The Benefits of Lemon Water: What's True and What's Hype?
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. So, what are the benefits of drinking lemon water?
The truth is that there is little to no research that you get magical health benefits by adding lemon juice to water. And while lemons and water separately do have health benefits—so it makes sense that together they would, as well—somewhere along the way, celebrities and social media influencers spread the idea that starting our day with a glass of lemon water would up our health status exponentially.
Let's dive into the facts behind each claim circulating the world wide web.
What's Fact and What's Hype
1. 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 do 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 a 2019 review in the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria (Hospital Nutrition), researchers looked at studies that included various strategies for weight loss: increasing daily water intake, replacing calorie-filled beverages with water and drinking water before eating. All three strategies resulted in weight loss on some level, with the average percentage of weight loss being 5.15%. The most effective intervention was replacing calorie-laden beverages with water.
Water also fills you up without any calories, so it makes sense as this review suggests, that 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.
2. Claim: It's Good for Your Skin
Are there benefits of drinking lemon water 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 the skin. According to research, like the 2020 study in ACS Omega, vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals present in the skin that build up from air pollution and ultraviolet radiation. The juice of one whole lemon delivers between 20 to 25% of your daily value of vitamin C, but one wedge offers only between 2.5 to 3% of your daily value. Compare that to 1 cup of strawberries, which delivers between 108 to 130% of your daily value of vitamin C. Note that the daily value of vitamin C for adults ranges from 75 to 90 mg, depending on your sex.
Your skin is an organ and all your organs need water to function properly. Your skin may lose elasticity if you don't get enough water. And while more research needs to be done, some studies, like the 2018 review in Skin Research & Technology, show that being well-hydrated seems to also increase the hydration level of the stratum corneum—the outermost layer of the skin. This resulted in reduced clinical signs of dryness and roughness, as well as an increase in the skin's extensibility and elasticity. Whether you're going for younger-looking skin or not, you can't go wrong staying hydrated for optimal health, so check to see if your urine is light yellow. If it's not, it might be a sign you're not drinking enough water.
Read more: Best Foods for Your Skin
3. Claim: It Has an Alkalizing Effect on 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 and is always working to maintain homeostasis. While consuming foods that are more basic (alkaline) 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 simply because of its emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods, not because it alters body chemistry.
Should You Drink Cold, Warm or Hot Lemon Water?
What are the benefits of hot lemon water? What are the benefits of warm lemon water? What about if you drink it cold? 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," notes Smith. Indeed, many people report that warm liquids help stimulate digestion and get things moving—whether it's warm water, tea or coffee. "There is inconclusive evidence that shows drinking lemon water at a certain temperature is optimal," adds Konecny, so choose whichever you prefer.
Are There Negative Side Effects?
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.
The Bottom Line
The benefits of lemon water have been blown out of proportion, but there are little to 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. Just don't expect any magical changes in your weight, skin or body chemistry.