Jack McWilliams is a retired farmer from Tuscumbia, Ala. These days he's getting rich selling vinegar.
The product making him a wealthy man is called Jogging in a Jug. It is a combination of apple juice, cider vinegar and grape juice and sells in our local supermarket for about $6 a bottle (64 oz).
According to Jack, Jogging in a Jug is flying out of stores _ 10,000 bottles a day. He began in 1990 with just 18 bottles in northwest Alabama. Now it is distributed throughout the southeast and is spreading across the country.
Jack McWilliams is no doctor; he'd be the first to admit that. But he maintains that the benefits of vinegar can be traced back to the Bible. He says that 2 ounces of his concoction daily will boost "energy and stamina" and is good for arthritis, cholesterol and the heart.
Jack told us that vinegar produces an amoebic action, causing the cells to expand and contract, clearing themselves of toxins. We could find no confirmation of this theory in the scientific literature. But vinegar certainly does have a history in folk medicine. Dr. D. C. Jarvis wrote about the benefits of daily vinegar in his popular 1985 book, Folk Medicine: A Vermont Country Doctor's Guide to Good Health. (Fawcett)
Readers of this column have sent in their own stories. Norma in Dunnsville, Va., offers the following: "I'm one of those people doing the vinegar trick. I make my own concoction and allow one tablespoon vinegar daily. It's not too bad once you get used to it. Far more palatable to me than a glass of wine.
"My question: how will I know if in fact it is doing anything positive for me? I have read it is touted to remove fatty deposits from your blood, which in turn would be good for your heart. Do I have to wait for an autopsy to determine the results? Or will a cholesterol test tell? Has anyone reported an improvement in cholesterol after vinegar cocktails for months? Maybe I'm just turning myself into a PICKLE."
As far as we can tell, there is no medical evidence that vinegar will lower cholesterol or protect against heart attacks or anything else for that matter. But Pauline in Tryon, N.C., provides the following testimonial:
"We had a friend who was almost 80 when we met him. He told us he had taken vinegar and honey every day of his life, had never been sick, and never even had a cold. I would say that's a pretty good recommendation."
Patti in Shillington, Penn., is also convinced: "In response to your question, Is vinegar good for you? Yes it is! Raw apple cider vinegar is an old New England remedy for arthritis. It works the same as it would on an old teapot with heavy mineral deposits. The vinegar dissolves the calcium deposits on joints in the same way."
Marion in Conroe, Texas, points out that vinegar doesn't have to be swallowed to be helpful. "Some of my friends use vinegar to soak a sprained ankle. Remember the nursery rhyme, "Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. Up Jack got and home did trot as fast as he could caper. He went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.'
We don't know if vinegar will help anyone, but it is unlikely to do much harm. Before spending a bundle on Jogging in a Jug, though, you might want to follow Jack McWilliams' example and try to find your own formula with a taste you like.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert. Their newest book is The Aspirin Handbook (Bantam Books). In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of: King Features, 235 E 45th St., New York, NY 10017