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22.6.09

Vinegar Can Help Your Blood Sugar and Weight

By Jack Challem

If you have a hankering for dill pickles, your body may be trying to do a better job of controlling your blood sugar and weight. But it's not the dill pickles that are so great—it's the vinegar used to make the pickles.

Back in the 1970s, apple-cider vinegar was one of the hottest weight-loss supplement on the market. But doctors and dietitians dismissed it. After all, no one could explain why it would work, even if it did.

But today, a small number of university scientists have found that there may be something after all to the weight-loss benefits of vinegar. It stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels, reduces appetite, and helps people lose weight.

“Vinegar has a consistent history of use,” says Carol S. Johnston, Ph.D., a nutrition professor and researcher at Arizona State University, Mesa. “Hippocrates discussed it more than 2,000 years ago. When something is used for this long, there's usually something to it.”

Vinegar's effect on blood sugar would be enough to reduce appetite and weight. That's because controlling glucose and insulin levels reins in the extreme blood sugar swings that trigger hunger. But the latest studies on vinegar have found that much more is going on here.




Benefits in Diabetes and Prediabetes

In 2004, Johnston, a respected nutrition professor and researcher at Arizona State University, Mesa, reported that consuming a small amount of apple-cider vinegar could significantly diminish post-meal increases in glucose and insulin. That decrease would lessen a person's tendency toward diabetes.

Johnston and her colleagues wrote in the journal Diabetes Care that they fed 29 subjects a high-carb breakfast consisting of a white bagel, butter, and orange juice, providing 87 grams of carbohydrates. Some of the subjects were given 2 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar or placebos a couple of minutes before the meal. A week later, the subjects were “crossed over” so everyone consumed a meal with and without the vinegar. The subjects fell into three groups: healthy, insulin resistant (prediabetic), and type 2 diabetic.

What Johnson found was stunning. All of the subjects had significantly smaller post-meal increases in glucose and insulin. The insulin-resistant subjects' insulin function improved by 34 percent, and those with diabetes improved by almost 20 percent. Even the healthy subjects had a healthier response to the carbs.




Reduces Appetite

Recently, a team of Swedish researchers reported the results of two more studies with vinegar. Elin Ostman, Ph.D., of Lund University asked a group of 12 healthy men and women to eat 50 grams (about 3½ slices of bread, and on other occasions she asked the subjects to consume different amounts of household white vinegar with the bread.

When the men and women consumed 2 tablespoons of vinegar, their expected post-meal increases in both glucose and insulin levels were far less than expected. More significantly, the subjects felt less hungry 30 minutes, 90 minutes, and two hours after eating.

In another study, Ostman tested the effects of a vinaigrette dressing (containing two tablespoons of vinegar and about ½ tablespoon of olive oil) on the post-meal glucose and insulin responses of 13 men and women subjects. This time subjects were fed 50 grams of either boiled potatoes or boiled-and-refrigerated potatoes, first without the dressing and then with the dressing.

The vinaigrette dressing decreased the post-meal increase in glucose by 43 percent and the insulin response by 31 percent. Ostman also found that refrigerating the potatoes increased the amount of “resistant” starch, which further reduced the glucose and insulin response.




Weight-Loss Benefits

In November and December of 2004, Johnston tested whether vinegar might lower cholesterol levels in 30 men and women. She asked the subjects to take 2 tablespoons of vinegar or cranberry juice (as a placebo) before lunch and dinner for four weeks. Neither the vinegar nor the cranberry juice affected cholesterol levels, but Johnston was surprised by an unexpected benefit.

People in the vinegar group lost an average of two pounds in four weeks, and some lost four to five pounds,” she said in a telephone interview. “In the placebo group, people essentially maintained the same weight.” What's even more amazing, Johnston added, is that people usually eat more in November and December (because of the holidays) than they usually do, so the weight-loss benefits of vinegar may be even more impressive.




The Science Behind Vinegar

The big question: Why would vinegar help people lose weight?

It's the acetic acid in the vinegar. According to Johnston, just about any form of vinegar—white vinegar, balsamic vinegar, vinaigrette salad dressing—will work as long as there's enough and it contains at least 5 percent acetic acid.

Other researchers have shown that acetic acid inhibits the activity of various carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, including amylase, sucrase, maltase, and lactase. Basically, it's a natural starch and sugar blocker. When these enzymes are blocked, sugars and starches pass through the digestive tract much the way that indigestible fiber does, Johnston explains.

Acetic acid also seems to help convert glucose to glycogen, which is stored as a reserve fuel in muscle tissue. This actually helps athletes during their post-exercise recovery. But in converting glucose to glycogen, there's less demand for insulin and probably more efficient use of it.

“These mechanisms are very similar to how the drugs acarbose and metform work to decrease glucose levels,” says Johnston. “But vinegar costs only pennies and is completely safe.”

A lot of cultures eat pickled foods as appetizers, and the timing is perfect at the start of a meal, she points out. “I happen the think that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are related to the vinegar, not the olive oil.”




Scientific References

Johnston CS, Kim CM, Buller AJ. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 2004;27:281-282.

Ostman E, Granfeldt Y, Persson L, et al. Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005;59;983-988.

Leeman M, Ostman E, Bjorck I. Vinegar dressing and cold storage of potatoes lowers postprandial glycaemic andinsulinaemic responses in healthy subjects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005: epublication ahead of print.

Johnston CS. Strategies for healthy weight loss: from vitamin C to the glycemic response. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2005;24:158-165.

Ogawa N, Satsu H, Watanabe H, et al. Acetic acid suppresses the increase in disaccharidase activity that occurs during culture of caco-2 cells. Journal of Nutrition, 2000;130:507-513.

Fushimi T, Tayama K, Fukaya M, et al. Acetic acid feeding enhances glycogen repletion in liver and skeletal muscle of rats. Journal of Nutrition, 2001;131:1973-1977.

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