Our nutritionist examines whether apple cider vinegar pills have any real health benefits, or if they're just a waste of money. 

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
Updated February 22, 2019
Cooking Light, Getty Images

Consuming apple cider vinegar for health purposes dates as far as back as Hippocrates' time, yet is still popular today. There are now even apple cider vinegar pills one can take to avoid an acidic mouthful. But are there true, science-backed benefits to taking apple cider vinegar pills, or even some vinegar, daily? Any perhaps more importantly, are there any risks?

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Vinegar is made when a carbohydrate-rich substance like grapes, apples, or rice is allowed to ferment. This creates alcohol that, if allowed to sit, will eventually form acetic acid (which explains the French meaning of vinegar “sour wine.”) To create apple cider vinegar, yeast is allowed to ferment crushed apples. The final product ends up containing around 5 to 6% acetic acid, along with water, a few vitamins and minerals, and “the mother,” a slimy substance of yeast and bacteria similar to the sediment found in kombucha.

The mother was often filtered out in the past, but some manufacturers such as Bragg leave it in for the possible probiotic benefits. Even though vinegars appear to be similar in makeup and health potential, apple cider vinegar is a common choice due to its slightly sweet flavor.

Claims and Research

Online search results suggest that daily consumption of apple cider vinegar has a multitude of positive health effects, so I compared a few of the top claims to current research.

Claim #1: Apple cider vinegar can decrease blood sugar.

Some research suggests that consuming vinegar with a meal may reduce the body’s glucose response. While most of these studies are very small (≤16 subjects), a 2017 meta-analysis suggested that consuming vinegar with a meal (a little over 1 tablespoon or 20g of cider, white or wine vinegar) reduces glucose and insulin following that meal in both healthy individuals and those with prediabetes or metabolic disorders.

Verdict: Vinegar isn’t a cure-all or standalone treatment for diabetes or higher glucose levels. However, consuming small amounts of vinegar with or in meals may possibly help to moderate the body’s glucose and insulin response in healthy individuals, as well as those working to keep blood sugar within normal parameters.

Claim #2: Apple cider vinegar reduces belly fat and aids in weight loss.

Acetic acid in apple cider vinegar is often touted as having the ability to increase fat burning and to reduce fat storage. While lower glucose and insulin levels may aid this somewhat, research around vinegar and weight loss is limited and primarily from studies with rats. Also, studies that suggest a slight increase in rate of weight loss in humans included following lower-calorie diets, making it hard to identify if vinegar had any specific effect.

Verdict: Stick to the gym and a healthy diet. If vinegar does play a role in weight loss, it appears it may be due to increased satiety and decreased appetite, some of which may be due to feelings of nausea from consuming vinegar.

Claim #3:  Apple cider vinegar reduces cholesterol and heart disease risk.

Claims that apple cider vinegar can reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure have circulated for years. Studies with rats have suggested that consuming small amounts of vinegar daily may show improvements in lipid values associated with heart disease. However, research is limited in humans, and I could find no studies to support the claim that vinegar can improve blood pressure.  

Verdict: Research on vinegar’s effects in terms of heart health is very limited – especially when compared to research that supports the effects that increasing soluble fiber, decreasing saturated fat, and decreasing sodium have on heart disease risk.

More on apple cider vinegar:

What's Better: Apple Cider Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar Pills?

Even though it’s a cooking staple, vinegar is classified as a “potent caustic substance” and can cause mild to severe esophageal burns, difficulty in swallowing, and erosion of tooth enamel when taken in larger amounts. These factors, along with the fact that vinegar is a pretty unpleasant-tasting mouthful, are likely why apple cider vinegar pills grew so quickly in popularity once hitting the market.

Most pills contain a powder form of apple cider vinegar which equates to about 2 teaspoons, but I could find no research examining the potency of this powder or if powder is comparable to liquid vinegar in terms of benefits. Many apple cider vinegar pills currently on the market contain additional ingredients such as cayenne pepper, ginger, maple syrup powder, cinnamon, chromium picolinate, ketones, or herb derivatives, and it’s also key to remember that these pills are classified as a supplement—meaning there’s little FDA oversight of contents or health effects.

The research surrounding apple cider vinegar is limited and pretty inconclusive in terms of specific health benefits which  makes it hard to support daily consumption of vinegar by itself in liquid or pill form. However, there’s no reason not to regularly incorporate apple cider vinegar, as well as other vinegars, into salad dressings, sauces, and recipes. And eating a large leafy green salad with olive oil vinaigrette each day offers a lot more nutrients and potential health benefits than just a single shot of vinegar—not to mention it tastes a lot better, too!