organic ACV detox drink with honey and lemon

Apple Cider Vinegar For Allergies & Asthma: Hype vs. Science

[toc]If a certain internet superstar chiropractor doctor is to be believed, this sour golden liquid is among the top natural allergy fighters. Or so he says.

How does it help? Other than generic statements like “boosting immunity” and alkalinity in the body, he doesn’t provide any scientific reasons as to why it may help a runny nose or with breathing difficulties. Nor does he explain why this “treatment” take several weeks for results and needs to be used on a regular basis.

Now just because there are reviews from empty suits like that, it doesn’t necessarily mean one should cast off the whole idea. Might there really be something to this, as many personal testimonials allege? Let’s take a look at the science…

Studies and medical literature

With well over 30 million records, the PubMed database is the most comprehensive source for peer-reviewed medical literature.

It’s run by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, but don’t draw the conclusion it’s censored because it’s the government.

Whether they like it or not, any clinical study that is published in a peer-reviewed medical journal will be listed in PubMed. Even the most controversial topics like cancer treatments involving soursop and elderberry for colds. Each of those has hundreds of related papers listed in PubMed.

So how many are about ACV for skin allergies, rhinitis, asthma attacks, and other things along those lines?

PubMed search results for allergy studies about cider vinegar

That’s right, zero. All this hype has literally nothing to substantiate it. There’s not even research on rats or cultured cells in the lab! Likewise for apple cider vinegar and COVID-19 coronavirus. That is another myth with zero research. Do NOT use it for any viral infection!

Using those and various other keywords, the closest thing we could find was an article published in a 1987 issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which was titled:

“Management of patients using unproven regimens for arthritis”

In it they talk of “allergy diets” and apple cider vinegar and honey drinks being used for arthritis. So really they were talking about two different things. (1)

The date of that – some 30 years ago – just goes to show you how there’s not much new under the sun. These remedies are not new.

It’s important to call a spade a spade. Any internet guru who claims this is a new “proven” benefit of drinking the vinegar is misleading you. Some even dare to say a bottle of Bragg is equal in effectivness as Zyrtec, Claritin, and other antihistamine medications. Really ridiculous claims!

With all that said, it might hypothetically benefit you and here are the 5 reasons why:

1. Reducing inflammation

When you suffer an allergic reaction of any kind, in a nutshell it’s your body overreacting to an otherwise harmless substance. Your immune system mistakes the protein as being something bad, when it’s really not.

This reaction sets off a cascade of inflammatory cycles within the body.

diagram of how cytokines work

The secretion of cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors leads to nasal congestion, itchy and watery eyes, wheezing, and hives. With asthma attacks, there is a similar autoimmune reaction which causes the narrowing of airways. (2)

Not that it would stop an allergy or asthma attack, but reducing other causes of inflammation in your body might reduce the severity of symptoms during an attack.

acid-forming vs. alkaline-forming foods

Unlike meat, dairy, eggs, and most processed foods which promote inflammation throughout the body, vegetables and low sugar fruits produce the opposite effect. Although not conclusively proven, there is research that has found apple cider vinegar to have the following effects after ingestion:

  • Reduction of systolic blood pressure in rats, which is the top number. (3)
  • A significantly lower risk for fatal ischemic heart disease has been found to correlate with the consumption of an oil and vinegar salad dressing 5-6 times per week. (4)
  • Rice vinegar, which is similar, has been found to correlate with smaller tumor sizes in rodent cancer models. (5) (6)
  • Placebo-controlled human trials have corroborated anti-glycemic effects when 20g of vinegar was consumed with meals, which is about 4 teaspoons. (7) (8)
  • Inflammation is the biggest side effect of atherosclerosis and in a study using rabbits, it was concluded that apple juice could “effectively prevent the progress of atherosclerosis.” While the vinegar is mostly acetic acid, it does share some of the phytonutrients found in the fresh fruit. (9)

While none of these actions would directly influence allergies, each does reduce inflammation in other ways. Overall, that lower inflammation in the body would be expected to help allergy and asthma sufferers.

