They’ve always said an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Now they’re saying apple cider vinegar might, too.

That’s right: In case you hadn’t heard, many people believe it can help you lose weight, prevent diabetes, manage heart health and more.

“This comes up at least twice a week with my patients who want something more natural for weight loss,” says Devika Umashanker, MD, Hartford HealthCare System Medical Director, who practices in the Hartford area.

Is it too good to be true? Here’s what we know — and what we don’t know.

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Many people swear by apple cider vinegar for weight loss and other health benefits.

Once famous as the key ingredient in your favorite salad dressing, apple cider vinegar is now famous as a key ingredient in the natural health community. In recent years, it’s gained attention for several potential health benefits.

It’s been said to help:

  • Lower blood sugar.
  • Lower cholesterol.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Support weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness.

Most of these claims come from people simply observing what has worked for them — for example, with weight management.

“A lot of patients use a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in their water each day to help with weight loss. Some patients report they really feel full after a spoonful,” says Dr. Umashanker.

> Related: Does Kombucha Lower Blood Sugar?

But there’s no clear evidence to back it up.

While individual reports are compelling, they’re not always accurate. Maybe a person’s weight loss really came from something else, like suddenly drinking more water. Maybe it’s a placebo effect. Or maybe it truly is from apple cider vinegar.

The best way to find out is with research — and presently, the results are fuzzy. Only a few small studies seem to support the above health claims, and small studies can be misleading. Several were done with animals, and not necessarily true for humans.

“So far, there are limited evidence-based clinical studies or small population-based studies on the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar for weight loss,” says Dr. Umashanker. “You have to take that into account.”

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Still want to try? In small and diluted doses, apple cider vinegar can’t hurt.

Doctors usually warn patients to steer clear of any new health trend until all the research is in, because they want to make sure it won’t do more harm than good.

When it comes to apple cider vinegar, though, you have less to worry about. For centuries, it’s been used in small amounts for everything from home remedies to vegetable marinades. In general, it’s good for you, and even contains vitamins like B and C.

The key is not to overdo it, because too much has been linked to unpleasant side effects like nausea and tooth erosion. Stick to a spoonful or less a day. Either use it in your cooking, or dilute it in at least five to 10 parts water to protect your teeth and throat.

And be sure to keep your health provider in the loop.

This is crucial if you’re hoping apple cider vinegar will help you with something like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or obesity — conditions that often require medication, and which can be all but impossible to manage on your own.

“If you have any of these diagnoses, you should also be consulting with your physician,” says Dr. Umashanker.

In other words, apple cider vinegar is no substitute for your doctor.

It is, however, an excellent substitute for lemon juice.