The Benefits of Lemon Water
A quick Google search for lemon water will bring up 165,000,000+ results, many of which citing the benefits of lemon water, and others stating that there is no scientific evidence to prove any of those claims. In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. So I decided to have a look at three of the most widely used claims about lemon water and give you my two cents on them.
Lemon Water Is Detoxifying
This is the most widely used claim out there. Is it fact or fiction and what exactly does “detoxifying” mean. Over the years the word detox has become a household term in the health and wellness community and everyone seems to be pitching a detox product or program.
Our bodies are well oiled machines and were designed to detox themselves, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. On autopilot, without us having to go on a “detox” program. If they didn't, the toxin build up would literally kill us. Sometimes though, toxins DO accumulate, if we're exposed to them at a greater rate than our body is able to remove them.
We can do our part to lessen the burden on our body (specifically the liver, kidneys and the skin, our main elimination organs) so it can do it’s job more efficiently, by eating a natural whole food diet, limiting our exposure to toxins (lead, mercury, pesticides, BPA’s from plastic food and drink packaging, phtalates in beauty products, etc…), avoiding foods to which we are sensitive, and drinking plenty of good quality water.
But can lemon water really help?
Our bodies do get dehydrated overnight, and drinking water first thing in the morning is a good way to rehydrate and help flush out the system. What are we flushing out exactly?
Here's a very simplified explanation. Our liver does most of it's work when we sleep, between 1 am and 3 am according to Chinese medicine. It converts toxins into harmless substances and/or sends them off to the kidneys (urine) or the bowel so they can be excreted.
Our kidneys filter less urine when we sleep, so it gets held in the bladder overnight. Drinking water first thing in the morning will help flush this urine out and any of the toxins that accumulated there with it.
Does adding lemon juice to your water make a difference?
Yes and no.
Good old plain water (preferably lukewarm) is going to do the trick all on it's own. However, lemon juice is one of the most concentrated forms of citric acid, which has been found to be potentially useful in the treatment of inflammatory conditions of the liver tissues (1). In other words, lemon juice is a liver supporting food. While saying that lemon water IS detoxifying is a bit of a stretch, it may play a role in assisting the body's natural detoxification processes due to it's liver protecting properties.
Lemon Water Is Good For Digestion
Drinking lemon water upon rising and before you've had anything to eat wakes up your digestive system and rekindles that fire. Every time you eat, your stomach produces hydrochloric acid (gastric acid). By ingesting lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, you are essentially tricking your stomach into producing hydrochloric acid, but since the lemon water itself requires little to no gastric acid to digest, it leaves your stomach with a surplus of fuel for the day(2) which is excellent news for your digestive tract.
Another reason that lemons may be good for digestion is the presence of citrus flavanoids. Citrus flavonoids have been found to delay starch digestion(3), which would seem counter productive to being good for digestion to the less informed. In reality, slowing down starch digestion is actually a good thing as it slows down the release of simple sugars into the blood stream, preventing blood sugar instability which is often accompanied by cravings, mood swings and other disturbances. What's fascinating about this is that citrus flavanoids don't interfere with digestive enzymes(4), so while starch digestion is slowed down, the rest of the digestive process can go on uninhibited. Two birds with one stone!
Lemon Water Has Antioxidant Benefits
Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid (not to be confused with citric acid mentioned above), which acts an an antioxidant to protect cells from free radical damage.
What are free radicals you may ask?
In simple terms, they are unstable Oxygen atoms looking for stability to guarantee their survival and are willing to stop at nothing to get it. In the process, they damage healthy cells and set off a chain reaction of more free radicals which causes oxidative stress (think of your cells as an avocado that turns brown after it's been cut open and exposed to air). Over the long term, oxidative stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, wrinkles, chronic inflammation and a host of other issues. Vitamin C is like the superhero, zapping those free radicals with their super powers. BUT, yes, there's always a but, vitamin C is destroyed by oxygen and heat (about 70 C), so always use freshly squeezed lemon juice and never put it in boiling water.
The coles notes version
Lemon water may not be a cure all magic potion but nothing ever is. Optimal health and well being is never about doing or eating just one thing, but if you have to start somewhere, replacing your morning coffee with a cup of warm lemon water is a good first step.
I sometimes take it in the morning on an empty stomach, using the juice of one half to one whole lemon squeezed into a cup of warm (never hot, boiling or cold) water. I love the taste of lemons and find it helps me get closer to my water consumption goals for the day. When the weather heats up, I like to sip on room temperature or slightly cooled lemon water throughout the day, sometimes adding in fresh mint. If I'm coming down with a cold, I opt for a lemon ginger turmeric elixir.
Despite the conflicting scientific evidence to prove this claim, I like many others, find that lemon water helps my digestion, so when I'm feeling sluggish in that department, I make it part of my morning ritual for a couple of weeks at a time. Too much of anything is never a good idea, and lemon juice can be harsh on tooth enamel so, I cycle it in and out of my morning routine, alternating it with plain warm water or a herbal infusion.