugar spike-and-crash roller coaster that contributes to hunger and cravings.8
Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation plays a role in insulin resistance and obesity, whether as a cause or effect. Probably both. Acetate may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing gut permeability.9
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar
Again, I’m not saying anyone should start drinking apple cider vinegar for weight loss or any other reason, although it’s potentially interesting for glycemic control and possibly as an appetite suppressant. If you want to give it a shot, though, start by adding a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and drink it before a meal. (Swish with plain water after to get any lingering acid off your teeth.) That’s what the typical study protocol is at least. As for whether that’s the best or only way to achieve the benefits, I couldn’t say.
Don’t bother with the foot baths.
What about apple cider vinegar gummies or pills? It’s unclear how they stack up. One small study compared liquid vinegar with vinegar pills containing comparable amounts of acetic acid, and the pills were less effective at managing postprandial blood sugar spikes.10 That was only 12 participants, so it doesn’t necessarily mean the book is closed on pills or gummies, but it’s all we have to go on. The supplements are also considerably more expensive than grabbing a bottle of vinegar on your next grocery run.
The takeaway here is that apple cider vinegar (or acetic acid) has some interesting properties that lend it a measure of credence as a healthy addition to your diet. As someone who’s perpetually fascinated by the intricacies of the human body, I’ve enjoyed exploring the research here, but I didn’t come away believing that apple cider vinegar is likely to do anything more than give you a nudge in the right direction.
For folks who struggle to manage blood sugar or appetite, working apple cider vinegar into their diets via marinades or salad dressings, or even in a pre-dinner glass of water, probably couldn’t hurt. As a wellness trend, it’s not the silliest by far. Just temper your expectations.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.