The dangers of apple cider vinegar are diverse and range from skin burns to eye, nose and lungs irritation, laryngospasms and asthma episodes, acid reflux, heartburn, gastritis and even dental and kidney problems. Most, if not all of these side effects have to do with its acidic nature. Apple cider vinegar contains two acids: acetic acid found in vinegar in general and malic acid from apples, but also found in rhubarb and fruits that are not citrus. The more acidic the vinegar, meaning the more acetic and malic acid it contains (and sometimes added acids like citric acid), the stronger its corrosive effects. What this means is that the higher the intake, meaning more than you’d add to a salad, and the longer you use it as a natural remedy for various purposes, the higher the chances apple cider vinegar is bad for you.
So basically, the acids in the product are the main reason why apple cider vinegar is bad for you. And the side effects of apple cider vinegar include the following:
1) Skin burns. Like all table vinegar varieties, apple too has a varying acetic acid content (usually from 4% to 8%). Acetic acid content gives the vinegar its strength. The higher the acetic acid content (and, in this case, also malic acid), the lower the pH. There are varieties of apple cider vinegar with a pH as low as 2-3. To put things into perspective, know that stomach acid pH is between 1.5 and 3.5, so some vinegar varieties are that strong. When used as a food supplement, the varying acidity or strength of apple cider vinegar is a potential source of harmful effects. The stronger, more acidic the vinegar, the more corrosive it is. So when used directly on the skin, it has the potential to cause irritation and even skin burns (a kind of chemical skin burn). Repeated use on the same skin area can accentuate the side effects. Using the vinegar for cleaning can lead to dry, cracked skin on hands over time.
Apple cider vinegar and skin tags, warts and moles. There’s been a lot of hype lately regarding the ability of apple cider vinegar to remove skin tags, warts and even moles. First of all, skin tags and warts are commonly caused by viruses like HPV (human papilloma virus) and cannot be treated like an ordinary infection. Use of the vinegar on skin tags, warts and moles will essentially burn the skin, that’s why it looks like they’ve disappeared. In reality, the virus causing the warts is still in the body and the root of the mole is still there. It’s only an apparent treatment. And because some vinegar varieties are stronger than others, you risk burning the skin badly if you use it incorrectly. Whenever there is concern regarding skin tags, warts and moles, it’s best to see a dermatologist (skin doctor) for adequate treatment.
2) Irritates soft tissues. Depending on how strong the vinegar is and how often you use it or how much of it you use at once, there is a risk of soft tissue irritation and even damage. Apple cider vinegar is an irritant for the mouth and throat lining, esophagus and even stomach lining. If you have a sore throat, it’s best to avoid it altogether because it can and will contribute to the irritation and possibly delay healing. Honey might be a better choice altogether because, although acidic, its natural sugars and the special consistency they give it sets nicely on soft tissue and prevents further irritation for some time.
Apple cider vinegar and acid reflux (GERD). Acid reflux means that stomach juices rise up in the esophagus (and sometimes even higher, in the back of the throat and mouth), causing irritation along the way. This irritation is felt as heartburn, chest pain, palpitations or reflux with bad taste in the mouth (acidic or metallic). And the most common reason for acid reflux is too much stomach acid from problematic foods. The last thing one should do is add more acids to an already worked up stomach. The more you take, the more pregnant the side effects. See Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Acid Reflux.
Apple cider vinegar esophagus effects. Apple cider vinegar taken regularly can cause or contribute to an existing GERD (gastroeosphageal reflux disease). The repeated contact of stomach juices with the esophagus lining and the acidity of the vinegar increase the chances of esophagitis, essentially inflammation of the esophagus lining. Moreover, an untreated acid reflux causes repeated damage to the esophagus lining which can lead to abnormal changes in esophagus cells and, over time, increase the risk for esophageal cancer. Apple cider vinegar capsules, tablets or pills can also cause esophageal damage either directly or indirectly, through acid reflux.
