If you’ve spent enough time Googling information on managing arthritis with natural remedies, you’ve probably encountered information on apple cider vinegar. And some of it may sound pretty convincing.
Websites tout apple cider vinegar’s anti-inflammatory properties and proponents say drinking a few diluted tablespoons a day can treat a host of health problems — from arthritis to weight gain to dandruff to sore throats.
One site claims that “mineral deficiencies in the body can make joint pain worse. Because apple cider vinegar contains the calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus your body needs, it helps as a supplement and therefore reduces pain.” Another affirms that “being a good diuretic and laxative, apple cider vinegar helps eliminate toxins from the body.”
Apple cider vinegar’s health claims have endured since ancient times. According to the label on a bottle of Bragg apple cider vinegar, back in 400 B.C. the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, used apple cider vinegar for its amazing health qualities.
Many centuries later, a British nurse, Margaret Hills, who developed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and later osteoarthritis in the early 1960s, popularized using apple cider vinegar specifically to manage arthritis symptoms. At the time, aspirin was the primary medication available. Hills claimed that consuming apple cider vinegar (along with nutritional supplements, molasses, and Epsom salt baths) led her to a pain-free life. She promoted the approach in a book and later established a clinic that is run by the niece she trained before her death in 2003.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Arthritis: What Do Experts Think?
But what do rheumatology experts think about apple cider vinegar as an arthritis remedy?
When British rheumatologist Robert Moots reviewed the use of complementary and alternative medicine for rheumatoid arthritis in older patients in a 2017 study, he found little use of apple cider vinegar.
“While apple cider vinegar is still used by some people as a complementary remedy for RA in the United States, it is rarely used in European countries such as the United Kingdom,” says Moots, who works about 130 miles from the current Margaret Hills Clinic.
Among the many natural remedies patients were using, Moots and his colleagues found some that were scary — such as thunder god vine, which can cause serious side effects — and some backed by compelling scientific evidence (see below).
Despite the hype and testimonials for apple cider vinegar still found online, Moots finds no reason to recommend apple cider vinegar as an arthritis remedy, but also nothing especially worrisome if people want to give it a try.
“There is no research on apple cider vinegar and no evidence to support using it for rheumatoid arthritis,” says Moots, a professor of rheumatology at the University of Liverpool.
Here’s what we know about apple cider vinegar — and why it’s unlikely to be an effective arthritis remedy.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Natural apple cider vinegar is fermented from crushed apples, which makes it different from other refined or distilled vinegars. It is mildly acidic, with a pH of around 3. Like other vinegars, it is a diluted form of acetic acid, but it also contains a murky substance called “the mother,” which is said to contain enzymes, pectin (the soluble fiber found in apples), and tiny amounts of minerals.
How Do You Use Apple Cider Vinegar?
Swigging full-strength apple cider vinegar might damage your tooth enamel or your esophagus. Because of the acidity and taste, a couple of tablespoons a day of apple cider vinegar is usually diluted in water and sweetened by adding honey. Some sites suggest you can also apply it topically to painful areas, or add it to a bath.
Why Do Proponents Think Apple Cider Vinegar Treats Arthritis?
People think that apple cider vinegar has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve arthritis symptoms, but there’s no proof that apple cider vinegar helps lower levels of inflammation in humans. In one study of obese rats, consumption of fruit vinegars lowered levels of the inflammatory chemical C-reactive protein, but there wasn’t much of a change in humans who tested apple cider vinegar for a medical program on British television. (However, there have not been large, randomized studies on people to know for sure whether apple cider vinegar could help relieve arthritis symptoms.)
The amount of vitamins and minerals in apple cider vinegar, according to the United States Department of Agriculture database, is miniscule.
Proponents often point to pectin as the reason apple cider vinegar might help control arthritis pain and keep weight under control. Not true, says Moots.
“People who take apple cider vinegar think that pectin helps. There is no science behind this and no evidence at all to support this,” Moots says. Apple cider vinegar actually contains little or no pectin. You can consume far more pectin just by eating a fresh apple.
What Are Better Natural Remedies for Arthritis?
While Moots doesn’t suggest wasting your money on apple cider vinegar products, he isn’t against alternative treatments across the board. If you’re looking to add a complementary treatment backed by some evidence to your medication regimen, he suggests following a Mediterranean diet or taking a fish oil supplement.
“These may or may not work, but they are worth trying,” he says.
- Mediterranean diet: In two studies reviewed by researchers at the University of Canberra in Australia, this heart-healthy way of eating (which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish) led to less pain and other RA symptoms — and in one study to a significant reduction in disease activity. Here are more anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: In two recent 12-week studies, people who consumed a daily fish-oil supplement (in addition to standard treatment with MTX and folic acid) decreased their pain and disease activity. Fish oil is one of a few types of supplements doctors approve to help with inflammatory arthritis.