Celebrities and naturopaths won’t start their day without guzzling a glass of lemon water. Here’s what this a.m. habit can and can’t do for your health.
Lemon water may help you lose weight
Lemon water may be a dieter’s best friend. “The polyphenols in lemon may aid in reducing appetite,” registered dietician Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. Rodent studies have shown that the polyphenols in lemon do help to prevent weight gain. Plus, she adds, “when you drink a glass of water, especially before a meal, this helps to fill your stomach, offsetting the amount of food needed to feel satisfied.” Lemon-flavored water is also a healthy option to replace your morning glass of orange juice—think of all the calories saved! To make lemon water, use whole lemons (not lemon juice in a bottle). “Try squeezing the juice from one lemon into 8 to 12 ounces of water,” Palinski-Wade says. You can also grate in a bit of the zest (just wash the lemon first). “Enjoy it cold or warm, but if you will be having it to promote weight loss, drink it chilled with ice,” she says.
It helps keep you from getting sick
We’ve all heard that vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits like lemon, gives your immune system a boost (more on vitamin C later). But one of the benefits of lemon water is helping to prevent infection. “Certainly the acidic environment in the stomach serves as a barrier, deterring pathogens from gaining a foothold and causing illness,” says Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Enterprise. “Ingestion of highly acidic foods, including lemon juice, contributes to the acidic environment.” According to The Cleveland Clinic, chemicals in lemon known as phytonutrients have antioxidant properties that can also help protect the body from disease.
It aids digestion
Another one of the benefits of lemon water is that the acids help to digest food. “The citrus flavonoids in lemon aid the acid in the stomach in breaking down food, which may improve overall digestion,” says Palinski-Wade. “Warming the water seems to provide the greatest digestive benefits.” Aiding digestion is especially important as we get older because the amount of acid in our stomach declines with age. One study showed that over 30 percent of men and women over age 60 had atrophic gastritis, a condition marked by little to no stomach acid. In addition, if you add lemon slices and zest to your water, you may be able to harness some of the benefits of pectin, a fiber found in the pulp and peel. Many studies have shown fiber to improve digestion and gut health.
Lemon water gives you a vitamin C boost
Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a fourth of a cup of lemon juice yields 23.6 mg of vitamin C, about a third of the recommended daily allowance for women and a fourth for men. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells against free radicals, and according to the National Institutes of Health, this could even help protect us again cardiovascular disease and cancer. And although we don’t think much about this ailment anymore, “vitamin C prevents scurvy, a disease of weakened connective tissue that results in bleeding gums, among other symptoms,” says Dr. Sukol. Connective tissue is also crucial for wound healing.
It keeps you hydrated
Hydration is not a direct benefit of the lemon properties themselves, but rather, drinking flavored water might entice you to consume more of it. “Fluids, in general, provide hydration, however, some people struggle to drink an adequate amount of water per day simply because they find water boring or do not enjoy the taste,” Palinski-Wade says. “Adding lemon to water can enhance the taste, making it more appealing to some, helping them to drink more and improve hydration.” Although the old rule was to drink eight 8-ounce glasses a day, nutritionists now recognize that the amount will vary based on what you weigh, how active you are, and where you live. One test to make sure you’re getting enough? Your pee should be nearly clear—if it’s yellow or dark, you need to drink more.
It may help you look younger
The vitamin C in lemon juice might actually help your skin as well, definitely one of the benefits of lemon water. One study from the U.K. showed that higher vitamin C intakes were associated with fewer wrinkles. “Because vitamin C is a nutrient that can fight off free-radical damage, it can protect skin,” Palinski-Wade says. This could be due to vitamin C’s effects on collagen, which helps make up the connective tissue under the skin. “In addition, the hydration from the water helps skin stay more subtle and provides a more youthful appearance,” she adds. Your skin is an organ, and hydration helps it function at its best.
It may help liver function
Another one of the benefits of lemon water is helping your liver to do a better job being the body’s filter. “Boosting overall hydration can help to improve the function of all organs in the body, including the liver,” Palinski-Wade says. “In addition, animal studies have found that the citrus flavonoids in lemon may protect the liver against toxins and reduce fat in the liver, protecting against fatty liver disease.” Your liver is the body’s natural mechanism for flushing out toxins; so although claims of “detoxification” from lemon juice aren’t exactly proven, helping the liver to work better could benefit your body.
It increases your potassium levels
We generally associate potassium with bananas, but it turns out lemons are a good source as well. “Potassium is found in large amounts primarily in fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Sukol says. “It is an element that is essential for cell function and metabolism, transmission of nerve signals.” According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, potassium, an electrolyte, helps to conduct electricity throughout the body. This nerve-muscle communication helps skeletal-muscular function—which is why you need it when you get a Charlie horse. (Here’s why you might want to skip lemon water at a restaurant, though.)
It makes you more regular
Along with helping your gut and liver, lemon-flavored water can be part of a healthy way to help you go to the bathroom. “Increasing fluid intake can help to promote regular bowel movements,” Palinski-Wade says. ” If adding lemon to your water helps you to drink more fluid throughout the day, this may help you to become more regular.” And although lemon juice doesn’t provide much fiber, getting in pulp and zest from the peel could help boost the fiber content, which helps you go as well.
It helps prevent kidney stones
Kidney stones often develop as a result of dehydration, so one of the benefits of lemon water is that it helps flush out your kidneys and prevent these painful deposits. “Some kidney stones result from precipitation of calcium salts,” Dr. Sukol says. “Acidification of the aqueous—or watery—environment in which this occurs is thought to reduce the likelihood of precipitation, and therefore prevent the formation of some stones. Purely a chemical reaction.” So in other words, the acid from the lemon can help keep the stones from coming together. Although lemon-flavored water is thought to be a diuretic, this hasn’t been proven—rather, increased urination is likely the result of drinking more fluid. Either way, it’s helpful for keeping kidney stones at bay.
It freshens breath
When it comes to personal hygiene, it may help your mouth smell cleaner. “The citrus in lemon water may help to reduce the growth of bacteria in the mouth, which may lead to fresher breathe,” Palinski-Wade says. The only problem is that the acid in lemon juice could, over time, erode the enamel of your teeth. Try drinking it through a straw to reduce exposure to your chompers.
It may boost metabolism
Lemon water is a great addition to your morning routine because it could jump-start your metabolism, helping you keep a healthy weight and be active. “Staying hydrated and drinking ice-cold water has been shown to provide a metabolism boost,” Palinski-Wade says. “Aim to drink at least three cups per day to help fire up your metabolism while providing a feeling of fullness that may help you to eat less.” Drinking your lemon-flavored water cold could have even more of a beneficial effect. “Chilling it may provide an even greater metabolism boost as the body needs to warm the water to body temperature during digestion,” she says.