You’ve probably seen people walking around sipping bottles full of water laced with lemon slices. Sipping lemon water is a trendy way to stay hydrated. One thing is clear. We need to focus on hydration, especially as the temperatures rise and we lose more water and electrolytes due to sweating. But you may have heard a variety of health claims about lemon water–that its health benefits extend beyond hydration. How many of these claims really hold up? Let’s look at some claims people commonly make about lemon water and whether they’re backed by science.
Claim: Lemon Water Can Help You Lose Weight
People often overhype lemon water as a natural weight loss beverage. If you don’t add sugar to your lemon water and turn it into sweet lemonade, It is a low-calorie beverage to sip, and if you use it as a replacement for other sugary beverages, you might lose a few pounds. But there’s no evidence that lemon juice directly impacts body weight. It doesn’t boost your metabolism or markedly suppress appetite. Therefore, it’s unlikely that drinking lemon water offers weight loss benefits beyond being lower in calories than sugary beverages. However, there is some evidence that staying well hydrated can modestly increase thermogenesis, the rate at which your body burns fat at rest, but the effects are short-lived. Plus, you’ll get the same benefits by drinking cold water. So, there’s nothing magical about adding lemon to water from a weight control perspective. On the other hand, switching out lemon water for soft drinks may have a positive impact on your weight, especially if you drink several each day.
Claim: Lemon Water Detoxes Your Body
It’s not clear how lemon water became a popular detox beverage or what the claims are based on. The most important detox organ in your body is your liver. Eating certain fruits and vegetables may enhance the liver’s ability to break down toxins, particularly cruciferous vegetables. But there’s nothing magical about lemons. In fact, you’d be better served to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. The kidneys also help your body eliminate water-soluble toxins, so you want your kidneys to be healthy. Drinking lemon water helps you stay hydrated. That, in turn, helps your kidneys function as they should. However, you can get similar benefits from drinking water.
Another way lemon water could have modest benefits for “detoxing” is the fact that lemon is a good source of vitamin C. Since vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin, getting enough of it helps cells fight free radicals that form in response to oxidative stress. However, you don’t have to get your vitamin C from lemon water. You can get it from eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Claim: Drinking Lemon Water Prevents Kidney Stones
Yes, drinking lemon water can lower the risk of kidney stones. This is because it contains citric acid, a compound that combines with calcium in the kidneys. When citric acid binds to calcium, there is less calcium available to attach to oxalate and form calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common kind. Research shows that consuming the equivalent of the juice of two lemons each day can significantly reduce the formation of kidney stones. Drinking enough water also lowers the risk. If you have had a kidney stone in the past or are at high risk, experts recommend consuming around two liters of water daily. If you have risk factors or family history, adding lemon juice may help protect against painful, calcium oxalate stones.
Claim: Lemon Water Alkalinizes Your Body and That’s Healthy
Alkalinity refers to the body’s acid-base balance. Alkalinizing is anything that makes the pH of the blood more basic or less acidic. The idea is that drinking lemon water or eating lemons create a more basic pH. While lemons are weakly acidic, they produce by-products that are alkaline. There is also the perception that alkaline foods and beverages are linked with better health and a lower risk of chronic health problems such as cancer and osteoporosis.
Is there any truth to this? Your kidneys and lungs already do a good job of regulating your body’s pH and keeping it in a healthy range, irrespective of what you eat. When you consume foods that are more acidic or more basic, it changes the acid-base balance of your urine, but that’s because your kidneys eliminate any excess. However, it’s not affecting the pH of your body in any meaningful way.
Claim: Lemon Water Aids Digestion
You may have heard that lemon water aids digestion. The idea is that we produce less stomach acid as we age and that creates problems with digestion, as stomach acid helps break the bonds that hold food together so they can be further broken down and absorbed by the intestines. It’s true that lemon juice is a weak acid, but the acid your stomach produces and uses to digest food is far stronger.
Lemon water doesn’t come close to the strong hydrochloric acid your stomach makes for digestion. Lemon juice alone isn’t enough to do it, but when you dilute it with water, it further weakens its effects.
On the plus side, some research suggests that lemon juice boosts bile acid secretion and you need bile for fat digestion. But the extra boost in bile release you get from lemon water is unlikely to have a major impact on digestion.
Claim: Lemon Water is a Good Source of Vitamins and Minerals
A medium lemon contains around 30 milligrams of vitamin C, a respectable amount. In fact, a medium lemon supplies around 30% of the day’s recommended daily intake of vitamin C. But lemons aren’t a particularly good source of minerals or other vitamins except for potassium. However, they do contain a modest quantity of various phytonutrients including phenolic acids, flavonoids, terpenoids, and others that may have health benefits. However, you can also get these phytonutrients from other fruits and vegetables. So, there’s nothing magical about lemons!
The Bottom Line
Lemon water is a good substitute for sugary drinks and may be particularly beneficial if you’re at risk of kidney stones. However, many of the claims made about the benefits of lemon water are unsubstantiated. Drink it if you enjoy it, but don’t buy into the claims!
· J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Dec;88(12):6015-9.
· Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Oct;35(10):1295-300. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.130. Epub 2011 Jul 12.
· Harvard Health Publishing. “5 things that can help you take a pass on kidney stones”
· Science-Based Pharmacy. “Your Urine is Not a Window to Your Body: pH Balancing – A Failed Hypothesis”
· LiveScience.com. “Lemons: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts”