Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a fermented beverage made from the juice of apples. When the vinegar is unfiltered — which is labeled “with the mother” — it contains visible strands that are made up of proteins, probiotics, enzymes and polyphenolic compounds.
These strands have given the sour drink a reputation for having curative properties: For centuries, ACV has been the go-to folk remedy for multiple ailments. But is there any truth to the theory that ACV dissolves gallstones?
What Exactly Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are a common ailment among Americans, affecting 10 to 15 percent of the population, or about 25 million people (the majority being women), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The stones are pebble-like lumps that are usually composed of either cholesterol or bilirubin, a liver compound that normally passes through the body via stool. The number and size of the stones can vary.
In most cases, gallstones are “silent,” meaning that these hard substances that form in the gallbladder are painless and don't require any treatment. However, if someone is experiencing gallstone pain — which is referred to as either a gallbladder attack or biliary colic — medical attention is necessary, since this indicates that the stones have become so large that they are obstructing the bile ducts (tubes that aid digestion by carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder).
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Gallstone attacks tend to occur at night, especially after a high-fat meal, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. While symptoms can vary, the common signs include:
- Sudden, sharp pain in the upper right abdomen
- Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Belly bloat
- Indigestion, belching and gas
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
If treatment is required, a physician may recommend a procedure to remove the gallstones or gallbladder. If the patient is unable to undergo surgery (or would prefer a nonsurgical option), a gastroenterologist can prescribe medications designed to dissolve gallstones, which may need to be taken for months or years, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help?
Taking apple cider vinegar for gallstones may have been inspired by the prescription drug Ursodiol, an acid that works by dissolving the cholesterol in bile that forms the stones in the first place. However, all acids are not created equal.
“Even though ACV is also very acidic, it does not have the ability to soften gallbladder stones,” Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color and Feed the Belly, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
The Mayo Clinic has reported on a popular cleanse that has been rumored to help prevent and treat gallstones. The regimen involves drinking a tonic containing olive oil, herbs, “some type of fruit juice," and, often, ACV. (Exact recipes differ among people promoting home remedies for gallstones.)
Patients following the cleanse for two or more days have reported seeing “lumps” in their stool. However, a medical analysis concluded that those clusters of material were actually the ingredients from the drink, not gallstones. In addition to being ineffective, the Mayo Clinic warns, cleanses such as this one can lead to unpleasant side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Read more: What Happens to Your Body When You Take Too Much Apple Cider Vinegar
So, Should You Try It?
Generally speaking, there seems to be little risk associated with taking ACV, says Largeman-Roth. The University of Washington recommends drinking no more than 2 tablespoons of ACV per day, as larger amounts can interact with certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.
But there is no evidence that this ancient liquid can dissolve gallbladder stones. “If you are experiencing gallstone symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately,” Largeman-Roth advises.
Read more: What to Know Before Trying Apple Cider Vinegar for Blood Pressure Benefits
- NIDDK: "Definition & Facts for Gallstones"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gallstones"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gallstones: Management and Treatment"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gallbladder Cleanse: A Natural Remedy for Gallstones?"
- National Library of Medicine: "Ursodiol"
- University of Washington: "Beyond the Hype: ACV as an Alternative Therapy"