Vinegar for Diabetes? Yes!

Vinegar is a two-cents-per-dose medication. It reliably lowers after-meal and fasting blood sugar in many people. Yet few people with diabetes take it, maybe because we don’t know enough about it. So here’s a quick overview.

First, what is vinegar? The word “vinegar” comes from the French words for “sour wine.” According to the website How Stuff Works, “Vinegar is a dilute solution of acetic acid that results from a two-step fermentation process.” In the first step, sugar is fermented into alcohol, usually by yeast. This is how beer and wine are made.


Any natural source of sugar, such as any fruit, grain, or starch, can be made into alcohol this way. In the second step, the alcoholic liquid is exposed to bacteria called “acetobacters.” In the presence of oxygen, the bacteria turn the alcoholic solution into vinegar. The vinegar is usually named after the liquid it started with; for example, “red wine vinegar” or “apple cider vinegar.”

Acetic acid gives vinegar its sour taste. Depending on what sugar was used to start the process, there may be other acids, such as malic acid, in the vinegar. The acids are called “short-chain fatty acids” (SCFAs). SCFAs affect our bodies’ use of sugar in various ways and are an important source of energy for people who eat them.

Vinegar was probably discovered 5,000 years ago when people were storing wine. Sometimes the wine would go sour over time, but the sour wine turned out quite useful. People found they could use it for cooking, for skin care, and for medicine.

According to the How Stuff Works article, “[vinegar’s] healing virtues are extolled in records of the Babylonians, and the great Greek physician Hippocrates reportedly used it as an antibiotic. In Asia, early samurai warriors believed vinegar to be a tonic that would increase their strength and vitality.”

Only in recent years, with the rise of chemical medicines, has vinegar’s benefit been largely forgotten. Not completely though; vinegar fans are all over the web and in some research universities.

Greek researchers have done studies demonstrating that two tablespoons of vinegar with or just before meals prevents after-meal glucose level spikes. Carol Johnston at Arizona State University has shown that vinegar at bedtime reduces fasting blood sugars in the mornings. Animal studies have shown that rats fed acetic acid with meals had much better cholesterol levels.

The mechanisms of action for vinegar are not well understood. I personally believe it works by improving the body’s insulin production and sensitivity, sort of like the incretin drugs do. It might also slow absorption of carbs at a meal, reducing sugar spikes.

Ways to get vinegar
Maybe the easiest way to take in acetic acid is in a fermented food. It’s no accident that traditional Koreans complement each meal with kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage. The acetic acid in kimchi probably has significant health benefits for people who eat a lot of starch in the form of rice.

Sauerkraut is a traditional food from Europe that is still widely eaten. It’s not as spicy as kimchi but has similar acetic acid content. Many sour foods, like the German meat dish sauerbraten, contain vinegar.

You can easily pour vinegar from a bottle and make salad dressing with it or cook with it. Red wine, white wine, malt, or apple cider vinegar are all good. Apple cider vinegar is more complex, with several SCFAs, so it seems to have the most people promoting it and may, in fact, be the best one for health. But I suspect they are all good.

You can also take vinegar in a capsule. Just make sure it doesn’t get stuck in your throat; it will burn.

Some websites warn of the danger of taking vinegar in too high a concentration. It might cause indigestion. Some say don’t drink undiluted vinegar. It’s hard to see what harm one or two teaspoons could do, but why not eat it with a salad or mix it with water to be safe?

Vinegar can soften your teeth. You don’t want to hold it in your mouth too long, and you should rinse your mouth after a meal containing vinegar.

When I have written about this before, I got lots of comments from people who say it helped, and few or none from those who got no benefit. I’d like to hear your story if you try this. It’s so simple and almost free.

Vinegar recipe links
If you want your vinegar to taste good — and why not — here are some links for tasty recipes using vinegar.

  • ibivi

    Unfortunately I have acid reflux so even the smallest amount of vinegar (or acidic food)bothers me. People have recommended that I take apple cider vinegar but I have read that scientifically it has no appreciable benefit on glucose levels.

