Exposure to industrial compounds that contain acetic acid, which is used in paint, pesticides, plastics, and textiles, is hazardous to your health. However, acetic acid is generally recognized as safe for use in foods. Acetic acid has been a staple of folk medicine for centuries all over the world. Whether acetic acid acts harmfully depends on the process of manufacture, the other chemicals making up the compound and the degree of dilution.
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The Chemistry of Acetic Acid
According to the "Magic Foods" series of books on the medicinal benefits of super-foods, acetic acid is "the sour-tasting compound that gives that characteristic tang to vinegar, pickles, and sourdough bread." Studies show acetic acid may have health benefits but scientists are not yet sure of how they happen. The chemical bonds in starches and sugars may be disrupted by acetic acid. Other theories are that acetic acid causes slower digestion or faster rates of transfer of sugar from your bloodstream to your muscles.
A common misconception is that all acetic acid is vinegar. Acetic acid is contained in vinegar, but you will also find it diluted in such things as pickles and eardrops. Vinegar is a pungent solution of 4 to 7 percent acid in water, commonly prepared by fermentation of fruit or distillation of grain. Diluted acetic acid lacks the piquant flavor, enzymes and vitamins specific to vinegar, but it also preserves food, has heath benefits and a sour taste.
Results of a research study in Japan suggest that acetic acid may help control blood pressure and fat accumulation. Investigators in Europe looked at the influence of sodium acetate and acetic acid on blood glucose and other biological responses to a mixed meal in healthy subjects. In the United States, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are researching the use of disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid to remove calcium from the plaque that clogs arteries and causes heart disease.
Available medications containing acetic acid have been approved by the FDA to treat infections of the outer ear canal, bacterial vaginitis, head lice and ear wax impaction. MayoClinic.com recommends acetic acid for conditions ranging from acetic drops for ear infections to diluted vinegar for thrush, plantar warts, nail fungus and impetigo. In discussing complementary and alternative medicine, MayoClinic.com recommends that you make sure to talk with your doctor.