Who would have thought something as simple as lemon water could get so much press for being a pH balancing, fat-burning, skin-clearing elixir? Does lemon water really live up to the hype and can it lay claim to these benefits? We look at the science.

Lainey Younkin
Updated April 13, 2020
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Photo: Getty Images / OlgaLepeshkina

A quick web search of the benefits of lemon water reveals claims that it improves digestion, rids the body of toxins, has antimicrobial properties, aids weight loss, balances the body's pH and is good for your skin.

But, the truth is that there is little to no research that if you add lemon juice to water there are some great health benefits. Rather, lemons and water separately have health benefits and, somewhere along the way, celebrities and social media influencers spread the idea that we'd be healthier if we started our day with a glass of lemon water.

Let's dive into the facts behind each claim.

Claim: It can help you lose weight

Steer clear of any claim that one food or drink can help you lose weight. No credible studies exist to date to support the notion that drinking lemon water aids weight loss. However, studies show that drinking water might help you lose weight.

"Drinking water can aid in weight management by supporting hydration, boosting energy, and helping to regulate metabolism and digestion," says registered dietitian and weight-loss expert Joannah Konecny, RD. "However, adding lemon to the water doesn't make it superior for increasing the rate and efficiency of burning fat."

In one study of overweight women who were dieting, drinking more than 1 liter of water per day was associated with weight loss compared to drinking less than 1 liter per day. In the same study, replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water led to weight loss, decreased waist circumference and lower body fat percentage. Other studies have also found that replacing caloric beverages with water can lead to weight loss, but this is due to cutting calories in the diet rather than anything inherent in water.

Water also fills you up without any calories, so drinking a glass before meals may reduce the amount of food you eat. But research is mixed on whether drinking water boosts metabolism or increases calorie burn.

Claim: It's good for your skin

Both lemons and water can improve your skin, but you don't have to consume them together to see the benefits.

Lemons, like other citrus fruits, are high in vitamin C, which is essential for the production of collagen. Collagen is responsible for the elasticity and strength of skin. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals present in the skin that build up from air pollution and ultraviolet radiation. One whole lemon delivers 50 percent of your daily value of vitamin C, but one wedge offers only about 6 percent of your daily value. Compare that to 1 cup of strawberries, which delivers 140 percent of your daily value of vitamin C.

Your skin is an organ, and all your organs need water to function properly. Skin may lose elasticity if you don't get enough water. However, claims that drinking water offers a glow, improves the appearance or reduces fine lines are anecdotal and not backed by science. Still, you can't go wrong staying hydrated for optimal health, so check to see if your urine is light yellow or clear and, if not, it might be a sign you're not drinking enough water so drink up.

Claim: Lemon water has an alkalizing effect in the body

"The idea that lemon water has an alkalizing effect on our bodies is a total myth," says Konecny. "The foods that we eat don't have the capacity to alter the pH of our blood, and our kidneys make sure of that!"

The body is a well-oiled machine when it comes to regulating pH. While consuming a food that is more basic or acidic may temporarily change urine pH, there is no impact on blood pH. It's important to note that a so-called "alkalizing diet" may be healthy because of its emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods, not because it alters body chemistry.

Should you drink cold, warm or hot lemon water?

It doesn't really matter, says Isabel Smith, M.S., RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition and Lifestyle. Drinking it warm "can loosen things up," she notes. Indeed, many people report that warm liquids help stimulate digestion and get things moving-whether its warm water, tea or coffee. Konecny says, "There is inconclusive evidence that shows drinking lemon water at a certain temperature is optimal," so choose whichever you prefer.

Are there negative side effects to drinking lemon water?

The acid in lemons may be a problem for teeth. Lemons contain citric acid, and too much acid can wear away tooth enamel. If you regularly consume lemon water, consider drinking it with a straw. For some people, consuming an acidic beverage on an empty stomach first thing in the morning may lead to GI discomfort. Otherwise, drinking a glass of lemon water does not pose any major risks.

Does lemon water count toward daily water intake?

Yes. Maintaining proper hydration is essential for optimal bodily function. Adequate water intake is key for metabolism, digestion and nutrient transport. Some people dislike the taste of water or find it boring, so adding lemon to enhance the flavor can help boost water intake.

Bottom line

The benefits of lemon water have been blown out of proportion, but there are no risks in drinking it, aside from possibly wearing away tooth enamel. If you like starting the day with lemon water, go for it. It's a great way to stay hydrated if you don't like the taste of plain water. But don't expect any magical changes in your weight, skin or body chemistry.