    • David Spero RN

      Hi Ibiv, I’m not sure where you read that “scientifically, vinegar has no appreciable benefit on glucose levels,” but if you look at some of the articles I linked in my blog, you will see that it has a great deal of benefit. If you have acid reflux, unfortunately, it is not for you. You might look at my articles on bitter melon tea as an alternative.

  • Jessica R. Abbit

    I am going to try this. Struggling with a morning rise is blood sugar. I take my meds, eat nothing & morning BS is higher than when I went to bed. Maybe this will help. Can’t hurt.

  • Al Bbalboni

    good info ,I have 17 years experience with alpha beta and Thucydides ,CHF and type ii . hard to manage l all the numbers but its possible , Until you are psychologically derailed Then you document and start all over . I was able to loose 65LBs and A1C from 6.1to 7

  • Virginia

    I just can’t tolerate vinegar if I take it every day. I might try it every over day to see if I can. Will that have any benefit? Thank you.

  • RedHeifer

    Hi David and all,
    Let me chime in and thank you. It looks as if vinegar did the trick for me!
    That was the bottom line. I’ll now fill in the details (sorry if it’s long):

    I’m 51 year old male fro Jerusalem.
    After not feeling well for a few months, I went to my GP doctor who sent me for blood work after a couple of years that I neglected my regular checkups.
    This was two-and-a-half weeks ago. Did the fasting bloodtest in the morning, and saw the results online in the afternoon. Glucose 150 MG/DL, HB A1C% was 7! Cholesterol LDL high, HDL low.

    I had never had blood sugar issues before. Only LDL about 10 years ago, which I first took care of with statins, then I took off weight, it came down, and the doc agreed to take me off. I think around 3 years ago I stopped watching my weight, and I guess things deteriorated since.

    OK, so I got concerned with the results, made an appointment for the Doc for the next Sunday, and started reading around on the net, understood that I was going to get diagnosed as diabetic. I started low-carbing for the three days till the appointment (I did low carb 18 years ago and lost a lot of weight – so I knew that worked for me) and here’s what happened:
    I get to the doc at 13:00 after eating low-carb in the morning, He tells me I’m in deep trouble. Suggests meds, weight loss activity, etc’. Tells me I’m at risk due to family genetics (he’s right, and he knows my family well). I say – give me three months without medication – and then we will talk again. He says “go for it” and prescribes a glucometer, I request that the nurse show me how to use one just once before I buy mine. We measure, and it’s 85. So I say to her, how come I got an 85 now, and the test showed me at 150?! So she says, that’s good that you’re watching what you eat for the last few days, and expect some fluctuation.

    So I go home with my new toy and start experimenting. Three days later I see that my morning tests are higher than my afternoon and evening ones. This made no sense to me. So I google high fasting glucose levels – and started seeing that some people unpack glycogen at night (I hope I got this right) so maybe I should try eating something in the middle of the night. So I put some 85% chocolate on the bedstand, and on the two nights I woke up in the middle of the night, I took a cube. That did help a little. but my first week I averaged 120 in the morning.
    I did some more searching and found out that this is called the “dawn phenomenon” and bingoed on your blog. I read about vinegar. Luckily I love vinegar, but barely used it over the years cause my wife doesn’t.
    For the past week I have been having a late vinegar supper before going to sleep. Either cucumber salad with two tablespoons vinegar, or a bigger salad with chicken pastrami, cukes, red bell peppers, mustard, garlic, etc’ – whatever. I drink the juice at the end.
    Voila! I am averaging 95 mg in the mornings.
    So, there it is. Two weeks on a glucometer, low carb, google, community knowledge, vinegar, good sense – and I have my blood sugars down from 150 to 95 in the morning. I am sure that my A1C will drop drastically by the time 3 months are up. I can’t wait to see the Doc’s face..
    Thank you all for sharing these great ideas!

  • AvgJoe

    I have been using dill pickle vinegar. Since i Love pickles it was easier for me and I didn’t need to dilute it in water like I did the apple cider vinegar.