White Vinegar Benefits And Side Effects

White vinegar is the most common type of vinegar in American households. Look in most kitchen cupboards and you’re sure to find a bottle. That’s mainly because of its acetic acid, which not only gives recipes a distinct tart taste, but also works as a natural household cleaner. But it’s also this acetic acid that has several health benefits.

What is distilled vinegar?

Vinegar can be made from almost any food that contains natural sugars. When yeast is added, the natural sugars are fermented into alcohol. Bacteria is added, which further ferments the alcohol, turning it into acetic acid. Distilled vinegar on the other hand (also known as white vinegar) is somewhat confusing, because it’s not produced by a distillation process, per se, but instead from the fermentation of distilled alcohol.

As mentioned, the starting point for any vinegar can begin with several foods, but when it comes to distilled vinegar, made in the U.S., it’s usually made from corn. The fermentation is then diluted to produce five to seven percent acetic acid, with a pH of about 2.6. Distilled white vinegar is a basic, neutral-tasting vinegar that compliments salad dressings, marinades, pickles and homemade mayo recipes. It also has several health benefits and works as a safe, effective household cleaner and disinfectant.

Is white vinegar good for you?

Like all vinegar, there are benefits and there are risks to using it medicinally. But first, it’s important to note this: Although, white vinegar varies between acidity levels, for maximum health benefits do not consume it with a high concentration of acid. Choose a product that has a four to five percent acetic acid content. Otherwise, it might damage your digestive tract. In comparison, apple cider vinegar like Bragg’s (often used for its health benefits) has an acidity level of just over five percent. Now let’s have a look at how white vinegar can help benefit your health.

An antiseptic for wounds

White vinegar acts as an antiseptic for wounds.
White vinegar acts as an antiseptic for wounds.

In 420 BCE Hippocrates used vinegar medicinally to manage wounds, according to research from Arizona State University. And, in the 10th century, Sung Tse, the creator of forensic medicine, encouraged hand washing with sulfur and vinegar to avoid infection during autopsies.

The base to white vinegar is acetic acid, which gives vinegar its characteristic taste and smell. Acetic acid is a synthetic carboxylic acid with antibacterial and antifungal properties, suggests PubChem, which makes it an ideal antiseptic for treating wounds.

Weill Cornell Medical Hospital recommends treating wounds once daily with vinegar and water.

  1. Prepare a vinegar solution by mixing two tablespoons of white vinegar with two cups of water.
  2. Soak gauze with the vinegar solution and apply to the wound for five minutes.   
  3. Remove the wet gauze.
  4. Store in the refrigerator and use for up to five days.

Vinegar for diabetes

Eating vinegar with meals was used as a folk remedy for diabetes well before any pharmacologic glucose-lowering therapy. One of the best benefits of vinegar is its effect starch digestion. In fact, research by the Hellenic National Center for Research, Prevention and Treatment of Diabetes reported that vinegar improves insulin sensitivity in healthy individuals, as well as those with diabetes. Furthermore, consuming vinegar at bedtime has been shown to decrease fasting glucose levels in humans with type 2 diabetes.

How vinegar reduces glucose levels is still unclear. But what they do know is that acetic acid has been shown to delay gastric emptying in healthy people and patients with type 1 diabetes. Another thought is that acetic acid may suppress the carbohydrate absorption.

Vinegar for sunburn relief

The acetic acid in white vinegar acts a pain reliever for sunburnt skin that itches and is inflamed. Soak a soft cloth in white vinegar and apply it to the sunburned area. Leave it on until the cloth dries and repeat as needed. You can also add two cups of white vinegar to a warm bath to relieve the itch and burn.  

Cure for ringworm

Despite the name, ringworm is not caused by worms. Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus. You can become infected with this fungus from person to person contact, or from touching something that a person with ringworm has touched. You can even catch it from animals. But fear not, white vinegar can cure you of this fungus.

Simply soak a cotton ball with vinegar and gently cleanse the typical round, red, ring-like fungus. Just avoid the eyes. The acetic acid in the vinegar neutralizes the fungal infection, since fungus does not like acid. This is a safe and effective treatment for humans and animals alike. But it will take a few weeks to totally rid yourself or your pet of the fungus. Continue using the vinegar daily until the ringworm is gone.

Cure for athlete’s foot

White vinegar can cure the fungus associated with athlete's foot.
White vinegar can cure the fungus associated with athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot is also a fungus, so it stands to reason that white vinegar cures this as well. According to an Asian study, the antifungal activity of white vinegar is extremely powerful and is effective for mild forms of athlete’s foot. This fungal condition generally affects the toes, and causes redness and skin to peel. It may also burn and itch. Just soak your feet in a vinegar and water bath for 10 to 15 minutes daily until the infection subsides.

Cures toenail fungus

The antifungal properties of white vinegar also work for people who suffer from toenail fungus. Toenail fungus is unsightly and embarrassing. If your toenails are infected, white vinegar will kill the fungus. But, it does take time — even months — to rid yourself of toenail fungus. Make it a habit to bathe your feet in vinegar once a day.

Helps you feel fuller, longer

Two teaspoons of white vinegar mixed in water before a meal may also help you eat smaller portions and feel fuller longer. While there is no scientific data to prove this, many people swear that consuming vinegar prior to a meal helps them eat less.

Negative effects of vinegar on the body

If you are considering using vinegar as an alternative therapy, then it’s always important to understand the negative effects that may accompany long-term use.

Stomach irritation

Too much white vinegar may cause stomach irritation.
Too much white vinegar may cause stomach irritation.

Because of its acidity, drinking large amounts of white vinegar, undiluted, can irritate the stomach and may cause nausea, suggests Medscape.

Loss of potassium

Although rare, drinking large amounts of vinegar could interfere with potassium levels. Loss of potassium is also noted with long-term ingestion of 250 milliliters of vinegar per day.

Esophagus damage

Drinking vinegar undiluted may also result in injuries to the esophagus due to its acidity. But this is a rare adverse effect.

Damage to teeth

Drinking large amounts of white vinegar daily can damage your teeth by eroding the enamel, which in turn may cause cavities. Mixing vinegar with water and drinking it with a straw may limit the potential damage to your teeth.

Potential medication interactions

If you take a blood thinner or a diuretic, or you are on medication for diabetes, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist first before using vinegar as an alternative remedy.

Always choose unfiltered and organic

For health purposes, avoid the perfectly clear and clean varieties found at most grocery stores. Instead, look for white vinegar that is organic and unfiltered, and with a slight murkiness. You may even notice a cobweb-like substance floating in it. This is known as “mother,” which indicates that your vinegar is of good quality. Some manufacturers filter and pasteurize their product before bottling to prevent the “mother” from forming. It’s considered harmless and extremely beneficial for gut health. Enjoy!

— Katherine Marko

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