We dug in to find out if lemon water really lives up to its health halo.

By Jaime Milan
March 15, 2019
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Celebrities and social media influencers have touted the benefits of drinking lemon water for years. Some proponents even follow a daily “lemon water detox” by drinking a glass of the stuff every morning. They claim it helps boost energy, mental clarity, and weight loss. But are there any real, scientifically proven health benefits? And what does drinking lemon water do to your body? We dug in to find out.

Is Lemon Water Good for Digestion?

One of the biggest claims about lemon water is that it can aid digestion. Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies told Readers Digest, "The citrus flavonoids in lemon aid the acid in the stomach in breaking down food, which may improve overall digestion."

Drinking lemon with warm water seems to provide the greatest digestive benefits because it helps relax your stomach muscles, but just increasing your general water consumption—with or without lemon, hot or cold—has some major benefits, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drinking water can help regulate your body temp, protect your spinal cord and tissues, and get rid of waste in your body.

Our dietitian, Brierley Horton, MS, RD, says, “Staying hydrated helps keep normal body functions humming along as they should, keeps you feeling awake and alert, and can ward off any fake feelings of hunger.”

If you enjoy the taste of lemon water, and if it helps you hydrate throughout the day, by all means add it to your routine. You might become more regular, which could ease constipation and help your body get rid of excess waste.

Should You Drink Lemon Water in the Morning?

Certain factors—like how you breathe while asleep and your bedroom temperature—can influence how much fluid you lose during the night. Whether you mix fresh lemon juice into your water or not, it’s probably a good idea to drink a glass or two first thing in the a.m.

However, you shouldn’t limit hydrating to only mornings. The National Sleep Foundation makes the following recommendation: “Focus on drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids regularly throughout the day. Waiting until bedtime to do your drinking sets you up for multiple nighttime bathroom trips, making it difficult to achieve quality sleep and making it tougher to wake up in the morning. Practice spreading your fluid intake throughout your day to maximize the odds of sleeping soundly at night.”

So, while that first cup of lemon water in the morning could help replenish fluids you lost in the night and set you up for adequate hydration during the day, there aren’t really any other proven health benefits.

Can Drinking Lemon Water Help You Lose Weight?

It appears that lemon water’s link to weight loss has less to do with the added lemon, and more to do with just drinking enough water. Jodi Stookey, PhD, a nutrition epidemiologist and hydration researcher with the Children's Hospital Oakland Research institute, conducted a study that found drinking at least four glasses of water a day increased weight loss. "Water can actually help promote weight loss in many ways," she says. "By substituting water for sugary beverages or juice, you've removed calories and carbohydrates. Then, if you have enough water, you can start seeing more efficient insulin pathways and an acceleration of fat burning."

There’s another unexpected way that drinking lemon water may aid in your weight loss efforts. One little lemon wedge packs 6% of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, which one study showed may help prevent obesity. Another rodent study examined the benefits of lemon polyphenols—which act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents—and found they helped combat weight gain in obese mice.

Risks of Drinking Lemon Water

The only potential (and, frankly, unexpected) downside of drinking lemon water is that it could erode your tooth enamel over time. Lemons are highly acidic, and one study even showed they are more damaging to your teeth than soda. While a squeeze of lemon here and there is probably fine, make sure to dilute your lemon juice with plenty of water to ensure you’re keeping your teeth safe in the long run.

Horton says, “Be mindful of what that added lemon could do to your teeth and talk with your dentist about what you can do to maintain teeth enamel.”

The Verdict on Lemon Water

While current findings are encouraging, lemon water isn’t a magic potion or cure-all. Much of the research about the benefits of lemon water revolves around mice, and additional studies are strongly needed to further prove health claims.

Horton recommends, “If you like the taste of lemon water, and it helps you meet your daily water quota, then go for it.”

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