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Vinegar: Uses and Folklore

Vinegar folklore is as colorful as it is practical. Legend states that a courtier in Babylonia (c. 5000 BC) "discovered" wine, formed from unattended grape juice, leading to the eventual discovery of vinegar and its use as a food preservative. Hippocrates (c. 420 BC) used vinegar medicinally to manage wounds. Hannibal of Carthage (c. 200 BC), the great military leader and strategist, used vinegar to dissolve boulders that blocked his army's path. Cleopatra (c. 50 BC) dissolved precious pearls in vinegar and offered her love potion to Anthony.

Sung Tse, the 10th century creator of forensic medicine, advocated hand washing with sulfur and vinegar to avoid infection during autopsies. Based on the writings of US medical practitioners dating to the late 18th century, many ailments, from dropsy to poison ivy, croup, and stomachache, were treated with vinegar, and, before the production and marketing of hypoglycemic agents, vinegar "teas" were commonly consumed by diabetics to help manage their chronic aliment. This review examines the scientific evidence for medicinal uses of vinegar, focusing particularly on the recent investigations supporting vinegar's role as an antiglycemic agent.

For more than 2000 years, vinegar has been used to flavor and preserve foods, heal wounds, fight infections, clean surfaces, and manage diabetes. Although vinegar is highly valued as a culinary agent, some varieties costing $100 per bottle, much scrutiny surrounds its medicinal use. Scientific investigations do not support the use of vinegar as an anti-infective agent, either topically or orally.

Evidence linking vinegar use to reduced risk for hypertension and cancer is equivocal. However, many recent scientific investigations have documented that vinegar ingestion reduces the glucose response to a carbohydrate load in healthy adults and in individuals with diabetes. There is also some evidence that vinegar ingestion increases short-term satiety.

Future investigations are needed to delineate the mechanism by which vinegar alters postprandial glycemia and to determine whether regular vinegar ingestion favorably influences glycemic control as indicated by reductions in hemoglobin A1c. Vinegar is widely available; it is affordable; and, as a remedy, it is appealing. But whether vinegar is a useful adjunct therapy for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes has yet to be determined.

This story has been adapted from material provided by Arizona State University via Medscape.

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