Starting your day with lemon water is a ritual that comes with a lot of lofty promises. From being a weight-loss cure to making your skin glow like you just stepped out of the spa, this popular beverage trend is not going away any time soon.
Lemon water—which is simply water with lemon juice—is certainly a refreshing way to boost your intake of H2O. Drinking lemon water is most notably connected to the alkaline diet, which theorizes that eating alkalizing foods can balance our pH levels and prevent a whole host of illnesses. Even though lemon juice naturally has a low pH and is considered acidic before consumed, it’s actually alkalizing after consumption. “Despite its low pH, lemon juice is considered alkaline-forming because after it’s metabolized it leaves an alkaline ash in the body,” explains registered dietitian Lauren O’Connor, RDN, owner of Nutri Savvy Health and author of The Healthy Alkaline Diet Guide.
Although there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support this theory, acidic ash—rather than alkaline ash—may increase one’s risk of certain diseases, like osteoporosis. Conversely, alkaline ash is thought to be protective against certain negative health outcomes. Eating more foods that are alkaline in the body is thought to “alkalize” one’s body and therefore offer protection. Alkaline foods are not limited to lemon water and include other fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Read on to learn if starting your day with lemon water is just a trend, or if there is any true health benefit to this practice. Also, for firsthand insight into what might happen when you drink lots of this effervescent beverage regularly, check out I Drank Lemon Water Every Morning for 30 Days & Noticed These 5 Life-Changing Effects.
Approximately 75% of Americans are dehydrated, meaning they are not taking in enough fluids. Dehydrated people may experience constipation, dizziness, and other symptoms that can result from not drinking enough water. Drinking lemon water gets fluid into your system—one of the best ways to combat dehydration. If you are adding lemon juice to your water simply because you enjoy the crisp taste, and as a result, it makes you drink more fluid, then by all means go to lemon water town!
While lemon water isn’t a magic bullet for weight loss, maintaining a positive hydration status can help support weight management goals. Water is essential for the body’s natural ability to break down fat. According to a 2016 article published in Frontiers in Nutrition, stored fat is broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids for the body to use as fuel. Without adequate hydration, the body may be challenged to break down this energy source, which can make it harder to lose weight.
For some, being dehydrated is linked to a worse mood. Drinking lemon water instead of regular water may motivate people to drink more fluid. Also, some data shows that cellular dehydration is linked to degraded mood.
Looking for a vitamin C boost during cold and flu season? The juice of one lemon contains 18 milligrams of vitamin C. For reference, adults need between 75 and 130 mg of this vitamin depending on their gender and stage of life.
Starting the day with a boost of vitamin C from lemon juice helps the body’s immune defense. While one cup of lemon water likely won’t meet 100% of your daily needs, it will give you a headstart on getting enough of this important nutrient. Grab a kiwi on your way out the door, and you will essentially get your vitamin C fill for the day, or at least come very close.
“Lemons are naturally acidic with a pH between 2 and 3. That is bad news for acid reflux sufferers because acidic foods trigger heartburn and can irritate an already inflamed throat (a symptom of Silent Reflux),” explains O’Connor.
“Any acidic beverage like lemon water will wear away tooth enamel over time,” explains Jack Hirschfeld, DDS, a clinical instructor at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s School of Dental Medicine. If you are slowly eroding your enamel—or outer layer of your teeth—you may be setting your teeth up for being more sensitive or prone to cavities down the road.
If you are willing to toss some garlic into your lemon water concoction, you may notice improved cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
According to data from a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who were considered hyperlipidemic (when your blood has too many fats) and who drank a beverage made of 20 grams of garlic and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice daily for 8 weeks had more improved cardiovascular outcomes when compared with people who did not take this beverage. Outcomes included improved blood pressure and improved lipid levels.
Citrus juices, like lemon juice, naturally contain a unique flavonoid called hesperidin. Consistent hesperidin intake has been linked to improved systolic blood pressure in people considered mildly hypertensive, among other positive outcomes.
Citrate, a salt in citric acid, binds to calcium and helps block kidney stone formation. Citrus fruits and juices are a known natural source of dietary citrate. Of all the citrus juices, lemon juice appears to have the highest concentration of this kidney stone-blocking salt.
Data suggests that those who are at risk of developing kidney stones and consume lemon juice consistently experience a reduced rate of passing kidney stones when compared with those who do not consume lemon juice. Note that much of the data examining the relationship between lemon juice intake and kidney stones used subjects who drank lemonade and not pure lemon juice.
A previous version of this story was published on August 10, 2020. It has since been updated to include additional entries, proofreading revisions, research, and updated contextual links.
Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC