Alright I’m sure a lot of you have at least some type of vinegar in your cupboards right now -balsamic, red wine, rice, apple cider or maybe just some good ole white vinegar. BUT did you know it has several medicinal properties??
Let me explain.
Vinegar has long been used as an anti-microbial agent dating back to its use by the father of medicine, Hippocrates (420 B.C) who used it for wound management. Since then, vinegar has been implicated for numerous other medicinal effects, including - having a positive influence on cardio-metabolic factors like blood pressure, anti-tumor activity & a positive effect on blood glucose control.1
Regarding anti-tumor activity, most of the research has been either done in vitro (on acellular level in petri dishes) or in animal models. One in vitro study used sugar cane vinegar to induce cell death – or apoptosis – in human leukemia cells.2 A different study using animal models who were fed a rice vinegar fortified diet showed a significantly smaller tumor volume then the control group who were not fed rice-vinegar.3
Although the main mechanism is unclear, it is thought vinegar has anti-tumor effects due to the high concentration of an antioxidant family called polyphenols found in vinegar. Polyphenols are naturally produced by plants as a way of protecting against oxidative stress – aka free radicals – aka inflammation 1 . We can take advantage of these compounds which fight oxidative stress in us too. There is a lot of research looking into how polyphenols can protect us against cancer, but much more human research is needed to understand exactly how these foods are protective. Food sources rich in polyphenols other than vinegar include cacao, many fruits, vegetables and my favorite, wine (can I a hallelujah?!).
Aside from cancer protection, research is showing vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar. The anti-glycemic effect of vinegar is largely attributed to acetic acid. Several placebo-controlled trials have reported anywhere from a 20-30% reduction in blood sugar spikes when vinegar is eaten along with carbohydrates. This is exciting news for anyone dealing with blood sugar management problems! I utilize vinegar often in my clinical practice and consider it warranted for many diabetic patients.
So, what does this effect translate to in our day to day? It means if you eat bread with balsamic vinegar – a staple of the Mediterranean diet – you will likely have less spikes in blood sugar. This is fantastic because blood sugar stabilization is key for weight and stress management. When we dump huge amounts of sugar into our blood stream, our bodies release insulin to recruit our cells to gobble it up and utilize it for energy. However, large spikes in insulin also tell our bodies to store fat because our bodies realize we have way more fuel on board then we need for our cells. The key is to keep a level playing field by eating several small meals a day that focus on fat, fiber and protein.
One of my favorite aspects of vinegar is that it is a fermented food. Fermented foods are all but lost in the standard American diet, despite centuries of their prevalence in cultural cusine around the world. Fermented foods play a key role in maintaining optimal gut flora by supplying more of the “good” bacteria – namely lactobacillus & bifidobacterial species that keeps our microbiome happy and healthy. Fermented foods are also highlighted in my guide to adding more nutrient-dense foods into your everyday diet because I really don’t think they are talked about and included enough!
In summary, vinegar is a medicinal food that is being researched for a myriad of ascribed health benefits – ranging from fighting cancer to promoting healthy blood-sugar regulation. It is well tolerated by most people & is safe to be used along-side many standards of care treatments. There are TONS of ways to use it & I’d be willing to bet you have at least some form of it hiding in the depths of your kitchen. I hope this has inspired you to pull that dusty, unassuming bottle of vinegar you haven’t thought about using in ages out of the back of your cupboard and slather it on everything you can think of.
1 Johnston CS, Gaas CA. Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect. MedGenMed. 2006;8(2):61.
2 Nanda K, Miyoshi N, Nakamura Y, et al. Extract of vinegar “Kurosu” from unpolished rice inhibits the proliferation of human cancer cells. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2004;23:69–75
3 Seki T, Morimura S, Shigematsu T, Maeda H, Kida K. Antitumor activity of rice-shochu post-distillation slurry and vinegar produced from the post-distillation slurry via oral administration in a mouse model. Biofactors. 2004;22:103–105