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Health & Nutrition

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is hyped as a miracle food that can prevent or cure everything from heart disease to cancer.  But like most "miracle food" claims the actual evidence has been blown greatly out of proportion, and it's likely that the real benefits (if any) are much more modest.  The research to date has been preliminary and very limited, and although some encouraging results were seen there isn't enough data yet to conclude that vinegar is actually effective. The only reasonably well-documented benefit of internal use is that vinegar seems to help regulate the blood glucose levels of some diabetics; everything else is unproven at best (Johnston & Gaas, Medscape, How Stuff Works).  Most of the research was on rice vinegar not on ACV, or on acetic acid which is plentiful in all vinegars and is the only component that is plentiful in ANY vinegar. 

Apple cider vinegar’s curative powers are based on three main arguments: the acid-alkaline theory of illness, vitalism, and special medicinal properties of nutrients beyond preventing or treating deficiencies. None of these arguments have any validity (Junkfood Science). 

There's nothing special about ACV. Vinegar can be made from any kind of fruit or other source containing sugar.  The first step is fermentation using yeasts to change the sugar into alcohol.  The second step uses bacteria to change the alcohol into acetic acid. Common bases for vinegar include corn (most white vinegar), grapes (wine vinegar), apples (ACV), and rice. The different types of vinegar are not identical to each other and vary in their appearance and flavor, but for medical purposes it appears that acetic acid is the only meaningful "active ingredient" in vinegar since the quantity of everything else in it is so small. So if vinegar actually does provide some health benefits, all vinegars are expected to have similar effects.   To the extent that anything else in a particular vinegar might be beneficial, you should be able to obtain that same compound by eating the source food used to make the vinegar; for example, apples are a better source of nutrients than apple cider vinegar since they are a whole food and vinegar is a processed food. 

It's claimed that ACV is high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  It DOES contain more nutrients than distilled white vinegar, but the amount is insignificant (NutritionData).  You'd have to drink gallons of the stuff to get a significant amount of nutrients, and it's unhealthy to consume too much acid so it's dangerous to do that.  You'll get more nutrients from eating a bite of broccoli than from a spoonful of vinegar.

It's also claimed that you need ACV containing "the mother" to get the alleged benefits, but it doesn't look like the mother actually provides any benefits.  Mother of Vinegar is Acetobacter aceti bacteria and other debris left over from the fermentation process, and the only real purpose it serves in a bottle of vinegar is to prove that the vinegar wasn't filtered to remove these impurities. The bacteria in the mother are neither helpful nor harmful to humans, and presumably this applies to animals too. Acectobacter sometimes occurs in the gut flora of fruit flies but apparently hasn't been documented in the gut flora of vertebrates.  Acetobacter is not on the list of intestinal flora for either birds or humans (Waite & Taylor, Xenoulis et al, Styles, Orosz, Wikipedia). I couldn't find any scientific sources saying that Acetobacter had any health benefits, just that it wasn't harmful.

These bacteria are ubiquitous (Swings & De Ley) so you're bound to ingest some whether you consume vinegar or not.  Having this material in your vinegar would provide a small amount of nutrients since bacteria could be viewed as a microscopic form of meat.  But eating a bite of real food would provide a lot more nutrients than consuming a small amount of vinegar bacteria.

The Bragg company (the biggest seller of ACV containing the mother) hypes the enzyme content of the mother and doesn't really talk about any other aspect of it. Food enzymes are mostly worthless to the animal that eats them, so the only obvious benefit here is to Bragg's cash flow. In a rare moment of refreshing honesty, the infamous Mercola quack website (which is pro-ACV) describes the mother as "a non-toxic slime composed of yeast and acetic acid bacteria". 

Side note on the Bragg company:  the company's website indicates that founder Paul Bragg and his "daughter" and successor Patricia Bragg have PhDs.  But it is strangely silent on where, when and how they got these PhDs. There is convincing evidence that Paul Bragg was a chronic liar (A Healed Planet) and Patricia is following in his footsteps (Wikipedia).  She is not his daughter BTW; she is his ex-daughter-in-law, and there is something very odd-looking about that relationship (Wikipedia Talk).  It seems wise to not put too much confidence in their credentials claims, or in anything else that they say.  Apparently Paul Bragg was anti-vinegar until someone else popularized it, and it turned into an easy way to make money (Wikipedia Talk).  For more claims about Paul Bragg that do not provide supporting evidence, including a statement that he only had one year of high school, see Doug's Republic and HiLoBrow.