The same can be said about sinus infections. It wouldn’t offer any antibacterial or antiviral effect, yet any reduction in inflammation of the airways might make you more comfortable as you are going through that cold or flu.

2. Acts as an expectorant

Benadryl works by having an antihistamine effect. In other words, taming down your immune system’s overreaction to the allergens.

Mucinex helps in a different way. It doesn’t address the root cause, but it acts as an expectorant to loosen mucus in the nose, throat, and lungs so you can breathe easier. Using a spoonful of Bragg’s vinegar reportedly produces a similar effect for many.

With its extremely sour and bitter taste, that repulsive quiver you have in the moment may be just what you need to get that congested nose cleared.

If experienced, this expectorant benefit will almost certainly be short-lived. Nothing like pseudoephedrine for 4-6 hours or Mucinex for 12. Still though, some relief of congestion is probably better than none. Plus it’s the advantage of a natural remedy versus chemicals that get your heart racing.

3. Healthier mucus production

box of Kleenex in front of oceanIn a number of personal reviews you may see online, many people claim that they have “less snot” or mucus production when they drink ACV everyday.

Is there any science to back that up?

No study out of Stanford or human data can corroborate that claim. Though as strange as it may seem, there was something published in 2017 about feeding cider vinegar to carp – yes, the fish – and apparently, it “boosted immunomodulatory” AKA promoted a healthier immune system.

In the 8-week trial, the fish were split into different groups of diets:

  • control diet
  • added dosage of Lactobacillus casei (a probiotic)
  • vinegar representing 1% of diet
  • vinegar representing 2% of diet
  • 1% vinegar + L. casei
  • 2% vinegar + L casei

The results? Those given the apple vinegar and the probiotic together had “notable increase of total Ig level and lysozyme activity” in their skin mucus. In plain English, more antibodies and protective enzymes were found in their mucus.

“…fed carps was remarkably higher than other groups.”

Also, the highest expression of other immune-related and antioxidant enzyme genes was seen in the two groups taking ACV and probiotics together. The scientists said this duo “can be considered as a promising immunostimulants in early stage of common carp culture” but of course, people are far different than fish.

No one can claim this is happening in humans but regardless, it’s the first shred of science to support the idea that this vinegar may promote healthier mucus. However they never said less mucus was produced in the fish. (10)

4. Can be used to irrigate the nose

A more effective method of acting as an expectorant can be using it in a Neti pot or what we here at Superfoodly have used, the NeilMed sinus rinse kit.

Even though it is believed to have an alkalizing effect after digestion, the vinegar of apple cider has a pH ranging from 3.5 to 5 depending on the brand. That’s very acidic compared to your body’s pH, which hovers somewhere between 7.3 and 7.4. Though surprisingly, it’s still less acidic than a Pepsi or Coke at 2.5.

With anything outside of a 7, you need to be careful when using it as a flush or wash.

NeilMed sinus rinse bottleHere’s how to use ACV for a sinus rinse:

Step 1

In your Neti pot or NeilMed bottle, add 8 ounces of lukewarm water with ¼ teaspoon of organic ACV and 1 Neilmed rinse packet, which is a USP grade mixture of sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate.

Step 2

Shake the pot or bottle vigorously to mix the ingredients.

Step 3

Standing over a sink, bend forward and squeeze the NeilMed bottle gently into one nostril, until the solution begins draining from the opposite nostril.

Step 4

Gently blow your nose to clear the passages. If any solution drips into your throat, don’t swallow. Spit it out.

Step 5

Repeat steps 2 thru 4 for your other nostril.

Generally this is done twice per day, though some people have success with rinsing 3-4x daily. Either way, it’s recommended that you consult your physician before taking up a sinus flushing regimen, regardless of whether or not you are adding vinegar to the mix.

