One of the things about getting older, is that you discover new things about yourself. Like for example, the mole I had growing on the left side of my head, just below my hair line. It never really drew my attention until my hairline started to recede a little. Initially, it was smooth and mostly flat, but over time it became dry and scaly, and with these changes, it got bigger and bigger, about the size of a pencil eraser. So there I was, with a receding hairline and a big mole sticking out like a horn, large enough that my eleven year old daughter would poke at it and say “eeuuh” on a regular basis. It finally got so big that it would kind of catch on my shirt when I was taking it on and off. Although it was very clearly a benign mole, or nevus, it was getting to be a bit of an issue. So I decided to get rid of it. I thought about a few different methods, and then happened upon a folk remedy for removing moles with apple cider vinegar (ACV). Figuring I didn’t have much to lose by trying it out, I decided to give it a whirl.
A little bit about ACV
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting chopped apples in water and a little sugar for several months. In the first stage the wild yeasts are the dominant species, and utilize the sugars to produce alcohol. After some time, as the yeast die off, they are succeeded by acetic acid bacteria from the genus Acetobacter and others, which oxidize the alcohol to produce acetic acid, or vinegar. Once this slurry is strained, the bacterial colonies coalesce into a curious rubbery looking substance called the ‘mother’, or in Latin, Mycoderma aceti. This ‘mother’ serves as a repository of microbes in a quiescent state, until such time you scoop it out and use it again, for example, to turn left over red wine into red wine vinegar. Besides the acetic acid, ACV also contains other naturally occurring acids including malic acid, citric acid, and lactic acid. While the pH of ACV can vary considerably, depending on methods of preparation, Bragg’s states that their ACV has a pH of 3.075, and an acetic acid content of 5.14%.
ACV gets a lot of positive press from natural food types, and many think that it is a panacea for all kinds of issues including infection, digestive problems, insulin resistance, and even cancer. While I have always had a healthy respect for ACV, I was skeptical about many of the claims, many of which are unsubstantiated. The enthusiasm for ACV in particular appears to be a North American phenomena, evolving as part of the Natural Hygiene movement of the early 20th century. Among the many adherents of this belief in healthy food and fitness was Paul C. Bragg, an entrepreneur and marketer that pedalled a variety of folk remedies in the mid-1900s, including ACV. Marketed as a remedy to detoxify the body, Bragg’s apple cider vinegar later became the centre-piece of his company, and an icon in the natural foods industry. It is important to note, however, that ACV is a traditional food, and many cultures extol the virtues of its benefits. The best evidence for ACV’s benefits relates to its antimicrobial and anti-infective properties, strong enough to dramatically inhibit pathogenic strains E. coli, just like the one that killed over 14 people in Germany in 2011, all from eating contaminated cucumbers. It’s easy to appreciate that ACV isn’t just a component of a tasty dressing, but an effective tool to ensure that your salad isn’t going to inoculate you with some nasty bacteria. Not only that, but soaking veggies in oil and vinegar in the same manner as a Greek salad actually increases the bioavailability of nutrients. Of course this won’t come as too much of a surprise to herbalists that have been making medicinal extracts with oil and vinegar for millennia. Other uses for ACV as an antimicrobial include using it for sore throats as a gargle, and topically in the treatment of fungal infections including yeast infections (Candida albicans), jock itch and athlete’s foot (Tinea spp.), and dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis (Malassezia spp.).
Another traditional use for ACV is as a digestive stimulant, and to this end, sometimes recommend it in diluted form as a way to stimulate intestinal motility and appetite. In Ayurveda, vinegar is sour and pungent in taste, hot and light in quality, and acts to increase the digestive fire. The little bit of research on ACV suggests that it does indeed have a stimulatory effect on digestive activity, particularly on motility, and it may be this action which is responsible for its other attributed effects. According to Ayurveda, when digestion is restored, the health of the entire body benefits. The important thing, however, is to make sure that you’re using it correctly, and with ACV, a little goes a long way!
There is also some evidence that ACV may have a favourable impact upon health issues including obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. In one study from 2008, researchers demonstrated that ACV could improve the serum lipid profile of experimentally-induced diabetic rats. In 2009, the results from a Japanese clinical trial were published, showing that the consumption of diluted ACV, 15-30 mL in 500 mL of water once daily, significantly improved the metabolic health of obese participants, reducing obesity, body fat mass, and serum triglycerides. Since then, however, there hasn’t been much research on ACV and its metabolic benefits, most likely because nobody holds the patent on apple cider vinegar. Just like the hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach, ACV is capable of denaturing proteins, breaking them down into smaller peptide chains. Thus the other significant body of research on ACV relates to its erosive capacity, breaking down tissues in the human body. For example, there is one case report of a chemical burn caused by the topical application of ACV. In another report, a 15 year old girl is diagnosed with significant dental erosion caused by drinking ACV for weight loss. And in another case, a body-builder that drank up to a cup of ACV on a daily basis for six years ended up with osteoporosis. And while this all of this sounds very negative, it was this protein-digesting property of ACV that intrigued me when I considered my mole situation. Thus armed with a little more knowledge, I decided to take the plunge…
• organic raw apple cider vinegar
• sterile needle (sterilize with a match or lighter, or clean with rubbing alcohol)
• cotton balls
Knowing that I needed to get the ACV to penetrate past the surface of the mole, I decided to gently poke the mole with a sterile needle. Fortunately, there isn’t any nerve tissue in a mole, so it didn’t hurt a bit. I then soaked a piece of cotton in ACV, and applied this to the mole for 20 minutes. This is what it looked like immediately after the first application:
The following evening I repeated the same procedure, gently poking the mole with a sterile needle, and applying the ACV for about 20-30 minutes. As you can see from the (blurry) photo below, there was some local reddening after application, but no pain or irritation:
On the third day, the mole was no longer looking like a mole – just like a scab. Again I gently pricked the mole with the needle, but the mole was greatly reduced in thickness, and it was easy to prick the skin below which hurt. Again, I applied the ACV for about 20-30 minutes. This is what it looked like on the evening of day three:
By the fourth day my mole was, for intents and purposes, no longer mole, but most definitely a scab. It took a lot for me not to fiddle with it over the next day, because it was a little itchy and just kind of hanging there. On the fifth day the mole-scab eventually came off, only a fraction of the size of the original mole. This is what it looked like after it fell off, with the fresh pink skin underneath:
Over the next few days, I applied some comfrey/calendula/plantain, and saw steady improvement in healing. By the end of the week any indication that there was ever a mole on my forehead disappeared entirely:
Now two weeks later, and no re-appearance of anything mole-like growing from that same spot, I would say that the treatment was a success. And in fact I would say that the entire process was quite remarkable: a rapid response with very little pain or discomfort, just some temporary reddening of the skin after application:
As a result of my experiment with ACV and mole removal, I am inclined to suggest this method for some of my patients that have the same issue. If you have a mole, however, and what to remove it, please get it checked out first to determine what kind of mole it is. For the removal of benign moles, or nevi, the ACV method seems to be fine, but I would caution against using this method for questionable moles such as dysplastic nevi that might be cancerous. Although there are some sites out there that extol the virtues of ACV for cancer, there isn’t any clinical evidence that ACV alone can inhibit cancer. Likewise, the belief that ACV makes the body alkaline, and that this prevents and treats cancer, is a faulty concept that I have addressed elsewhere. Thus while ACV certainly is no panacea, it does have a number of benefits that should be considered.