The Real Benefits of Lemon Water According to Science
by Mark Williams (Root and Sprouts)
Lemon water sounds like a good idea, and you’ve probably seen pictures on Pinterest of large pitchers of water with vibrant lemons and the top 10 reasons why you should be drinking it.
It’s easy to take these images and lists at face value, and most won’t end up actually drinking lemon water regularly, let alone be able tell their friends the top 10 reasons lemon water is good for you.
What We Know About Lemons
Botanically it is a citrus fruit in the Rutaceae family (scientifically known as Citrus Limon), and while being the smallest in its family has more comprehensive health benefits than its family members (1).
They are likely to have originated in India around the Himalayan foothills and spread from there. The two main types of lemons are the Lisbon and Eureka. There are other’s that have come into vogue such as the sweeter Meyer Lemons.
The fruit is lower in calories about 29 per 100 grams, which makes it one of the lower in its family.
Lemons as a Source of Vitamin-C
We know lemons are high in vitamin C which is essential for normal growth and development (2). A single lemon contains around 30-40 mg of vitamin C (3) (in comparison an orange contains around 80-90 mg of vitamin C).
Vitamin C has been studied extensively and shown to have a myriad of health benefits from protecting against prenatal problems, cardiovascular disease, eye diseases, skin wrinkles, and immune system deficiencies (4).
It acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (5).
If you’d like to go down the rabbit hole of vitamin c start with this fact sheet, as we’ll be focusing on some of the more unique properties of lemon water.
Unique Health Benefits of Lemons
1. Lemon Water Aids Detoxification
This is the first benefit that comes to mind when it comes to lemon water, and usually the most overstated. We’ve cited a few scientific sources that give true insight on the potential for lemon water as a natural detox.
Not surprisingly, the amount of urine is increased when drinking Lemon water however lemon water brings with it the primary compound known as Citrate.
Toxins come into our systems through various sources from the air we breathe to some of the foods we eat. Two of the more well known studies shed some light on the use of lemon as a cleanse:
- As published by Dutch researchers in a 2002 edition of the European Journal of Nutrition, lemon peels and the waste stream of the lemon peels are effective in lowering blood and liver cholesterol levels. Although performed on animal subjects, these results insinuate that lemon peel consumption could be beneficial to those with fatty liver disease.
- As published by Indian researchers in a 2005 edition of BMC Pharmacology, hesperidin (a citrus bioflavonoid found in lemons) demonstrates the ability to protect the liver from damage. After administration of CCl4 (a well known liver toxin), the authors concluded that hesperidin demonstrates a protective effect on the liver (6).
These studies shed light on the lemon’s ability to enhance the liver’s function of filtering out unwanted toxins.
The main premise behind lemon water as a detox revolves around its ability to enhance your bodies enzyme function and stimulate the liver.
Studies indicate that in cases where toxins have built up in the body, the lemon juice and peel have cleansing properties. Using lemon water, especially after meals may help you lower the amount of toxins in your body.
2. Improve Digestion with Lemon Water
Citrus flavonoids are the primary cause of improved digestion when drinking warm lemon water. They aid in the assimilation of food, help prevent fatty liver, decrease chances of cardiovascular disease, fat-lowering, and reduced insulin sensitivity. This has to do with it’s ability to inhibit certain synthesis of fat in the body (7).
Citrus flavonoids act as a great digestive tonic, with appetite suppressing abilities (8). It has also been shown to calm an upset stomach or mild indigestion. This has to do with the hydrochloric acid in your stomach that start the process of breaking down your food. It is believed the citrus flavonoids in lemon water support the hydrochloric acid in the stomach in breaking down food (9).
The best way to utilize lemon water as a digestion aid is to also include the zest of the lemon which will improve the good bacteria in your gut.
3. Weight loss/Appetite Suppressant
We’re approaching this claim with caution since any new health fad that becomes popular can get turned into a “fat burning miracle”.
There is a lack of scientific research that supports the claim of weight loss fully, however this doesn’t mean the claims are false, simply that additional research is needed (13).
One of the studies that does exist was not a human trial but did show significantly reduced weight gain when a diet high in fat was being consumed (14). Most people whether they want to admit it or not fall in the high fat diet category.
Pectin gives a feeling a fullness much like other soluble dietary fibres, that may help reduced caloric intake.
In one study these two substance increased fat metabolism, increased HDL (good) cholesterol & lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreased the production of inflammation (15).
The main study was carried out by Drs. Sheau C. Chai, Shirin Hooshmand, Raz L. Saadat, and Bahram Arjmandi, of Florida State University.
