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9 science-backed lemon water health benefits

lemon water benefits
Lemon water is one of the simplest drinks around, but it’s thought that it can help clear your skin, help you lose weight, ward off kidney stones and more.

Lemon water is renowned for enhancing health and beauty to the point that it’s something of a cliché.

According to some people, just one glass can contour your cheekbones, improve your waist-to-hip ratio, and fix your life!

Although lemon water’s health benefits aren’t so transformative, they’re undoubtedly powerful.

Here, we’ll investigate the truth behind the hype. We’ll look at lemon water’s health benefits, the nutritional content of drinking a glass, and how to get more lemon water in your diet.

We’ll also look at why lemon water may not be the best choice for you.

What is lemon water?

It’s in the name – lemon water is simply water that contains lemon.

Lemon water can contain:

  • Lemon juice

The sharp, tangy juice is most commonly mixed with water to create a classic lemon water.

  • Lemon pith

The white stuff which is found just under the peel, sometimes found in lemon water.

  • Lemon peel (aka lemon zest)

Less commonly found in lemon water, but lemon peel actually has a high concentration of nutrients.

  • Whole lemon pieces

The most aesthetically pleasing form of lemon water – adding lemon slices or chunks is a health blogger’s favourite.

  • Lemon cordial or squash

Not considered a true lemon water in terms of health benefits, as lemon flavoured cordial and squash often contain sweeteners and additives.

Lemon water can be drunk hot, cold or lukewarm.

Is lemon water good for you?

Also known as ‘lemon detox water’, this humble drink has some impressive health claims.

Although it’s not going to fix a bad diet, clear your skin overnight or give you a squeaky-clean colon, lemon water is a healthy choice for most people.

In a world of health fads and trends, there’s something reassuring about lemon water.

Lemons have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal and culinary properties.1

However, it comes with some warnings. For example, lemon water is harsh on the teeth and can erode tooth enamel.

Summary

  • Lemon water is a popular beverage, drunk for its taste and purported health benefits
  • Lemon water can be enjoyed hot, cold or lukewarm
  • A daily cup of lemon water is thought to be able to offer various vitality-boosting benefits

9 lemon water benefits

Although lemon water’s health benefits are mostly anecdotal, there is some evidence that lemon water can help with everything from skin to mood.

Studies have found that frequent consumption of lemon water might help with the following:

  1. Lemon water for skin

Lemon’s high vitamin C content makes it a skin-friendly beverage.

Diets high in vitamin C improve skin appearance by encouraging collagen production.2 Collagen is what gives skin its springy, plump appearance.

Drinking water is also important for beating skin dryness, so if you’re sipping a daily lemon water, this counts towards your daily hydration.

  1. Lemon water for weight loss

Lemons contain polyphenols – a type of plant compound which acts as an antioxidant. Lemon polyphenols are linked with weight-loss properties in some studies.3

This is thought to be partly down to its ability to influence the metabolism of fats.4

Simply drinking water itself is linked with weight loss, too, by increasing hydration and promoting fullness.5

Adding lemon to water improves the taste and may make it more likely that you’ll drink it.

  1. Lemon water for immunity

Lemons contain plenty of vitamin C. As you probably know, vitamin C is important for a robust immune system.

The vitamin C in lemon water helps support cells to fight off pathogens, as well as promoting the oxidant-scavenging activity of the body.

This protects us from oxidative stress and disease.6

  1. Lemon water for iron absorption

Vitamin C is known to help your body better absorb iron from the food you eat.7

Sipping a little lemon water alongside your green vegetables, lentil dish or after taking iron tablets can help your body make the most of the iron source.

This is especially useful for vegans or vegetarians, who are at risk for iron deficiency.8

  1. Lemon water to help digestion

Often touted as a great way to get your bowels moving in the morning, lemon water is believed to be good for digestion.

This benefit is largely anecdotal, although many people swear by lemon water in the morning to detox their system and help flush out waste.

Now, remember that the word ‘detox’ is a little misleading. The body generally doesn’t need any extra detoxing, as the liver and kidneys do a great job of this on their own.

However, a warm beverage first thing will almost certainly help you move your bowels, which is important to prevent constipation.9

  1. Lemon water for mood

In aromatherapy, the scent of lemon is known to be uplifting, energising and able to promote positive mood.10

Further, it’s thought that the inhalation of lemon aroma can reduce nervousness, anxiety, exhaustion, and fatigue.11

So, starting your day with a cup of fragrant lemon water may mean you start your day with an improved outlook.

  1. Lemon water for reducing cholesterol

If you fancy adding garlic to your daily lemon water, you could be in for some cholesterol-lowering benefits.

In one study, participants took a garlic and lemon juice combination every day for 8 weeks.

This resulted in an improvement in both LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure of patients with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).12

  1. Lemon water for fresher breath

Both lemon juice and lemon peel extract hold antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties.13

These properties make it ideal for helping to neutralise unpleasant odours caused by bacteria in the mouth.

  1. Lemon water for kidney stones

The NHS recommends drinking plenty of water with fresh lemon juice to help prevent kidney stones.14

It’s the citric acid in lemon juice which helps inhibit stone formation.