The first time you use it with the apple cider added, start with only a ¼ teaspoon per 8 oz. of water. If that doesn’t irritate you, you may be able to do a ½ or even 1 teaspoon, though it’s best to start with the lowest concentration since some people experience irritation while others do not.

As with most of the other theoretical advantages, this will not directly help the wheezing of asthma or a nasal infection, though clearer sinuses can certainly make both of those more comfortable.

5. Adding honey may reduce pollen sensitivity

spoonful of honey from dishNow to be clear, most reviewers don’t even mention using honey but as you know, this is a popular pairing.

While it hasn’t been consistently demonstrated in clinical trials, honey has been anecdotally reported to help the symptoms of seasonal allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. (11)

More recently, many have put forth the theory that regularly eating local honey might help someone become less sensitive to the local pollen in the air.

Why? Because trace amounts of pollen will be present in the honey and like a series of allergy shots, by being exposed to tiny amounts, your body gets used to the allergen. The end result is more subdued symptoms of allergic rhinitis, hives, and watery eyes when you’re actually exposed to the real deal.

While that theory remains unproven, there is clinical evidence to suggest it’s not a myth.

A Malaysian study split participants into two groups. All were given loratadine (Claritin/Alavert) and in addition, half received a daily dosage of honey. Allergic rhinitis symptoms were scored at the start, week 4, and at week 8.

At the beginning both scored the same. At the midway and endpoint, only the honey group showed a continuous improvement in scoring.

Best of all, these beneficial effects even lasted for up to a month after stopping the treatment. (12)

The dosage used was 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 2.25 ounces of honey per day for a 140 lb. man or woman.

However there’s also a study out of the University of Connecticut which had disappointing results. The advantage was no better than placebo and that was using honey that was locally sourced, unpasteurized, raw and unfiltered. (13)

Pros and cons can be cited for both sides. At least this natural sweetener doesn’t appear to be making allergies worse for anyone. Can the same be said about that bottle of Bragg?

Can you be allergic to ACV?

person's back with skin prick allergy testAllergies to fruits are extremely rare. The percentage of the population affected is estimated to be anywhere from 0.1% to 4.3%. Among those with an allergy, it is true that the Rosaceae fruit family (e.g. apples, cherries, and peaches) are the most common culprit. (14)

Even taking that into account, if you are allergic to apples it’s unlikely you are allergic to apple cider vinegar. The former is a fresh plant with pollens and proteins, while the latter is a fermented product that yeast and bacteria have converted into acetic and malic acid. While it’s not impossible to have an allergy, the odds would be far below 1%. You would need to have a very severe apple allergy for the parts per million of protein in this golden liquid to affect you.

Being allergic to raw ACV versus pasteurized should make no difference. Even though Bragg’s hasn’t been heated, the microorganisms, known as “the mother” inside, have converted the fruit into something completely different on a molecular level. That’s why it can sit around for years and not expire or go bad, as long as you keep the cap on. A fresh slice of apple won’t last on your counter longer than 5 minutes before browning!

If apple cider vinegar gives you a skin rash on your face or neck, it’s probably from the pungency of the vinegar itself. For those with acne rosacea or who are otherwise prone to blushing, this intense flavor can cause a temporary rash. It’s just like how hot sauce and spicy foods can do the same for some people.

The verdict

This home remedy for a stuffy nose and restricted airway is drastically overhyped, yet that doesn’t mean it’s a myth. There is some real science here to suggest that drinking cider vinegar regularly might help alleviate some of the side effects associated with environmental allergies and perhaps even asthma. For now though, any benefits remain theoretical and unproven.

If you do choose to supplement with it, make sure you dilute it in water before drinking. Using it straight up will destroy the enamel on your teeth over time. At a minimum, dilute 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water. As far as how much to use, 2 tablespoons per day seems to be a relatively safe amount. Some report using even more, though to start out, it’s better to begin with a lower dosage and see how your body responds.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.