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Apple Cider Vinegar vs. Lemon Water: What Is Better For Health?

William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
Functional Medicine Practitioner
By William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
Functional Medicine Practitioner
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine practitioner with a certification in natural medicine and a doctor of chiropractic degree.
Photo by Thais Ramos Varela
Last updated on May 3, 2020

Which is better for gut health, lemon water or apple cider vinegar? They're both gut superstars, but they have very different drawbacks and benefits. Let's settle the debate, once and for all.

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Lemon Water

Lemons contain ample amounts of vitamin C, phytonutrients, and fiber and that give them a number of different benefits for supporting gut health. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can help lower gut inflammation and boost the immune system, as your gut is home to about 75 percent of your immune system! Vitamin C is also a natural antimicrobial, working as a natural balancer of the bacteria in the microbiome.

How to get the most bang for your gut:

Lemons are also high in pectin, a kind of fiber that acts as food for your gut bugs, promoting healthy gut bacteria balance and growth. Many studies have shown that certain fibers like those in lemons stimulate the growth of beneficial probiotics in the microbiome like bifidobacterium.

This whole-food fusion of vitamin C, phytonutrients, and prebiotic fiber also lends itself to leave the drinker with a cleansing-like effect, especially when drank first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

To really get the full positive impact for your digestive system, I suggest not just using the lemon juice by itself. Mix as much of the pulp as you can with the lemon juice in your morning warm (not hot, as that denatures the vitamin C) or cold water. The pectin fiber and other phytonutrients are found in the lemon pulp.

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Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has been shown to mildly lower the growth of gram-negative bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bacterial colonies like these are higher in bacterial endotoxins called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Higher levels of LPS are implicated in a whole of inflammatory health problems and leaky gut syndrome.

In addition to the antimicrobial effect, ACV has been shown to have antiviral and anti-yeast and -fungal benefits, all helpful in supporting microbiome and overall immune balance.

Another aspect of its gut-immune benefits is its natural antihistamine effect, lowering the symptoms of allergies and chronic immune problems like wheezing and sneezing. Apple cider vinegar can also be purchased with its "mother." The ACV's "mother" is a colony of beneficial bacteria, similar to a kombucha SCOBY.

Another potential gut health benefit of apple cider vinegar is improving many cases of heartburn and indigestion. A common cause of heartburn I find in many people is low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria. Many of my patients find that taking some apple cider vinegar with their meals helps their heartburn or acid reflux and overall digestion.

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How to get the most bang for your gut:

I see the best results using the raw, unfiltered ACV with the mother included. The label usually specifies this, but you can also see the ACV mother as a sediment in the glass bottle. Apple cider vinegar is very acidic, so I suggest diluting it with water or juice before swallowing. Straight apple cider vinegar can damage tooth enamel and the throat. I find most people do well with around 1 to 2 tablespoons in 1 ounce of water.

ACV or Lemon Water? The Verdict:

The citric acid of the lemons or the acetic acid of the apple cider vinegar provides a cleansing antimicrobial effect. The lemon pulp has fiber, which is prebiotic food for gut bacteria while the ACV mother is literally bacteria!

If you are sensitive or starting off on this whole gut health thing, I suggest starting off with lemon pulp water as this, in general, is a gentler approach, and who could go wrong with the real-food freshness of lemon water?

Apple cider vinegar obviously can and should be diluted, but its potency can be too much for some people with sensitive systems, so a little goes a long way. But because of its strength, I've heard more anecdotal gut success stories from my patients when they use ACV over lemon water.

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William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
Functional Medicine Practitioner

Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.