For centuries, apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been touted as a healing tonic. A tangy liquid made from the fermented juice of chopped apples, ACV's main component is acetic acid.
And raw, unfiltered ACV — the type you want to shop for — is traditionally labeled "with the mother," thanks to the benefit-boasting murky strands floating inside the bottle. Those strands are composed of B vitamins, enzymes, proteins and probiotics, so it's no wonder wellness practitioners have claimed health benefits ranging from weight loss to blood sugar regulation to eczema improvement.
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But could a daily dose of ACV have a positive — or negative — effect on the body's pH level?
First off, What Is pH Balance?
For starters, pH stands for "potential of hydrogen." A pH level is based on a scale ranging from 0 to 14, indicating the acidity or alkalinity of substances such as soil, food, beverages or blood. The lower a substance's pH level, the more hydrogen ion compounds it contains and the more acidic it is. The higher a substances' pH level, the fewer hydrogen ion compounds it contains and the more alkaline it is. A neutral solution, such as water, has a pH of 7, putting it square in the middle of the scale.
When it comes to the natural pH levels in the human body, measurements vary. For example, the average person's skin has a pH level between 4 and 6.5; this acidity acts as a protective barrier against harmful microorganisms and environmental pollutants. On average, the human stomach has a pH level between 1.35 and 3.5, according to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color and Feed the Belly. Its high acidity breaks down proteins and aids in digestion.
"Meanwhile, the body [as a whole] maintains a very tight and slightly alkaline pH level between 7.35 to 7.45," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. "Our body has many systems in place to maintain healthy pH levels, and our lungs and kidneys help keep it regulated. But if our pH changes outside of [the normal] range, dangerous health consequences can occur."
For example, an excess of acid in the body, known as metabolic acidosis, is a sign of chronic kidney failure and can contribute to kidney disease progression, according to an April 2014 report in BMC Nephrology.
Read more: How to Restore the pH Balance in Your Body
Apple Cider Vinegar pH
Some wellness practitioners believe that sipping a diluted daily serving of ACV (one to two tablespoons, according to the University of Washington) can ultimately "improve" the body's pH, meaning blood pH becomes more alkaline. However, other experts in the wellness industry theorize that the acidity in this ancient home remedy can actually offset the body's natural acid-base balance.
Both Largeman-Roth and Palinski-Wade say that drinking a glass of water containing a small amount of ACV won't change your body's blood pH level (for better or worse). The reason? Your system won't allow it.
"Whether the food you eat is acid-producing [such as ACV] or alkaline-promoting [such as legumes], it all goes into the acidic environment of the stomach," notes Largeman-Roth.
"The acidic and alkaline properties of food are neutralized during digestion," agrees Palinksi-Wade. Excess acid or alkali is released in our pee, which is why urine pH levels fluctuate, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "But the food you eat will not change your body's blood pH levels outside of the tight pH range," observes Palinski-Wade.
Some say that following a diet high in alkaline foods — which would mean a regimen without ACV — may help prevent or cure cancer. But the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) concurs with Largeman-Roth and Palinski-Wade, stating that although studies have shown that cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment and are unable to survive in an alkaline environment, this outcome only pertains to cells in a lab setting. The AICR observes that creating a less acidic environment in the body is "virtually impossible."
Read more: Benefits of Drinking Water With Apple Cider Vinegar
While drinking ACV won't have positive or negative effects on your pH levels, both Palinski-Wade and Largeman-Roth do not see any harm in incorporating the liquid into your meal plan.
"ACV may be beneficial in small amounts," says Palinski-Wade. "Consistent findings in the small number of studies that are available seem to indicate it could have a positive benefit on weight and blood sugar control," per an April 2018 study in Journal of Functional Foods and a May 2017 study in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, respectively.
Both registered dietitians suggest mixing the vinegar with olive oil to make a salad dressing or marinade, or adding it to a glass of water or smoothie. "Always, always, always dilute ACV and take it with a meal," warns Palinski-Wade. "Due to its acidity, too much of it can upset your stomach and even cause tissue damage to your esophagus."
- University of Chicago Medicine: "Debunking the health benefits of ACV"
- Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice: "Vinegar Consumption Can Attenuate Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses; a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Clinical Trials"
- Journal of Functional Foods: "Beneficial Effects of Apple Cider Vinegar on Weight Management, Visceral Adiposity Index and Lipid Profile in Overweight or Obese Subjects Receiving Restricted Calorie Diet: a Randomized Clinical Trial"
- University of Washington: "Beyond the Hype: ACV as an Alternative Therapy"
- Columbia University Irving Medical Center: "The pH Diet: Facts and Fiction"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Alkaline Diets"
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Alkaline Diet: What cancer patients should know"
- BMC Nephrology: "Metabolic Acidosis and the Progression of Chronic Kidney Disease"