Vinegar intake may aid diabetics

In a Pickle

How does a nice, pre-dinner cocktail of vinegar sound? I agree: not very appealing.

In a moment I’ll address the issue of palatability. But to start things off, we’ll look at a study that illustrates how a little vinegar before meals may actually help diabetics and those with pre-diabetic symptoms manage insulin sensitivity.

A bagel and a juice

Carol S. Johnston, Ph.D., is researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University. Like many nutritionists, Dr. Johnston is curious about the ways that some natural agents seem to help control spikes of insulin and glucose after eating. So a 2001 Swedish study caught her attention. In that study, researchers showed that blood sugar spikes were held in check when pickles were consumed immediately after a high-carbohydrate breakfast.

(Don’t worry about where this is going. I’m not going to suggest you start eating a post-breakfast pickle every morning.)

The Swedish research followed up preliminary studies that singled out vinegar as potential agent that might help control blood sugar spikes. So Dr. Johnston and her team created a study to put vinegar to the test on three groups of subjects: ten type 2 diabetics, 11 subjects who showed symptoms of pre-diabetic insulin resistance, and eight subjects with normal insulin sensitivity. None of the subjects were taking any diabetes medications.

After a short fasting period, subjects were randomly assigned to consume a drink containing 20 grams of apple cider vinegar (diluted with water and sweetened with a little sugar) or a placebo drink. Two minutes later, each subject ate a meal consisting of a white bagel with butter and a glass of orange juice: approximately 90 grams of total carbohydrates. Blood samples were collected before the meal, and 30 minutes and 60 minutes after the meal. Glucose and insulin levels were measured in each sample. One week later the test was repeated, with vinegar and placebo groups crossing over.

Dr. Johnston and her team reported several significant results:
Each of the three groups had improved glucose and insulin profiles following meals that started with the vinegar drink.

In subjects with type 2 diabetes who drank vinegar, glucose concentrations were cut by about 25 percent compared to diabetics who drank placebo.

In subjects with pre-diabetic conditions who drank vinegar, glucose concentrations were cut by nearly HALF compared to pre-diabetics who drank placebo

And here’s the most surprising result: Pre-diabetic subjects who drank vinegar actually had lower glucose levels than subjects with normal insulin sensitivity who also drank vinegar.

A spoonful of molasses

If you’ve ever started off a meal with a glass of wine, but couldn’t get past the first sip because it tasted like vinegar, then it’s easy to imagine the dilemma of someone who wants to enjoy the benefits of vinegar intake, but who isn’t crazy about the idea of sipping a pre-meal shot of vinegar.

In an interview with Science News Online, Dr. Johnston notes that vinegar dietary supplements may not be useful for managing glucose and insulin spikes associated with meals because they don’t contain acetic acid – the key ingredient that she feels is responsible for vinegar’s effectiveness.

In August 2003 I told you about an HSI Forum thread in which members discuss the various health benefits of apple cider vinegar. The consensus is that you should avoid the typical apple cider vinegar product that large grocery store chains carry. Instead, look for raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, available at many health food stores.

A member named Jane offers this additional advice: “Never pour boiling water on it as that denatures it. If you’re not used to cider vinegar, start with a teaspoonful in a glass of warm water 3 times a day. Gradually increase the dose as you get used to it. Since blackstrap molasses is also good for arthritis, I add a spoonful of that to my cider vinegar drink, which makes it more palatable besides adding a lot more minerals than honey would.”

When sugar is extracted from cane, blackstrap molasses is the residual syrup that remains at the very end of the extraction process. It contains the lowest sugar content of the molasses, but is highest in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. So if a small amount is added to apple cider vinegar, it probably won’t create problems for most diabetics. Even so, diabetics and those who have pre-diabetic conditions should talk to their doctors before trying a regimen of apple cider vinegar.


and another thing

When a rat shows little interest in cocaine, you know something’s wrong.

That’s part of the logic behind a new psychiatric study from McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. McLean researchers experimented with two groups of pre-adolescent rats. One group received doses of methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin, the best selling attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug). The other group received a placebo.

As adults, the rats showed strikingly different behaviors.

When the adult rats were subjected to a “forced swim test,” the Ritalin rats were more inclined to give up swimming and resign themselves to drowning. In addition, the Ritalin rats displayed less interest in food, sex and cocaine.

How this behavior might compare to human subjects is not known. Obviously no one could mount a study in which very young children are dosed with Ritalin and then given a forced swim test and offered cocaine as adults. Nevertheless, Ritalin and many other stimulant drugs are known to boost the activity of the neurochemical dopamine. Researchers are still trying to understand how increased dopamine activity in the very young brain may permanently affect neuronal connections as they’re developing.

If you have a young family member who’s hyperactive or has attention problems, don’t let doctors or school administrators convince you that ADHD drugs are the only option. In fact, those powerful stimulants should only be considered after the child’s diet has been scrutinized and adjusted.

In the e-Alert “How to Dismantle an ’89 Ford” (6/3/02), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., lists some food items that are common triggers for hyperactivity. He also offers some very specific tips on how to test a child for food sensitivities. You can easily find that column by searching the e-Alert archives on our web site at

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


“Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes” Diabetes Care, Vol. 27, January 2004,

“Vinegar as a Sweet Solution?” Janet Raloff, Science News Online, Vol. 167, No. 1, 1/1/05,

“Enduring Behavioral Effects of Early Exposure to Methylphenidate in Rats” Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 54, No. 12, 12/15/03,

“Ritalin Use in Childhood May Increase Depression, Decrease Cocaine Sensitivity in Adults” McLean Hospital press release, 12/8/03,