Acetic acid may sound like it should be in a chemistry lab or science fair rather than in your kitchen pantry. However, this powerful compound is actually the main compound found in vinegar and is responsible for both its unique flavor and acidity. Not only that, but it’s also believed to contribute to many of the health benefits of apple cider vinegar due to its potent medicinal properties.
So what exactly is acetic acid and how does it work? This article will take a closer look at acetic acid and how it can impact your health.
What Is Acetic Acid?
Acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, is a chemical compound found in many different products. It’s perhaps most well-known as the main component of vinegar, apart from water, and is thought to supply ingredients like apple cider vinegar with many of their health-promoting properties.
Chemically speaking, the acetic acid formula is C2H4O2, which can also be written as CH3COOH or CH3CO2H. Because of the presence of a carbon atom in the acetic acid structure, it’s considered an organic compound. The acetic acid density is about 1.05 grams/cm³; compared to other compounds like nitric acid, sulfuric acid or formic acid, the density of acetic acid is quite a bit lower. Conversely, the acetic acid melting point is significantly higher than many other acids, and the acetic acid molar mass and acetic acid boiling point tend to fall right about in the middle.
Aside from its uses as a natural preservative and common ingredient in a variety of products, acetic acid has also been associated with several impressive health benefits. In addition to its potent anti-bacterial properties, this organic compound is also thought to reduce blood sugar levels, promote weight loss, alleviate inflammation and control blood pressure.
1. Kills Bacteria
Vinegar has long been used as a natural disinfectant, largely due to its content of acetic acid. Acetic acid has powerful antibacterial properties and can be effective at killing off several specific strains of bacteria.
In fact, one 2014 in vitro study found that acetic acid was able to block the growth of myobacteria, a genus of bacteria responsible for causing tuberculosis and leprosy. Other research shows that vinegar may also protect against bacterial growth, which may be partially due to the presence of acetic acid.
2. Reduces Blood Pressure
Not only does high blood pressure place extra strain on the heart muscle and cause it to slowly weaken over time, but high blood pressure is also a major risk factor for heart disease. In addition to modifying your diet and exercise routine, promising research has found that acetic acid may also help control blood pressure.
One animal model conducted by Mitsukan Group Corporation found that acetic acid was able to reduce blood pressure in mice. It’s believed to work by reducing levels of renin, a specific enzyme secreted by the kidneys that is involved in blood pressure control.
3. Decreases Inflammation
Acute inflammation plays an important role in immune function, helping to defend the body against illness and infection. Sustaining high levels of inflammation long-term, however, can have a detrimental effect on health, with studies showing that inflammation could contribute to the development of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Acetic acid is thought to reduce inflammation to help protect against disease. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, administering acetic acid to mice for 10 weeks led to significant reductions in several markers of inflammation. Another recent 2019 study found that acetic acid helped decrease the inflammatory response in mice by modifying the activity of a specific protein involved in immunity.
4. Supports Weight Loss
Some research suggests that acetic acid could help support weight control by aiding in weight loss. For example, a 2017 report out of Malaysia noted that acetic acid vinegar reduced food intake and body weight in mice. Another study in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also showed that acetic acid helped slow the emptying of the stomach, which could help keep you feeling fuller for longer to promote weight loss.
5. Promotes Blood Sugar Control
Apple cider vinegar has been well-studied for its ability to support blood sugar control. Research shows that acetic acid, one of the primary components found in apple cider vinegar, may play a role in its powerful blood sugar-lowering properties.
In one study, consuming vinegar with acetic acid alongside a high-carb meal was found to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels thanks to its ability to slow down the emptying of the stomach. Another in vitro study had similar findings, reporting that acetic acid decreased the activity of several enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism, which could decrease the absorption of carbs and sugar in the small intestine.
What is acetic acid used for? Acetic acid is most commonly found in vinegar, which is used in recipes ranging from salad dressings to condiments, soups and sauces. Vinegar is also used as a food preservative and pickling agent. Plus, it can even be used to make natural cleaning products, skin toners, bug sprays and more.
Some medications contain acetic acid, including those used to treat ear infections. Some also use it in the treatment of other conditions, including warts, lice and fungal infections, although more research is needed to evaluate its safety and effectiveness.
Acetic acid is also used by manufacturers to create a variety of different products. In particular, acetic acid is used to make chemical compounds like vinyl acetate monomer as well as perfumes, oral hygiene products, skin care products, inks and dyes.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
So what are the side effects of acetic acid? And is acetic acid harmful to humans?
The acetic acid pH, which is a measure of how basic or acidic a substance is, falls at about 2.4. Although it’s classified as a weak acid, it is still highly corrosive and can burn or irritate the skin if applied directly.
Because of the potential acetic acid hazards, it’s often recommended to dilute vinegar with water prior to consumption or topical application. Before using apple cider vinegar, for example, it’s advised to dilute it using one cup of water for every 1–2 tablespoons. Consuming large amounts undiluted could potentially cause side effects like burning of the throat, erosion of tooth enamel and skin irritation.
When using any type of vinegar medicinally, talk to your doctor first if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications to prevent adverse interactions. Be sure to also start with a low dose and gradually work your way up to assess your tolerance. Consider decreasing your dosage or discontinuing use if you notice any negative side effects, which may include low blood sugar levels or digestive issues.
- Acetic acid is an organic chemical compound that is found primarily in vinegar.
- Is acetic acid good for health? Some studies suggest that acetic acid could be responsible for many of the health-promoting properties of vinegar.
- It’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, decrease inflammation, support weight loss and kill off harmful bacteria.
- Acetic acid is added to certain medications and is commonly used in manufacturing to produce inks, dyes, skin care products and oral hygiene products.
- However, it’s most commonly found in vinegar varieties like apple cider vinegar, making it easy to take advantage of the multitude of health benefits that it has to offer.