Apple cider vinegar (ACV), a popular household staple, has long been touted as a remedy for numerous ailments. But is there any truth to the claim that drinking it can support sluggish adrenal glands?
A fermented beverage made from the juice of apples, the unfiltered version of this liquid — labeled as "with the mother" — contains visible strands of proteins, probiotics, trace minerals, enzymes, B vitamins and plant-based antioxidants known as polyphenolic compounds, according to the University of Chicago Medicine. It's these nutrient-dense strands that give ACV most of its (potentially) healing qualities.
ACV and Adrenal Fatigue
Many holistic websites claim that drinking a daily dose of ACV (typically, one tablespoon per day) may help improve adrenal fatigue, a health issue allegedly associated with the endocrine system wherein the adrenal glands lose their ability to produce hormones (including sex hormones and cortisol, the stress hormone).
This theory might have been inspired by the fact that fermented foods have been shown to boost gut health, according to Harvard Health Publishing; some wellness practitioners believe that a high-functioning digestive system provides for the proper absorption of nutrients, which in turn could help heal a burned-out endocrine system.
However, there's a major problem with this theory: Adrenal fatigue isn't a real disorder. "Adrenal fatigue is not an official medical term," Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color and Feed the Belly, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "It's a term used by wellness practitioners to refer to a state where a person's adrenal glands are being overtaxed due to chronic stress."
A systematic analysis of 3,470 articles and 58 studies published in the August 2016 issue of BMC Endocrine Disorders concluded that "adrenal fatigue is still a myth" and is not a recognized condition by any of the accredited endocrine societies. The authors also noted that an April 2016 Google search of the term "adrenal fatigue" led to 640,000 results, which may explain why the general public thinks adrenal fatigue is a thing.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center describe this mythical illness as a cluster of symptoms, including a weakened immune system, a decreased sex drive, difficulty in handling stress, and fatigue (accompanied by the need for stimulants such as caffeine and sugar, in order to stay awake). However, the adrenal glands actually produce additional cortisol (as well as other hormones) during times of stress. They don't break down.
Before You Try Adrenal Fatigue Treatment
Since adrenal fatigue is not a recognized disorder, there are no studies that show a possible connection with ACV. Actual adrenal insufficiency (called Addison's disease) is a rare condition diagnosed via a series of blood tests. According to the Mayo Clinic, Addison's disease is treated with hormone replacement therapy. While dietary changes may benefit some patients with adrenal insufficiency, these changes center on adopting a high-sodium diet, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. They don't have anything to do with ACV, and there's no evidence indicating that ACV helps prevent or improve adrenal insufficiency.
The Endocrine Society advises that people who don't have adrenal insufficiency but who show symptoms associated with "adrenal fatigue" get tested for each individual ailment. Per the organization, stress could be at the root of their symptoms, since stress can cause people to disregard their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Be wary of any practitioner or website that offers adrenal supplements, as well as any products touting adrenal support or adrenal cleanses. "If you are experiencing unexplained fatigue, body aches, weight loss, low blood pressure or other symptoms, you should see your doctor," says Largeman-Roth. "And of course, a balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lean proteins will help support your overall health."
- UChicago Medicine: "Debunking the Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Fermented Foods for Better Gut Health"
- Adrenal Fatigue Solution (for Theory): "Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help Your Adrenal Recovery?"
- BMC Endocrine Disorders: "Adrenal Fatigue Does Not Exist"
- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: "Debunking Adrenal Fatigue"
- Mayo Clinic: "Adrenal Fatigue: What Causes It?"
- NIDDK: "Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison's Disease"
- NIDDK: "Eating, Diet and Nutrition: What Should I Eat if I Have Adrenal Insufficiency?"
- Endocrine News/Endocrine Society: "The Myth of Adrenal Fatigue"