They say it'll help you lose fat, digest better, detoxify, and live longer. But what does science say?
Here We Go Again
Squeeze some lemon juice into a big glass of water, slug it down and you'll detoxify your liver, lose fat, improve digestion, prevent colds, and develop the ability to ride unicorns bareback across rainbows of Laffy Taffy. Or something like that.
This advice has been around for decades. I think I remember by mom doing it in the 1970's before her Jazzercise class. And even some respected strength coaches today have recommended it for various reasons.
But do any of those claims stand up to science? Well, Wyatt Brown and the guys at Examine.com dug through 42 studies to figure it out. Here's a quick summary.
Does lemon water really detoxify the body?
There's zero proof of this. While the D-limonene molecule in citrus can affect detoxification enzymes in the liver according to rat studies, it's unknown whether this works for humans or whether you could even get enough of it from lemon juice to have an effect. Probably not.
Does it really give you energy and enhance mood?
Not really, unless you have scurvy and you drink enough lemon water to cure your severe vitamin C deficiency. The mood claims come in part from the whole positive vs. negative ions movement, which is itself "sketchy as f*ck" as the science guys say.
Does it really improve digestion?
Maybe, but probably not. Lemon juice might increase bile-acid secretion a bit, but it's unknown whether or not this actually translates into "improved digestion."
But what about the claim that it increases stomach acid? Maybe a little if you have hypochlorhydria – a medical condition where you can't produce enough stomach acid – but in that case you probably need to go see your doctor instead of relying on a home "cure."
How about reducing the rate of gastric emptying which might help you absorb micronutrients and slow the absorption of carbs? Well, acidic foods may help you there, but there's no direct proof that a squeeze of lemon in your water will do this.
Does it protect you from acidic diets?
As the folks at Examine say, your body's own buffering system does a nice job balancing blood pH, unless you have cancer or liver disease. Even if you tried really hard to "alkalize the blood" you'd barely cause a temporary ripple in your blood pH. And lemon water alone certainly isn't going to do it.
Does it help with fat loss?
Nope. Lemon water is often recommended with low-carb diets and fasting diets. So while "weight" is lost, it's the low calories and loss of muscle glycogen ("water weight") causing it, not the magical lemon water.
Now, drinking a big glass of lemon water before meals may cause you to eat less, but so would plain water. And again, it's the calorie reduction that leads to the fat loss, not the lemon juice.
Does it really fight diseases?
The phytochemicals lemon juice contains are healthy and "may affect the processes involved in cancer and cardiovascular disease" according to Examine, but you'd have to consume a lot of frickin' lemon water. There are other, denser sources of phytochemicals.
Does it prevent colds?
No, though vitamin C has been shown to shorten the lifespan of the common cold. Still, you're not getting enough vitamin C in lemon water to have a positive effect.
Does it prevent kidney stones?
Possibly. More studies are needed. I'd drink it just in case if I were prone to that painful problem.
Okay, should I be drinking lemon water or not?
If it helps you drink more water because you like the taste, then it's fine. But it's probably not doing most of the things the hippy-dippy internet bloggers say it's doing.
And you probably don't want to overdo it anyway since acidic lemon juice can definitely erode your tooth enamel if you really go to town on it and don't brush your teeth after every glass.
- "Lemon water: Is it good for you?" Wyatt Brown, Examine.com, Sep 23, 2018.