Lemon Water: The (Somewhat) Bitter Truth
What lemon water can — and can’t — do for your health and digestion
In case you haven't heard, lemon water is the ''it'' beverage these days. Squeeze a half (or a whole) lemon into a glass of water. Sip and repeat throughout the day. It's a simple way to freshen your breath, detox your body, lose weight and improve your digestion, among other benefits touted on the internet and by word of mouth.
It is true, or are the health claims all wet?
SafeBee interviewed experts to find out.
A juicy trend
As with many health trends, it's difficult to pinpoint when and where the lemon water craze started. It may have gained steam after singer-actress Beyonce touted it as the way she slimmed down for her 2006 role in Dreamgirls, says Marisa Moore, RDN, an Atlanta registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow is also said to be fan.
Or, it could have roots in the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine, says Sutha Sachar, MD, a gastroenterologist in Los Angeles. Proponents of the ancient Indian medical system promote lemon as a kind of cure-all remedy.
Questions about lemon water are common, says Vandana Sheth, RDN, a registered dietitian in southern California and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "When it comes to lemon water, there is a lot of talk about it in the media, how it can help with digestion, blood sugar control, how it can basically suck away the fat," she says.
"Most of the time people think there is a detox benefit," dietitian Moore says. "Everybody is trying to detox — but they don't know what they are getting rid of." Patients often ask Sachar, gastroenterologist, if the lemon water can help balance out the pH of their stomach.
What the science says (or doesn't)
There is no shortage of health claims for lemon water, but little to no evidence behind them, as it turns out. Our search of the medical databases turned up one study, published in the Journal of Urology in 1996, and it focused on lemonade, not lemon water. The researchers found that adding lemonade to the diets of 12 patients who tended to form kidney stones proved useful to help them avoid stones.
Beyond that, experts say they rely on medical knowledge and clinical experience with patients to figure out the pros and cons of lemon water.
Some proponents say the acids help balance the pH of the stomach or the blood, making it more acidic. "There's nothing to show it favorably affects the pH," Sachar says. But, she says, the juice of lemons does contain pectin fiber. "That's beneficial for colon health, just because it is a form of fiber." Substances called flavonols in lemons may aid digestion, Sachar says.
What about “detoxifying” the body? "There is no evidence to prove that it dexotifies," Moore says.
Sheth points out that lemon water is a source of vitamin C, an antioxidant. Antioxidants may help undo damage to cells. And there’s another benefit: Taking in vitamin C can help people absorb iron from foods, Sheth says. That may be particularly useful for vegetarians, since vegetarian diets are often low in iron.
If nothing else, people who sip lemon water all day are taking in more water than they might otherwise, experts agree, which is good thing. And if staying hydrated helps you eat less food, there could be a weight loss benefit for some people.
If you have acid reflux, you may want to steer clear of citrus juices, including lemon water, if they make your heartburn worse.
Related: 7 Signs You Need a Drink (of Water!)
An enamel enemy
A lemon water habit may not be kind to your teeth. While the American Dental Association doesn't have any specific advice about lemon water, it does warn that acidic foods can be tough on the teeth. To quote the association: "The truth is that frequent exposures to acidic foods can erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay over time. So even though a squeeze of lemon or lime can turn a simple glass of water into a fun beverage, it's not always the best choice for your mouth.” Acidic juices can also irritate any mouth sores you may have.
If you’re drinking it cold, consider drinking it through a straw to protect your teeth, Sheth suggests.
And don’t brush your teeth right after drinking lemon water. Acidic foods and beverages temporarily soften the enamel, and if you brush right away you could be brushing some of that enamel right off. Swish your mouth with plain water instead.