Ordinary vinegar used to make salad dressings and pickles just might live up to its age-old reputation in folk medicine as a promoter of health, a new study suggests.

Nobody should start guzzling vinegar, but Japanese scientists found new evidence that vinegar can help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain, at least in mice.

Tomoo Kondo and colleagues note that vinegar has been used as a folk medicine since ancient times. People have used it for a range of ills. Modern scientific research suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, may help control blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat accumulation.

Lab mice fed a high-fat diet and given acetic acid developed significantly less body fat (up to 10 percent less) than other mice, Kondo's team found.

Despite the constant barrage of diet advice and warnings about the ill effects of being overweight, the finding comes at a time when Americans diets are getting worse. Scientists said last month that fewer Americans in their middle and later years heed advice for a healthy lifestyle now compared to two decades ago.

The new research adds evidence to the idea that acetic acid fights fat by turning on genes that churn out proteins involved in breaking down fats, thus suppressing body fat accumulation in the body.

Further research on humans would be needed to confirm the effect carries over.

The results will be detailed in the July 8 issue of American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.