Alongside green smoothies and kombucha, apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular drinks among wellness enthusiasts these days.
Many claim that drinking apple cider vinegar prevents indigestion and leg cramps, which if you are pregnant, may sound all-too-familiar.
But is it safe to drink apple cider vinegar during pregnancy?
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
It is essentially apple juice or cider mixed with yeast, which ferments the naturally occurring sugars in the fruit, forming alcohol.
After the initial fermentation, more bacteria are mixed with the alcohol, turning it into acetic acid (1).
Types Of Apple Cider Vinegar
There are two basic kinds – unfiltered and filtered. ACV can also be pasteurized or unpasteurized.
Processing removes sediment and bacteria to make filtered and pasteurized apple cider vinegar respectively. Typically, filtered ACV is also pasteurized. The product is a clear, amber-toned liquid.
Pasteurization refers to mildly heating the ACV to destroy live bacteria (2). The process of filtration, though, involves removing sediment.
Unfiltered apple cider vinegar does not undergo additional filtration. So, it may be cloudy due to the sediment, and “the mother.” And often, unfiltered ACV is also unpasteurized — just raw.
“The mother” is a mixture of acetic acids and beneficial bacteria that occurs naturally in the fermentation process. It’s a strand-like residue in the vinegar and is believed to be responsible for most of the health benefits.
One of the most well-known brands of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is Braggs. It is widely available in health stores and on Amazon.
What To Know About ACV
Health and wellness enthusiasts believe apple cider vinegar is beneficial for a variety of ailments.
Keep In Mind
- Diabetes: Scientific studies have shown ACV can lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity when consuming certain foods. Still, only use it for blood sugar control under the guidance and supervision of your doctor. This is especially important if you are already taking blood sugar-lowering medications. ACV can help with blood sugar control but not replace the therapy your doctor prescribed (3).
- Digestion: When consumed regularly, apple cider vinegar can also help detoxify your body. It contains probiotics that support gut health, improves bowel function, and balance your body’s pH levels. Optimal pH balance and gut health can relieve conditions such as constipation and acid reflux. It is thought that taking 1-2 tablespoons of ACV in a big glass of water can help with morning sickness or nausea but there is no scientific proof (4). Nevertheless, there’s a possibility of ACV actually causing heartburn and trouble with digestion, especially digestion of starch-rich ingredients like potatoes. Either way, make sure to avoid unpasteurized ACV during pregnancy.
- Weight Loss: When consumed before meals, ACV helps you feel full, so you eat less and your calorie intake is lower. However, pregnancy isn’t the time to diet or try to lose weight. Instead, focus on eating a diet of well-balanced, nutritionally dense foods to nourish yourself and your growing baby.
- Common Cold: Many pregnant women are uncomfortable taking over-the-counter medications for cold and sore throat symptoms. Since ACV has immunity-boosting and antibacterial properties, it could be an option to fight these symptoms. You can make a soothing drink by mixing one part ACV, five parts warm water, and 2-3 tablespoons of honey. Still, make sure to avoid unpasteurized ACV during pregnancy, and if you want to avoid drinking it altogether you can try making an ACV gargle for your sore throat (5).
- Leg Cramps: Sleep disruption due to leg cramping is common in pregnancy. This may be caused by low potassium levels and pressure on the circulatory system from the growing uterus. ACV is high in potassium help can alleviate this discomfort.
In addition to consuming apple cider vinegar, many people also use the substance topically – everything from dandruff treatment to foot deodorizers!
Thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, these common pregnancy skin concerns might benefit from a small amount applied topically:
If you have varicose veins, you can use ACV as an add-on to conservative treatment, such as elevation. Just make sure you don’t apply it on broken skin (6).
Still, ACV is a weak acid and it can cause skin irritation. So, if you decide to apply it on your skin make sure you use small doses (always use it diluted: two parts ACV one part water), apply it first to a small part of your skin (this also helps check for an allergic reaction) and don’t keep it on too long. If it starts feeling uncomfortable beyond a slight burning sensation, remove it right away. Never use it on open wounds or genital warts (7).
While there is a lot of talk about the health benefits of ACV – note that ACV can interact with certain medication (including laxatives which some moms with constipation might be taking), make symptoms of a pre-existing ulcer worse, and affect teeth enamel. Consuming too much can also cause serious electrolyte disbalances.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
A Word Of Caution
Healthcare professionals recommend pregnant women should avoid consuming unpasteurized foods, due to the risk of food poisoning. No proven or assumed health benefits can outweigh the possible health risks for you and your baby.
Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar — which is often unfiltered — still contains the “mother,” along with potentially beneficial enzymes and bacteria.
Important To Remember
Symptoms of food poisoning can be flu-like, including fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Also, headaches, stomach pain, and dehydration can occur.
However, there are also foodborne illnesses such as listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, or salmonellosis which affect not only mom but can cause serious complications for the unborn baby (8). The bacteria causing listeriosis, toxoplasmosis or salmonellosis might not be in all unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, but the risk is present.
That’s why it is important for mom-to-be to consult her doctor or midwife to decide if she should consume ACV during pregnancy and get advice on the product choice.
You may wonder whether pasteurized ACV still has the potential to aid with the above-listed health issues. The truth is – research studies have not been able to confirm whether all potential benefits of ACV get lost after pasteurization.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
ACV Use In Pregnancy
Apple cider vinegar may be a hot wellness trend, but might not be right for you, especially during pregnancy.
Claims that apple cider vinegar can cure a wide variety of ailments are promising. However, many have yet to be scientifically proven. We need more research to confirm all of its risks and benefits.
Until then, rest, try to enjoy your pregnancy despite the discomforts, and take the cure-all apple cider vinegar claims with a grain of salt.