Now what could possibly be better than starting the day with a tall glass of cool refreshing lemon water or cradling a cup of lemon infused warm water? According to a number of bloggers this morning ritual brings a myriad of health benefits including immune boosting, liver cleansing, treatment of flus and colds, protection against kidney stones and the list goes on. None of these blogs give us any references to support these claims which begs the question - is this all just bloggers bluff or is there scientific proof that lemon water is good for your health?
There is actually very little in the medical literature that looks at the health benefits of lemon water. There are handful of quality studies that investigate compounds in lemons and their effects on health but these almost never point to the specific benefits of lemon water claimed by bloggers. This is the first (of many) reasons to be skeptical about the long list of health claims for lemon water that exist on the internet.
There is also nothing to guide people on which parts of the lemon (skin, flesh or juice) to use or just just how much lemon juice is needed to get all these health benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at the specific claims being made about lemon water to see how they hold up to a little scrutiny.
Table of Contents
1. Does lemon water help the common cold or flu?
There are no specific studies looking at the effects of lemon water on colds and flus. There are studies looking at hesperidia and hesperetin which are two of the flavanoinds that come from citrus fruits. These laboratory based studies in canine kidney cell lines do show that these citrus derived flavonoids have some antimicrobial properties and mention influenza A (Saha).
So it is biologically plausible that the bioflavonoids in lemons could help with colds or flu but there is no real proof in humans in yet. It is misleading to say that lemon water helps with flus and colds based on what we currently know. There is a big difference between doggie kidney cells and us humans.
2. Does lemon water boost the immune system?
Almost all blogs on lemon water talk about the great immune boosting effects of lemon water. If this is the case then why have we not seen lemon water used in HIV infection? Maybe this is the answer why. There is no specific study looking at the effect of lemon water on the immune system.
Yes, there is emerging interest in the role of citrus derived products on the immune system. A review in December 2015 concluded. that citrus fruits could ‘potentially’ provide benefits for human health’ but that is not quite the same as claiming that it boosts the immune system. The bottom line is that there is no conclusive evidence that lemon water boosts the immune system.
3. Does lemon water help with anxiety?
There are no studies to support a role for lemon water in anxiety. Lemon balm (Melissa officials) is a member of the mint family and is a well known nervine used in the treatment of anxiety. The only thing that lemons and lemon balm have in common is the name. I think that the ritual of sipping lemon water could be calming but this has to do with the ritual and not the chemical structure of lemon derivatives.
4. Does lemon water help depression?
Again there is simply nothing to support this claim. Bloggers have suggested that lemon water replaces potassium and that this plays a role in relieving depression. Now in all honesty how much potassium could lemon water really contribute to the body? Let’s be unreasonably open-minded and assume that lemon water ‘could’ boost the potassium level in the body and let’s deconstruct this further.
How long would the body have to hold on to this extra potassium to see any meaningful change in mood? The body is really efficient at maintaining homeostasis so the kidneys would eliminate the ‘extra potassium’ quickly. So this means that the person would feel a little bit happier for a few minutes after taking the lemon water and then plummet into the depths of despair for the rest of the day? Very shaky science!
5. Does lemon water help regulate bowel movements?
Claims that lemon water aids with bowel movements are not backed up by any science. Again this raises the issue of possibly mixing up the benefits of a whole fruit (rind, pulp and juice) which is entirely different to a few drops of lemon juice.
6. Does lemon water clean the arteries?
A number of blogs refer to a role of lemon water in cleansing arteries. Lemons are very popular for cleaning microwaves and ovens but that is about it. There is nothing to support the role of lemon water as an endovascular cleaning agent.
7. Does lemon water help cleanse the liver?
There are no specific studies looking at the effect of lemon water on liver cleansing. It is simply not possible to extrapolate from the emerging data on the undoubted benefits of citrus fruits in general to stand over claims that lemon water helps with liver cleansing.
I think that milk thistle can relax without any fear of being taken over by lemon water as the leading liver cleansing agent.
8. Does lemon water act as an adaptogen in pregnancy?
Adaptogens are really interesting and are known as rasayanas in Ayurvedic medicine and as the superior herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. The idea behind adaptogens is that they are smart compounds that produce a normalizing effect depending on what is needed at that moment in time in that individual. Strictly speaking a compound is only considered as an adaptogen if it has been shown to have no harmful effects.
Lemon water is not classified an an adaptogen. Worse still suggesting that lemon water is an adaptogen and by inference is totally safe and without side effects in pregnancy is not smart.
9. Does lemon water aid digestion?
10. Does lemon water help protect kidney stones?
Finally lemon water hits a home run! There was a nice review from Italy last year which looked at this question. The researchers systematically reviewed the available data and concluded that drinking lemon water can help increase the citrate in the urine which in turn can protect against the formation of Kidney Stones (Prezioso D). There is good evidence that drinking lemon water can help protect against kidney stones in people at risk.
I don’t think that drinking lemon water in the mornings can do any harm but that is not the same as saying that it does actual good. Yes there is growing excitement on the ‘potential’ health benefits of citrus fruits in general but this is not information that can be extrapolated to mean that lemon water boosts immunity, aids digestion, cleanses the liver etc.
Herein lies my problem with claims (ten claims that is!) about lemon juice that are not backed up by science. I like to look at my kitchen table as a pharmacy. As I choose my foods I mentally check off the nutrients that I have taken and try to ensure that I meet all my desired requirements on a daily basis.
If I erroneously believe that I have checked the box for immunity or digestion by drinking lemon water in the morning then I might miss out on important parts of my health maintenance plan. So I will keep on sipping that lemon water in the morning and see it as I would a relaxing Japanese tea ceremony but not as a major health booster unless the data changes.