Vinegar Mechanisms and Side Effects

“Vinegar Mechanisms
and Side Effects” As I note in my chapter
on greens in my book, “How Not to Die”, vinegar may be one condiment
that’s actually good for you, though mustard could
be another. Randomized controlled trials
involving both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals
found that adding two little teaspoons of vinegar to a meal may
improve blood sugar control, effectively blunting the
blood sugar spike after a meal by about
20 percent. But how? Originally, we thought
it was because vinegar delayed the gastric
emptying rate, slowing the speed at which
a meal leaves your stomach, which makes sense,
because there’s acid receptors in the first part
of the small intestine where the stomach acid
is neutralized, and so if there
is excess acid, the body slows down
stomach emptying to give the intestine time
to buffer it all. So the acid in vinegar
was thought to slow the rate at which food leaves
the stomach resulting in a blunted sugar spike. But then studies like
this were published where taking apple cider
vinegar before bedtime resulted in lower blood
sugars the next day. How does that work? That’s obviously not some
acid-induced stomach-slowing effect, and indeed anyone who
actually went to the trouble of sticking an ultrasound
probe on someone’s stomach could have told you that— no difference in
stomach emptying times comparing vinegar to
neutralized vinegar. So it’s not just
an acid effect. Back to square one. Studies like this
offered the next clue. Vinegar appeared to have
no effect on blood sugars, but this was after
giving people straight glucose solution. Glucose is a byproduct of
sugar and starch digestion, and so if vinegar blunts
the blood sugar spike from cotton candy and Wonderbread,
but not glucose, maybe it works by
suppressing the enzymes that digest sugars
and starches. And indeed vinegar appears
to block the enzyme that breaks down
table sugar. But it wasn’t just
an acid effect, there appears to be
something unique about acetic acid,
the acid in vinegar. But this was based
on intestinal cells in a petri dish. What about in people? Feed people some
mashed potatoes with and without vinegar, and glucose flows into
the bloodstream at the same rate
either way, so that’s another
theory shot down. Okay, so let’s figure
this out. If sugar enters the
bloodstream at the same rate with or without vinegar, but vinegar leads to
significantly less sugar in the blood, then logically it must be
leaving the bloodstream faster, and indeed vinegar ingestion
appears to enhance sugar disposal by lowering insulin
resistance- the cause of
type 2 diabetes. And indeed vinegar ingestion
does appear to improve the action of insulin
in diabetics. So the mystery of how
vinegar works appears to have been
solved, at least in part. So diabetics can add vinegar
to their mashed potatoes, or just not eat
mashed potatoes. If you add vinegar
to a high fiber meal, nothing happens, explaining
results like this. No effects of vinegar in diabetics
in response to a meal. No surprise, because the
meal was mostly beans. But if you are going to
eat high glycemic index foods like refined grains,
vinegar can help, though there are
some caveats. Don’t drink vinegar straight, as it may cause
intractable hiccups and can burn your
esophagus… as can apple cider
vinegar tablets, if they get lodged
in your throat, not that apple cider
vinegar tablets necessarily actually have any apple cider
vinegar in them at all. Don’t pour it on your kid’s
head to treat head lice. It’s not harmful— except when it leaks
on to the face and penetrates the eyes, and it turns out it
doesn’t even work. It can cause 3rd degree burns if
you soak a bandage with it and leave it on. Though as many as a
total of 6 tablespoons a day of vinegar was not
associated with any side-effects in the short-term. Until we know more
maybe we’d want to stick with more common
culinary type doses, like two tablespoons
max a day. For example, drinking a total
of 2,000 cups of vinegar was found to be
a bad idea.