It’s a Slow Process Don’t Make it Slower by Quitting.
Every ‘body’ will respond differently to lemon water, which is why we recommend adding this to your diet without any other major changes to isolate the effects.
This will allow you to better attribute any changes you experience and not be confused if it was the new multivitamin you started taking.
While additional research is needed regarding the weight loss benefits of lemon water, positive benefits are achieved by replacing sugary drinks for lemon water.
We recommend replacing your morning coffee with lemon water for at least 2 weeks. Keep a journal of your mood, energy, and cravings for the 2 weeks to see what positive benefits you experience.
5. Reduced Wrinkles and Improved Skin
This claim states benefits from both drinking lemon water and applying topically. Lemons have been found to be high in antioxidants (16) which are linked to anti-aging properties.
The primary cause of aging comes from free radicals that cause the breakdown of various tissues in the body, namely skin.
Research showed that plant derived antioxidants were able to reverse the breakdown of collagen fibres in the skin (17).
Collagen gives skin it’s strength, structure, and plumpness while protecting the skin from absorbing toxins (18).
Now the next time you see your friend with great skin you can tell her you’re jealous of her collagen.
Free radicals in small amounts are not damaging to the body, but you should be aware of practices that increase your exposure to free radicals.
The most common and most dangerous forms of exposure can come from drugs, radiation, pesticides, air pollutants, solvents, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pollution, and even foods we eat (19).
If you want to apply lemon juice topically there are various ways depending on preference. The simplest way is to dilute in water and pat on the face with a damp cloth avoiding the eyes.
Other methods range from creating sugar scrubs to combining with Greek yogurt. In all cases the antioxidants in the lemon will be the active ingredient.
6. Benefits of Essential Oils in Lemons
Essential oils as a whole is a topic we will cover in greater detail since there is a lot of debate on their effectiveness, especially when you look at the claims.
There are however plenty of benefits that come from essential oil use, but we’ll stick to those that have been researched and tested.
At the time of this writing we found 14000+ articles that had essential oils being studied and researched (21), and lemon oil had over 500 alone.
If you’re looking to get the oils into your lemon water simply take the peel and squeeze or twist the outer zest portion.
If you watch closely you’ll be able to see the lemon oils coming out of the zest.
One of the most interesting benefits that has been linked to lemon oil is its moderate antimicrobial activities against bad bacteria, yeast and fungi such as Candida albicans more commonly known to cause yeast infection (22).
These antimicrobial effects have a range of benefits when ingested and used topically, and are the core of where the benefits are derived.
A study was published took a look at how lemon oil would affect pregnant women dealing with vomiting and nausea. Around 100 women participated and after just 2 days reports of dramatically decreased symptoms were reported as compared to the placebo group.
After 4 days a decrease of nausea and vomiting was seen on average of 33% (23).
While this study was specific to pregnant women, it may suggest that those dealing with similar issues who are not pregnant would see similar benefits.
The study showed that sciatic nerve damage was reduced through lemon oil (geraniol) use. In the full 8 week study cellular function was restored, suggesting that the use of lemon oil regularly can assist in regulating energy stores, and as previously mentioned help preventing disease (24).
Lemon oil is perhaps the most researched part of the lemon and also the part no one seems to include when making their lemon water.
Consider using the zest of the lemon in your drink or extracting the oils to include in your drink for maximum benefit.
Lemon Water Safety Measures
Safety measures for lemon water?!? I know what you’re thinking but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- First off you really shouldn’t be eating the seeds of the lemon. A few here and there isn’t going to be terrible for you but if you plan to drink lemon water regularly then make sure you’re avoiding the seeds.
- They contain small amounts of salicylic acid which is the main ingredient in asprin, along with the bitter/astringent coating on the outside of the seed which gives it the bitter taste. The easiest way I’ve found to get rid of them is to use a small strainer or a lemon press.
- Some people are concerned that lemon water damages teeth. With the amount of soda that people drink in our time, substituting lemon water will actually save your teeth. If you’re super concerned about it then try using a straw.
- Drinking lemon water is one of these little things that we can do on a regular basis that can have long term benefits.
The people who will have the most dramatic effects in the beginning will be those who can replace a morning coffee or soda with lemon water.
As with any new addition to your diet, I recommend giving it a minimum of 2 weeks to see what positive benefits you’re getting.
We’re so used to instant gratification in almost everything we do, so when it comes to healthy diet an exercise it can be easy to get discouraged if we don’t see results in a few days.
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