Apple cider vinegar a treatment for obesity? What the experts say

After 12 weeks of drinking vinegar, participants lost about five to seven kilograms.

After 12 weeks of drinking vinegar, participants lost about five to seven kilograms. Photo: Getty

Can a small amount of apple cider vinegar, taken every day, cause overweight or obese young people to lose a significant of weight and reduce their BMI?

These are the findings of a new study that verges on ascribing magical properties to apple cider vinegar.

The results were so remarkable, that the Science Media Exchange asked a panel of experts to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the study.

The apple cider experiment

The study involved 120 people aged between 12 and 25.

These were split into groups that either drank a placebo or 5ml, 10ml or 15ml of apple cider vinegar each morning.

This would amount to drinking one to three teaspoons a day.

Participants recorded what they ate in a diet diary, and provided information on their physical activity: Diary entries and physical activity records scarcely differed between the groups throughout the study.

After 12 weeks the groups who drank the vinegar lost an average of about five to seven kilograms, while those who drank the placebo lost less than one kilo.

Overall, apple cider vinegar consumption was “associated with significant falls in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and in levels of blood glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol”.

Experts urge caution

The Science Media Exchange asked a number of experts to assess the study. There seemed to be agreement that the results were, on the face of it, impressive.

But various aspects of the study design were called into question, and some suggested the weight loss could have been facilitated by variables that hadn’t been accounted for or explored.

The findings of the research – from Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon – could be right. But they haven’t been wholly proven.

Some uncertainties and unknowns

Professor Helen Truby is a professorial research fellow (nutrition and dietetics) at The University of Queensland.

Via the Science Media Exchange, she said: “Although this study design has the ability to prove cause and effect there are some substantial problems in this study, which would make the conclusions drawn questionable.”

For one thing, she said, the subjects “were not weight stable at the beginning of the study, so may have been on a weight-loss journey before they began taking the vinegar”.

Also, diet and activity “were self-reported so we cannot be sure that these large weight losses were not due to lifestyle changes”.

Plus the use of weight-loss medications, if any, wasn’t reported.

Truby said the results reported here “are remarkable but would need to be reproduced in a more rigorously controlled environment before any confidence could be placed in their conclusions”.

The study was small

Dr Daisy Coyle is a research fellow and accredited practising dietitian at The George Institute for Global Health.

She said that one missing piece from the study was how participants’ diets influenced the outcomes.

“While participants kept diet diaries, specific details on calorie and/or macronutrient intake were not reported in the study,” she said.

Also, the study was small, with 120 people, and short in duration. And because it focused on young and overweight individuals, the findings can’t be extrapolated “to the broader population or draw conclusions about the long-term efficacy of apple cider vinegar”.

Coyle noted it was “important to consider potential longer-term side effects of apple cider vinegar, such as the impact of its acidic nature on dental health”.

Still, she conceded that apple cider vinegar “may offer some short-term health benefits, particularly for young and overweight individuals”.

But, she said, “it should not be viewed as a solution to Australia’s obesity epidemic”.

You can read the paper, published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health), here.

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