Water is the healthiest drink you can sip. Not only is it zero-calorie, but up to 60 percent of your body is water, according to the USGS. We need H2O to help with digestion, regulating body temperature, making neurotransmitters, lubricating joints and so much more.
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But let's face it: Basic water can be boring. An easy way to jazz it up is to add a little lemon juice, and you might've heard that this trick offers a load of health benefits, too. Unfortunately, many of these claims are only that — when you dig into the science, there's little or nothing to support them.
No need to give up your lemon water, though. If you enjoy it and it helps you drink more water, go for it! But learn the truth about the benefits of adding lemon to water before you fool yourself into thinking it's an all-curing elixir.
Potential Health Benefits of Lemon Water
Lemon water is not a curative drink. However, it does appear to have some health benefits. Here's what the science shows.
1. Helps Prevent Dehydration
Water supports good hydration and therefore optimal health. Every system in the body depends on water to function properly, per the USGS, and water flushes toxins out of vital organs, delivers nutrients to cells and helps regulate your body temperature.
There's nothing especially hydrating about lemon water. But if infusing lemon helps you drink enough water — adults should aim to guzzle somewhere between 9 and 12 cups per day, according to the Mayo Clinic — all the better.
2. Provides Some Nutrients
Lemon is a good source of folate, potassium and vitamin C, according to the USDA.
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin known to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy; it also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and DNA, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The mineral potassium is essential for muscle contraction, heart function and nerve transmission, per the NIH.
Lastly, vitamin C supports a healthy immune system and acts as an antioxidant to protect against damage caused by free radicals, which may play a role in the development of cancer, heart disease and arthritis, according to the NIH.
But lemon water typically only has about a wedge's worth of juice, so its nutritional profile isn't a game-changer. That amount doesn't even provide 1 percent of your daily folate or potassium needs, and only supplies about 3 percent of your daily vitamin C, per the USDA. That's not a reason to avoid it, but it's not enough folate to prevent neural tube defects and is not a substitute for taking a prenatal vitamin.
3. May Aid Weight Loss
Let's be clear from the get-go: No studies show a direct link between drinking lemon water and losing weight or boosting metabolism, and there is no lemon water recipe for weight loss. So don't believe the claims that simply having lemon ice water every morning or even boiling lemons for weight loss will make the pounds melt off of you.
That said, drinking more water in general may help support your weight-loss efforts. For example, increasing water consumption is linked to taking in fewer calories from soft drinks as well as fatty and sugary foods, according to a large-scale observational study from February 2016 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Upping your water is also associated with preventing weight gain, according to a January 2013 study in the International Journal of Obesity. People who replaced one sugary drink or piece of fruit with a cup of water each day gained less weight over four years compared to those who didn't make the swap.
But you might've noticed that we didn't mention lemons at all in those last few paragraphs. That's because water is doing the work here — lemon just adds flavor. Bottom line: If adding a little lemon juice helps you drink more water, then lemon water may help with weight loss.
What About Other Add-Ins Like Ginger or Cayenne Pepper?
One pilot study of 10 people in Metabolism from October 2012 reported that drinking 2 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of ginger powder in hot water reduced feelings of hunger and increased thermogenesis, a metabolic process during which your body burns calories to produce heat. But this didn't confirm ginger would result in weight loss, nor does it mean ginger can be considered “fat burning."
As for cayenne, most suggested weight-loss benefits are linked to a compound in chili peppers called capsaicin. This compound modestly boosts calorie burn, increases fat burn and decreases appetite, meaning it may help with weight control, according to a June 2015 review in Open Heart.
But another study, published March 2011 in Physiology & Behavior, found that adding a half-teaspoon of cayenne to meals only burned an extra 10 calories over four and a half hours. So even if you add that much cayenne pepper to your lemon water, you're not going to see a difference on the scale. Plus, the study authors found that if you regularly eat spicy foods, you may not experience this benefit.
Lastly, some people sing the praises of cayenne pepper, ginger, lemon and honey tea. But if you add honey to this mixture, you will negate any tiny calorie deficits you get from the other ingredients: A teaspoon of honey has 20 calories, per the USDA.
Unproven Lemon Water Health Benefits
You've probably read a lot of other supposed health benefits of drinking cold or hot lemon water. Some of these benefits may be tied to adding specific ingredients, such as cayenne, ginger or maple syrup, to the water and lemon juice. But the science does not support many of these claims. Don't fall for the following:
1. It Doesn't Help You Poop
So far, there's no scientific research on lemon water for constipation. There is also no proof that cold, warm or hot water with lemon helps relieve constipation (nor that it gives you diarrhea) or that the vitamin C in small amounts of lemon juice is enough to have natural laxative effects.