Getting back on topic:  Vinegar does appear to have anti-microbial effects against some but not all types of microorganisms if it comes into physical contact with them. In birds, it appears to be helpful in preventing yeast or bacterial infections (particularly with birds that have recurring yeast infections), and it may also be useful for treating mild infections.  There are other food substances that appear to have a similar effect, particularly lemon juice (also a mild acid) and the capsaicin in cayenne pepper and other hot chili peppers. With all these home remedies, it's important to use them in moderation because all are harmful in excessive amounts.  You should consult an avian veterinarian for serious infections or for cases where you're not sure what the problem is. A bird that is showing symptoms may be seriously ill and prompt, appropriate treatment is needed.

The reason that vinegar and other substances may be helpful for yeast infections isn't really known. Contrary to popular belief, you can NOT use vinegar or other food to change the pH of the body, and even some members of the alternative community will tell you that the notion of "alkalizing the body" is bunk (Kresser, Kim), and mainstream sources agree (Quackwatch, WebMD). The digestive acids in the lower part of the digestive tract are much stronger than vinegar or lemon juice, and should be far more effective against microbes.  Foods can't change the acidity of anything in your body except your urine (Quackwatch), and the pH of urine doesn't affect other body parts or tell us anything about their pH.

It seems likely that the acid in vinegar helps stop the proliferation of undesirable microorganisms in the food, water, and/or upper digestive tract (primarily the crop) by creating a more acidic local environment that is unfriendly to these microbes.  Microorganisms tend to thrive in warm, moist environments that contain nutrients they can use.  Water and moist foods are a good environment for many microbes to grow in.  The crop is basically a nice warm holding pouch for food that hasn't seriously started the digestion process yet, and it doesn't contain the powerful digestive juices that are found further down the line.  So it's an excellent breeding ground for microbes. 

It is NOT recommended to use vinegar with birds every day, and some people think that you shouldn't use it at all unless recommended by an avian veterinarian to deal with a specific problem.  When you put ACV in a bird's water, you are tampering with the natural pH of the bird's crop. But the natural pH is something that evolved because it serves the species well as a general rule, and Mother Nature knows more about the situation than we do. It seems unwise to tamper with nature unless nature's way isn't working very well and there's an obvious need to intervene. Vets will sometimes recommend the use of vinegar for a bird that has chronic problems with crop infections, and that's certainly a situation where altering the pH of the crop might make it a less friendly environment for microbes. But a healthy bird is managing just fine on its own, and your attempt to help could do more harm than good. The people recommending ACV for all birds haven't identified a real problem and a logical way to solve it; they've succumbed to marketing hype.

For those who do use ACV, the dosage recommendations vary.  It's usually added to the drinking water, and one teaspoon to 16 ounces of water seems to be the most common ratio.  The recommendations on frequency vary too; some people use it once or twice every week, while others like to use it for several consecutive days (not longer than a week) once every two months or so.  Some birds refuse to drink water that doesn't taste normal, so if you use vinegar you should watch to make sure that your bird isn't getting dehydrated.

Semi-related side note: Just as ACV is often recommended as a treatment for crop infections, there are some sources who recommend giving colloidal silver to birds (including babies in the nest) as a treatment for crop infections.  This is not a route that I would want to take. 

Although silver is accepted for medical use as an antimicrobial agent on skin wounds like burns, it has no demonstrated benefits for internal use and it has a major, well-documented side effect.  The medical profession abandoned the internal use of silver after the 1930s as better, less risky treatments became available. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which exists to identify beneficial "alternative" treatments and integrate them into mainstream medicine, has nothing positive to say about its safety or effectiveness, and quite a bit that's negative.

The toxicity of silver is low, but contrary to what some sources claim it has no function in the body.  So when we eat it, it will accumulate in the body like any other mineral that we eat and don't subsequently use.  It won't poison us directly like accumulated lead and mercury do, but it can cause a permanent change in skin color called argyria.  This is often described as a blue color, which inspires jokes about Smurfs, but it really looks more like grey.

Here are some website articles discussing the quackery behind the colloidal silver fad:  Eskeptic (scroll down), Science-Based Medicine, Quackwatch, RationalWiki, ScienceBlogs Ray Sahelian MD, who doesn't actually have an opinion on the subject, provides information on studies involving colloidal silver.

Colloidal silver is known to have antibacterial effects on the skin, so it's certainly possible that it might also have an effect in the crop.  But why would you want to use a substance that causes an irreversible buildup of metal in the body when there are several other "home remedy" treatments that don't have this problem and are likely to be equally effective? ACV, lemon juice, and cayenne peppers have known antibacterial effects, and they're foods not an indigestible metal.  Home remedies have their limitations but may be useful in mild, early-stage cases. Consult a veterinarian and get some real medicine for more severe cases.

Copyright 2014-2019 Carolyn Tielfan all rights reserved