Having citric acid in your urine helps protect against the formation of new stones, as well as helping to break up small kidney stones that are just beginning to form.15

Summary

  • Drinking lemon water can help give you better skin, and may help with weight loss
  • Lemon water helps you absorb iron from the food you eat
  • Lemon water may boost your immunity and even lower your LDL cholesterol
  • Starting the day with lemon water can improve mood and kill bad breath

3 side effects of lemon water

Excessive consumption of lemon water does have some downsides. You may want to avoid lemon water and choose other healthy drinks if you’re concerned about:

  1. Tooth enamel erosion

Lemon juice is a rich source of citric acid. Unfortunately, this means that over time it is capable of eroding tooth enamel.16

To help mitigate this, drink lemon water with a straw to minimise contact with the teeth.

Another way to reduce the damage done by an acidic beverage like lemon juice is to rinse your mouth with plain water after finishing it.

Yet another way is to have a small drink of milk, a spoon of yoghurt or a bite of cheese immediately following your lemon water.

Dairy products help to neutralise the acid on the teeth and can help prevent damage to tooth enamel.17

  1. Bacteria on lemon skins

Despite the fruits themselves holding antibacterial properties, lemon skins can be covered in bacteria from their long trip from the lemon grove to the kitchen.

This can include harmful E.coli, a common culprit in nasty tummy bugs.18

Be aware of this in restaurants, too. Don’t be afraid to ask if the lemons have been washed thoroughly before accepting a slice alongside your jug of table water.

At home, squeeze your lemon juice into your glass, instead of throwing in a slice, to minimise your chance of ingesting harmful bacteria.

  1. Heartburn

Again, the citric acid content of lemons is to blame for this undesirable side-effect of drinking lemon water.

Acidic foods can exacerbate acid reflux, when stomach acid flows up into the oesophagus and gives that painful burning sensation in the chest.

Interestingly, some people theorise that because lemon juice may have an alkalising effect it can help relieve acid reflux, rather than causing it.19 This hasn’t been proven, however.

Nutritional benefits of lemon water

A large glass of lemon water – based on the juice of 1 medium lemon – includes:20

Nutrient Per glass of lemon water % of approx. RDA
Vitamin C 30.7mg 34%
Vitamin A 1mcg 0%
Potassium 80mg 2%
Iron 0.35mg 2%
Calcium  15mg 1%

How much lemon water should you drink a day?

A glass of lemon water which includes the juice of 1 lemon is plenty for your daily intake.

If you wish to, and haven’t experienced any adverse effects, you can increase your intake.

A review on drinking lemon juice to prevent kidney stones suggested 4 ounces (around 113ml) of fresh lemon juice per day was equal to the amount of citric acid used in pharmacological therapy.21

When is best to drink lemon water?

Drinking lemon water can be beneficial at different times of the day. 

Lemon water in the morning

A glass of lemon juice in the morning made with lukewarm water provides a much-needed hydration hit after your overnight fast.

Adequate hydration likely helps your body digest food better, and lemon water’s acid content could improve digestion of your breakfast, too.22

This is because acid helps break down food in the stomach.23

Hot lemon water before bed

To relax and unwind after a long day, lemon water is a delicious caffeine-free choice.

Drinking lemon water before bed will boost hydration levels and might help you move your bowels in the morning.

Be aware, though, you’re more likely to need to get up in the night for a trip to the loo if you drink fluids just before bed.

Quick & easy lemon water recipe

  1. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a glass, cup or mug. Use a citrus press if you have one, otherwise you may have to remove any pips with a spoon.
  2. Use water from the kettle that’s halfway cooled, so your drink is lukewarm. We suggest this because it’s dangerous to drink hot beverages with a straw as you won’t know if the temperature is right and you risk burning the back of your throat.
  3. That’s it! Give your beverage a quick mix and throw in a few mint leaves for extra flavour, or a little sweetener if you wish. Use a (non-plastic!) straw.

Summary

  • Lemon water may cause the erosion of tooth enamel and can exacerbate heartburn
  • Lemon water is a good source of vitamin C, and also contains small amounts of potassium and iron
  • Lemon water is beneficial in both the morning and evening – just use a straw to drink it!

Read moreDo detox drinks really work?

Last updated: 26 April 2021

Sources

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336135127
  2. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/4/1225/4649573
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2581754/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2581754/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4901052/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18469253/
  8. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
  9. https://www.bladderandbowel.org/bowel/bowel-treatments/8-methods-encourage-bowel-movement/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2278291/
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336135127_Lemon_as_a_source_of_functional_and_medicinal_ingredient_A_review
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4977979/
  13. https://ijpsr.com/bft-article/antibacterial-and-antibiotic-potentiation-activities-of-lemon-against-drug-resistant-phenhotypes/?view=fulltext
  14. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-stones/prevention/
  15. https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf/kidney_citric_acid.pdf
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8877092/
  17. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dental-erosion
  18. http://www.pccc.edu/uploads/Xu/1x/Xu1xPvHvoXeYex8Gf1Uh0Q/JEH_Dec_07_with_Copyright.pdf
  19. https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/ask-experts/q-ive-heard-that-drinking-lemon-water-can-help-with-my-acid-reflux-is-this-true/
  20. https://www.fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/generic/lemon-raw?portionid=19194&portionamount=1.000
  21. https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf/kidney_citric_acid.pdf
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11192068/
  23. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/7-reasons-to-start-your-day-with-lemon-water-infographic/
 

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