Apple cider vinegar and gastritis. Strong vinegars with high acetic and malic acid contents and very low pH add to the acidity of the stomach contents. It is possible for some vinegars to be almost as acidic as stomach juices. If someone were to already have stomach issues caused by excess stomach acid production, taking vinegar would only accentuate the stomach problems. Over time, even lead to gastritis or worsen an existing one. See Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Gastritis. Strong vinegars are downright corrosive and can fuel existing digestive conditions like GERD or gastritis and, over time, increase the chances of peptic ulcers or esophageal ulcers and possibly even stomach cancer. Such effects may be observed with regular, prolonged vinegar use and high intakes. Eating pickles made with vinegar (frequently, for a long time) represents a risk factor for stomach cancer for some people.
3) Apple cider vinegar and weight loss. A lot of people take apple and other types of vinegar on an empty stomach in the morning to lose weight. Some people take it before meals throughout the day. Despite the popularity of the vinegar diet plan, it is in fact an ineffective diet plan and one a person cannot maintain for very long without experiencing side effects. Apple and other vinegar varieties curb hunger, which is why they are taken either in the morning on an empty stomach or before a meal. In fact, what they do is irritate the stomach so you can’t eat anything for some time, usually several hours. Not eating results in a lower calorie intake and a slight weight loss.
In addition to not eating being unhealthy, the slight weight loss will also cause stomach problems without really solving problem: eating too much or eating wrong. And when you can’t keep up with taking vinegar, what do you do then? Gain the weight back? The reason why most diets don’t work is because they are short term solutions to long term problems. The best weight loss diet is clean, healthy, mindful eating, in accordance to your individual nutritional requirements – a diet for a lifetime.
4) Eats away tooth enamel. The more acidic the vinegar and the longer you take it, the higher the chances it eats away at your tooth enamel and makes your teeth more brittle. Think about it: some apple cider vinegars have a pH that can get pretty close to stomach acid pH (and that kind of acidity can dissolve a lot of things). Moreover, people with GERD also often suffer from teeth erosion and taking foods or supplements that enhance stomach acidity further contributes to teeth damage over time. Also read Why Warm Lemon Water Is Bad for You.
5) Eye and nose irritation. If you use vinegar to clean around the house and spend the day in the odor, it is possible to get eye and nose irritation. Cleaning vinegar in particular is likely to elicit such side effects because it has a strength of 10% or more, compared to table vinegar which is up to 8% acetic acid.
6) Irritant for the lungs. Although not very common, smelling stronger vinegars can slightly irritate the lungs. Taking apple or other vinegars regularly for a prolonged period of time can cause acid reflux which can also lead to lung irritation. If you experience coughing, slight trouble breathing, lung sounds or burning sensation in the chest, it is possible you are experiencing lung irritation and should consider discontinuing the vinegar and seeing a doctor.
7) Bad for asthma and allergies. One of the dangers of apple cider vinegar is that it can trigger asthma episodes in both allergy sufferers and those with asthma. Inhaling the odorous vinegar, taking the liquid regularly for some time and even taking apple cider vinegar capsules or tablets can lead to severe acid reflux. This alone is enough to cause laryngopasms. In some instances, regurgitated gastric juices can be inhaled into the lungs, leading to instant lung irritation (also called chemical pneumonia) which can then trigger asthma episodes. This apple cider vinegar harmful effect for allergy and asthma sufferers is accentuated by the continual use of the product. See article on Laryngospasms: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies.
8) Apple cider vinegar side effects on kidneys. Many people take the product to help with kidney disease and kidney stones (apple cider vinegar may contain citric acid which can help inhibit the formation of some types of kidney stones, although not by itself – it also requires magnesium). But the vinegar can have unpredictable effects on kidney function (example: lower potassium levels too much) and even interact with various medications (example: insulin, diuretic medication for kidney disease, including kidney stones, blood pressure or edema, heart failure medication). It’s best to avoid both the liquid vinegar and the capsules if you have kidney disease and see your doctor for adequate treatment.
Conclusion: Can drinking apple cider vinegar be harmful? Yes, it can. Side effects of apple cider vinegar are dose-dependent and include irritation and inflammation of skin and mucous membranes upon contact, including mouth, throat, esophagus, nasal passages or eyes. Vinegars in general are bad for stomach conditions, accentuating acid reflux and gastritis and predisposing to ulcers and even cancer with time. Other apple cider vinegar harmful effects include possible kidney side effects, teeth erosion and lung irritation if inhaled or aspirated which can trigger an asthma episode.