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February 01, 2021

Drinking lemon water is trendy, but is it as healthy as advocates tout?

One doctor recommends people 'eat the rainbow' instead

Healthy Eating Drinks
Health Benefits Lemon Water 5598375/Pixabay

While there are health benefits to drinking lemon water, whether lukewarm or cold, Dr. Denne Thomas-Patterson of Virtua Health recommends people focus on 'eating the rainbow' to stay healthy.

Many celebrities and fitness experts tout the health benefits of drinking lukewarm lemon water every day. It isn't a new trend, but interest has been growing during the pandemic as people focus more on their health.

Adopting this daily habit is said to help improve skin health, help people lose weight, improve digestion and boost the immune system. But does the science back up these claims?

Much of what is known about lukewarm lemon water comes from anecdotal evidence not actual randomized clinical trials; however, lemons and water, of course, each individually offer proven benefits. 

"Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium and B-complex make lemons very healthy," Dr. Denne Thomas-Patterson, a Virtua Health primary care physician told PhillyVoice. Drinking cold or lukewarm lemon water each have some health benefits, she explained.

"Cold lemon water has been found to help burn calories while warm lemon water is good for digestion, the immune system, and bowel habits," she said. "It improves the breakdown of starches and decreases bloating."

Despite a lively debate between the proponents of the two different ways to drink lemon water, Thomas-Patterson said there hasn't been a significant study that shows one to be better than the other.

Here are some of the ways drinking lukewarm lemon water daily can give your health a little boost:

Helps with hydration

We all know that proper hydration is essential for good health. People can't regulate their body temperatures or keep their joints properly lubricated without it. It also enables the body to fight infection, keep organs functioning and improves sleep, cognition and mood. Despite knowing how important it is, it is not always easy to drink the daily recommended amount of water.

The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that women get at least 91 ounces daily and men at least 125 ounces, but for some people, drinking that much plain water is a hard sell. Drinking lemon water, however, might make it easier to reach daily hydration goals, Dr. Thomas-Patterson said.

Boosts the immune system

Lemons, like all citrus fruit, are a good source of vitamin C, an important antioxidant that helps protects cells from free radicals. The juice of one lemon provides about 18.6 milligrams of vitamin C, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Adults are recommended to consume 60 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C every day.

Studies have shown that vitamin C may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and lower blood pressure. It also boosts the immune system to prevent infection.

There also has been research on citrus fruits' anti-cancer properties. A laboratory study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that limonoids found in some citrus fruits like lemons slow the growth of some oral tumors. And another study in Biomedical Research found that citrus peel also has anticancer capabilities.

Improves digestion

Vitamin C also makes it easier for the body to absorb essential nutrients and minerals such as iron. The ascorbic acid from the vitamin C and the hydration from the extra water can also act like a laxative, increasing how often people have bowel movements.

"Some studies have suggested that vitamin C helps reduce acid reflux, but that never fully made sense to me because it is so acidic," Thomas-Patterson said. "However, it does decrease bloating which can help with digestion and decrease reflux."

She cautioned that drinking too much lemon water could cause reflux in some people. The acid also can hurt the enamel of your teeth. She said it is best to rinse your mouth out with plain water after drinking the lukewarm lemon water and then brush regularly. But don't brush right after drinking the lemon water.

Gives a potassium boost

Adequate levels of potassium are necessary for the body to function properly, especially nerve-muscle communication and blood pressure regulation. Fruits, including lemons, and vegetables are good sources of potassium, nutrition experts say.

Helps prevent kidney stones

Lemons contain citric acid and potassium, both of which reduce the risk of developing kidney stones by preventing calcium buildup. Adequate water intake also helps prevent kidney stones from forming.

Other health claims made about drinking lukewarm water lack strong evidence. Some health experts claim it helps with weight loss, but so far only studies on mice can confirm the association. And it is not clear what would be driving the weight loss: more water consumption creating a 'full' feeling or the polyphenols antioxidants in lemons.

Vitamin C does have a role in collagen production and stabilization and decreases inflammation, according to Thomas-Patterson. Lemons contain panthothenic acid, which is used in many acne medication, but studies on lemon's dermatological effects are still lacking.

One study of 28 Japanese men and women who drank leaf balm in their tea did find they experienced improved elasticity of their facial skin. And studies on mice suggest that citrus juice can prevent oxidative stress, which ages the skin. But larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Focus on eating the rainbow

While there are health benefits to drinking lemon water, whether lukewarm or cold, Thomas-Patterson said that she recommends her patients focus on eating the rainbow instead to stay healthy.

"Red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, are good for heart and joints and help reduce risk of cancer," she said. "Blue and purple foods, like eggplant and blueberries, boost your memory and brain function, while green fruits and vegetables strengthen your bones and the immune system," she explained.

"White fruits and vegetables like ginger, bananas are also good for the immune system, improve blood circulation, and can reduce risk of cancer," she added. "Someone who is eating a variety of healthy foods is already getting all the important nutrients naturally."

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