One of the first things you’ll see if you go on any ‘wellness blog’ on the internet is that they are all crazy about one thing: lemon water. Sometimes it’s with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper added, occasionally it’s lemon/lime for added tartness, and every once in a while you’ll see some mint or stevia thrown in for good measure. But it always comes down to a simple recipe: warm water with a bit of lemon juice, downed at least once a day with a cheerful smile.
And apparently, this juice works wonders on the body.
The benefits claimed for this ‘simple wellness trick’ are truly astonishing. Here is a short list from my 10 minutes of Googling:
- Aids digestion
- Detoxifies body
- Heals the body
- Rejuvenates skin
- Causes weight loss
- Improves mood
- Increases energy
- Balances Ph in the body/Alkalizes body
- Reduces inflammation
- Adds acidity to culinary dishes*
- Prevents bacterial growth
- Fights cancer
- Improves colon health
- Fights viruses
- Prevents pain in joints
I could go on. The number of claimed benefits is truly astonishing — if this was all true, we could close down hospitals, fire the doctors, and just gulp liters of lemon water to live forever illness-free.
Of course, it is almost all nonsense.
Lemon water does nothing for your health at all.
Most of these claims come from a few common sources. The first big one is that our bodies are too acidic, and that in order to achieve optimal health, you have to neutralize this with supposedly ‘alkaline’ foods.
Now, lemons are acidic, but when you drink lemon water, because of a few interesting chemical interactions, your urine becomes less acidic. And so, the idea is that by drinking lemon water you are going to de-acidify your body and make yourself healthier.
This is pure nonsense.
Your body exists on a very fragile continuum when it comes to acidity. If your blood gets a tiny bit more acidic, you aren’t just a tad unwell: you’re in a coma, or dead. People with diabetes have to watch out for this, because high blood sugar can cause you to have acidic blood, which then leads to, well, death.
Your body has amazing systems in place to prevent you from having too much acidity or alkalinity. One of the things it does is get rid of the excess. Sometimes, that’s in your urine.
So all these ‘health benefits’ are basically a misunderstanding of how pee works.
This also leads to some of the other bogus health claims, because the idea that lemon water can do anything about cancer/bacteria/viruses/inflammation is based on the idea that you need to alkalize your body. The idea is that these issues are caused by an acid environment — cancer can only grow in ‘acidic conditions’, bacteria thrive in highly acidic environments, and on and on.
This is, again, total nonsense.
Cancer growth has nothing to do with the acidity, and bacteria and viruses are happy to grow in any place that you can too — if your cells could get alkaline enough to deter a bacteria, you’d be long dead.
There are also a lot of claims related to the antioxidants contained in lemons. The funny thing about antioxidants is that a) there’s no evidence taking additional antioxidants can improve your health and b) you’re probably getting a bunch of them in your diet anyway. Unless you’re seriously malnourished, it’s unlikely that you need the additional micronutrient (i.e. vitamin) benefit that lemon water might give you.
As for the other claims? There is certainly evidence that lemon water will make your food more acidic, but aside from that there’s no real science behind anything you’ll read. If you take a look on Pubmed or Google scholar, you see a few tiny studies looking at lemon water, but most of them find little to no real benefits, or they are so small that drawing any conclusions from them is impossible. The biggest one I could find after an hour of searching looked at just 78 people, which is on the very low end of acceptable in this kind of clinical trial. Most of the studies looked at less than 30 people, and were often of very poor quality, making it hard to draw any conclusions about them at all.
So what does this mean for you?
Well, firstly, don’t read wellness blogs. If you aren’t suffering from a chronic disease, you’re probably plenty well already. If you’re worried that you might have a chronic disease, go and talk to your doctor, because unlike wellness bloggers they do years of medical school and training before they can diagnose and treat people.
And as for our miracle cure?
Lemon water is a total waste of time.
Drink it if you like the taste. Hell, drink it if it makes you feel better about yourself: at the end of the day, it’s just slightly bitter water.
Just don’t expect any health benefits from it.
There’s no evidence that lemon water will improve your health at all.
If you’re interested in common health food fads and why they probably won’t save your life, check out these other articles:
Apple Cider Vinegar Is A Total Waste Of Time
The sour reality of apple cider vinegar and health
Pink Himalayan Salt Is A Total Waste Of Time
Why you can stick to regular table salt for your health
The Bitter Truth About Turmeric
It’s worthless for your mind, mood, and pretty much everything else (except curry)
You can now get your dose of Health Nerding on the Sensationalist Science podcast. Check it out here:
*Note: this one is actually true