That said, drinking more water in general may be a natural remedy for constipation if the condition is caused by dehydration. In a September 2016 study of 60 people in Gastroenterology Nursing, drinking warm water appeared to speed along bowel movements. And in a July 2017 paper in Jornal de Pediatria, researchers reviewed 11 articles on children who had constipation. They found a link between lower fluid intake and intestinal constipation (though they concluded that more research is necessary on this topic).
2. Lemon Doesn't Make Water Alkaline
Our blood maintains a pH of about 7.4, making it slightly basic, or alkaline. Water has a pH of 7 (which is neutral), while lemons have a pH of 2 to 3, so they're acidic. That means adding lemon juice to water will make it more acidic — it won't make lemon water alkaline. Furthermore, it's unclear who, if anyone, would benefit from following an alkaline diet.
3. It Doesn't Boost Energy or Immunity
Lemon, ginger and cayenne shots are marketed to boost energy, support immunity and more. So it makes sense that some people recommend adding this trio to water as well as tea.
There's nothing wrong with putting lemon, ginger and cayenne in water if you like the taste. However, this mixture isn't going to improve your health, increase your energy or "detox" your body.
Sure, lemons contain vitamin C, which is good for immunity. But, per the USDA, you would need to drink the juice of four or five lemons to get a day's worth of the recommended intake of vitamin C, according to the NIH.
4. It Doesn't 'Cleanse' or 'Detox' Your Body
You may have seen references to the "Master Cleanse" combo of water, lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, or maybe you've heard that distilled water and lemon has the power to cleanse your body. Don't believe the hype. Anything called a "maple syrup detox" or "hot lemon water detox" doesn't actually do anything for you.
Maple syrup contains trace minerals, but no sweetener should be your go-to choice for nutrients. And distilled water is just purified water. There's nothing special about it.
It makes sense to want to support the liver, because it helps break down food and turn it into energy, transports this energy to cells when needed, helps fight infections and keeps blood clean. But lemon water does not detox or cleanse the liver, and truth be told, the liver doesn't need detoxing in the first place (it does that on its own).
Lemon water may be good for the liver in another way, though. In an April 2017 study in BioMed Research International, researchers first caused alcohol-induced liver injuries to mice. Then they fed some of the mice lemon juice. That group had higher levels of enzymes that indicate liver cells are regenerating.
Keep in mind, though, that this is just one animal study. We don't know yet if lemon juice would help humans prevent liver injuries from chronic drinking. Better to drink in moderation, if you choose to have alcohol at all.
5. It Isn't a Good Diabetes Treatment
A compound found in lemon and other citrus fruit called naringenin may have anti-diabetes properties — at least for animals. Studies have found that the compound appears to improve blood sugar and lipid levels, reduce diabetic nephropathy and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to a March 2019 review in Biomolecules.
But is lemon water good for people with diabetes? It's too early to tell, because there isn't enough research looking at naringenin's effects in humans.
Even if it does, the amount of naringenin in lemon water is scant. Two tablespoons of lemon juice has only about 0.5 milligrams, according to a 2006 article in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis — a dosage thousands of times less than that used in animal research.
What About Lemon Water to Lower Blood Pressure?
If you've heard this idea, it likely came from the same Biomolecules review, which also linked naringenin to lower BP. But the same goes here: The effect hasn't been studied in humans, and the amount of naringenin in lemon water is much smaller than the amount used in research.
Lemon Water Warnings
For the most part, lemon water is a healthy drink. But be mindful of the potential side effects of lemon water below before you gulp gallons of the stuff.
1. Poses a Risk of Food Poisoning
As with any produce, be sure to wash your lemons before using them to make lemon water. If you drop pieces of lemon into your water, it's best to keep the water refrigerated.
Do not drink infused water that's been sitting out for longer than two hours, as this increases the risk of bacteria growing in there, according to Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
2. Can Damage Tooth Enamel
Lemon juice is acidic. At high doses, that can be bad news for your teeth.
Researchers compared the effect of sodas, energy drinks, tap water and apple, orange and lemon juice on cow's teeth in a June 2015 study in PLOS One. The lemon juice showed significantly higher dental erosion than everything else except Sprite and apple juice.
Eroding enamel could lead to sensitive teeth, yellow teeth, increased risk of cavities and even tooth loss, according to the American Dental Association.
That's why it's important to dilute your lemon juice with lots of water and have some plain water, too. Even better, drinking plenty of water can protect your teeth and mouth overall, per the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
3. May Make You Urinate More
This side effect may be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your health and lifestyle. If drinking lemon water means you take in more water than normal, that alone may make you have to use the bathroom more often.
Additionally, vitamin C is a diuretic, according to a December 2014 study in Intensive Care Medicine Experimental. So while there's a small amount of vitamin C in lemon water (unless you use a ton of lemon juice), this may also be why lemon water makes you pee.
