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by Dr. Will Cole
As a functional medicine doctor and self-proclaimed health nerd, I’m obsessed with the world of the microbiome. I spend my time researching histamine intolerance, leaky gut syndrome, SIBO, and candida overgrowth like how others follow fantasy football or the Bachelorette.
With so much information out there about different natural therapies for gut health, patients often come to me to get a final answer on what they have read about. One of the most common questions I get asked is what is better – lemon water or apple cider vinegar? They are both superstars in the gut health world, but each has very different benefits as well as drawbacks. Let’s settle the debate, once and for all.
Lemons contain ample amounts of phytonutrients, vitamin C, and fiber which are all needed for supporting gut health. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to lower inflammation in the gut and boost the immune system which is important since your gut is home to around 75% of your immune system! It is also works as a natural antimicrobial to bring balance to the bacteria in the microbiome.
Lemons are also high in a type of fiber called pectin. This is good for your gut bugs and helps to promote healthy gut bacteria balance and encourage growth of beneficial bacteria. Multiple studies have shown that these particular fibers like the ones in lemons, stimulate the growth of important probiotics in the microbiome like bifidobacterium.
The whole-food fusion of vitamin C, prebiotic fiber, and phytonutrients also lends itself to leave the drinker with a cleaning-like effect, especially if drank first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
How to get the most bang for your gut:
In order to really get the most positive impact on your gut health, I suggest not using lemon juice as a stand-alone tonic. Try to keep as much of the lemon pulp as you can with the lemon juice in your water since the pectin fiber and phytonutrients are mainly found in the lemon pulp. Also, make sure the water is either warm or cold, not hot, as the hotter water denatures the Vitamin C.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Research has shown that vinegar can mildly lower the growth of gram-negative bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacterial colonies are higher in bacterial endotoxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). Higher LPS levels are implicated with a whole slew of inflammatory health problems as well as leaky gut syndrome.
ACV has also been shown to have anti-yeast, anti-fungal, and antiviral benefits which are all helpful at supporting the microbiome and immune balance.
Another benefit to ACV is its natural antihistamine effects. It can help to lower the symptoms of allergies and chronic immune problems such as sneezing and wheezing. When purchasing ACV I always suggest looking for one with its “mother” included. The “mother” is a colony of beneficial bacteria which is similar to a kombucha’s SCOBY.
Another potential benefit of apple cider vinegar is its ability to prove indigestion and heartburn. One of the most common causes of heartburn I find in my patients is low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria. I have found that many patients see improvement with their heartburn, acid reflux, and overall digestion when they take a small amount of apple cider vinegar with their meals.
How to get the most bang for your gut:
Overall, I usually always see the best results when using ACV in it’s raw, unfiltered form with the “mother” included. You’ll be able to see the mother as a sediment in the bottle but it usually always also says so on the label. Since ACV is very acidic, you may find that diluting it with water or juice can make it easier to swallow. Drinking straight apple cider vinegar can damage tooth enamel and the throat. Typically, I find people to well with 1 to 2 tablespoons mixed with 1 ounce of water.
Lemon Water or ACV? The Verdict:
Both the acetic acid of the apple cider vinegar and the citric acid of the lemons provide a cleaning antimicrobial effect. And while the lemon pulp has fiber with is prebiotic food for your gut bacteria the ACV mother is literally bacteria!
I suggest starting off with lemon pulp water if you are sensitive or just starting out on this whole gut health thing, since it is gentler than ACV. And you can’t really go wrong with the freshness of lemon water!
Apple cider vinegar should be diluted due to its potency but it can still be too much with some people with more sensitive systems. But because it is uber-powerful I’ve heard more anecdotal success stories from my patients who use ACV instead of lemon water.
In the end, this highlights what I love about functional medicine: We are all wonderfully different. Lemon water and ACV are not cure-alls but they can be amazing tools to use on your gut healing journey!
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