Lemon Water Recipe
Even if most of lemon water's supposed benefits don't check out, it's still a relatively healthy way to stay hydrated and it's easy to make. Here's how:
- Fill your glass or water bottle most of the way with cold water.
- Take a fresh lemon and squeeze in the juice. Start with one wedge of juice, and taste.
- If you want more flavor, add more lemon juice. You can also drop in the cut lemon (you washed it first, right?) and let that continue to infuse the water as you drink.
If you prefer, you can make hot water with lemon:
- Fill a mug most of the way with warm or hot water.
- Squeeze in fresh lemon juice to your desired taste.
You can also add other flavorings, such as:
- Fresh mint
- Lime juice
- Grapefruit juice
- Cucumber slices
- Cayenne pepper
Warm Lemon Water vs. Cold Lemon Water
Nutritionally, there is no difference between warm and cold lemon water. And the health benefits of lemon juice in ice water compared to warm water are negligible.
For example, compared to drinking room-temp water, sipping on cold water may help you burn about 8 additional calories, according to an older September 2006 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Drink the standard eight glasses a day, and that's 64 calories — less than what's in one Oreo. That "burn" likely won't provide enough of a metabolic boost to make a difference for weight loss, though there's still research to be done to better understand this connection.
Additionally, drinking cold water during an endurance workout may improve performance, per a small study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition from September 2012; however, the cold water decreased performance when doing bench presses, so this may not apply to strength training.
When and How Often to Drink Lemon Water
If you choose to have it, you can drink lemon water in the morning, night or any other time of day. Some people claim that lemon water helps them wake up and feel alert, but everyone responds differently. Others may find that hot water and lemon is calming, helping them ease into sleep if they have it in the evening. Just remember that having warm or cold lemon water in the morning will not "kickstart" your digestion or metabolism.
It's also totally fine to drink lemon water before, during or after a workout. But don't rely on it as a source of electrolytes. If you sweat heavily during exercise, it's better to reach for a sports drink.
How often you have lemon water is also up to you, as there's no scientific recommendation.
While the Master Cleanse recommends having six to 12 glasses of its "lemonade" (a mix of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper) every day for at least 10 days, that's a bit extreme, especially considering that this mixture won't actually "detox" your body. Plus, the American Dental Association recommends avoiding acidic beverages like lemon juice, or at least drinking them through a straw and having plain water afterward.
Talk to your dentist for their recommendation on how often it's OK for you to have water and lemon, especially if you also drink other acidic beverages like soda.
Is This an Emergency?
- USGS: "The Water in You: Water and the Human Body"
- National Institutes of Health: "Folate Fact Sheet for Consumers"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium Fact Sheet for Consumers"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Consumers"
- USDA: "Lemon Juice, Raw"
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Plain water consumption in relation to energy intake and diet quality among US adults, 2005–2012"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Changes in water and beverage intake and long-term weight changes: results from three prospective cohort studies"
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Water-induced thermogenesis"
- Intensive Care Medicine Experimental: "The effect of vitamin C on plasma volume in the early stage of sepsis in the rat"
- PLOS One: "Influence of Various Acidic Beverages on Tooth Erosion. Evaluation by a New Method"
- Mouth Healthy: "Erosion: What You Eat and Drink Can Impact Teeth"
- Chow Line: "Food safety and homemade fruit- or vegetable-infused water"
- Gastroenterology Nursing: "The Effect of Warm Water Intake on Bowel Movements in the Early Postoperative Stage of Patients Having Undergone Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Jornal de Pediatria: "Water and fluid intake in the prevention and treatment of functional constipation in children and adolescents: is there evidence?"
- Nutrients: "Acid Balance, Dietary Acid Load, and Bone Effects—A Controversial Subject"
- Metabolism: "Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: A pilot study"
- Open Heart: "Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health"
- Physiology & Behavior: "The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite"
- USDA: "Honey"
- InformedHealth.org: "How does the liver work?"
- BioMed Research International: "Protective Effects of Lemon Juice on Alcohol-Induced Liver Injury in Mice"
- Biomolecules: "Antidiabetic Properties of Naringenin: A Citrus Fruit Polyphenol"
- Journal of Food Composition and Analysis: "Flavanones in grapefruit, lemons, and limes: A compilation and review of the data from the analytical literature"
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Water-induced thermogenesis reconsidered: the effects of osmolality and water temperature on energy expenditure after drinking"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "The effect of a cold beverage during an exercise session combining both strength and energy systems development training on core temperature and markers of performance"
- American Dental Association: "Oral Health Topics: Erosive Tooth Wear"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How much should you drink every day?"
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "Oral Hygiene"