Lemon detox diets are trending these days for their slimming effect, but have you thought about the connection between lemon and liver health? There is little evidence that lemons help weight loss. However, this fruit and its juice have many benefits, from improved liver function to youthful skin.
One small lemon contains more than one-third of the daily recommended vitamin C intake, in addition to offering other nutrients with antioxidant effects.
Animal studies suggest that certain antioxidants in lemon may improve liver health and reduce hepatic lipids. More research is needed to confirm whether these potential benefits translate to humans.
Lemon Juice Nutrition Facts
Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard about the benefits of lemon water and lemon juice. These beverages are promoted as a cure-all. Even though most claims lack scientific proof, no one can deny that lemons pack a hefty nutritional punch. With only 17 calories and 5.4 grams of carbs per serving (2 oz), they fit into any diet.
Lemon juice is nutritious too. Rich in vitamin C, this beverage can improve your diet and boost immune function. In fact, one serving (half a cup) offers more than half the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. It's a good source of B-complex vitamins, magnesium, copper and antioxidants, such as lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin. On top of that, it has only 27 calories and 8.4 grams of carbs, including 3.1 grams of sugars.
Vitamin C, the primary nutrient in lemon juice, is a potent antioxidant that helps maintain cellular metabolism, according to a December 2015 research paper published in Frontiers in Physiology. Also known as ascorbic acid, it protects against oxidative stress, supports neuronal differentiation and maintains normal nervous system function. Furthermore, it increases collagen synthesis and may improve skin health, especially when applied topically.
Lemon juice also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that protect against eye diseases and keep your vision sharp. These nutrients may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, improve visual function and lower the risk of cataracts, as reported in a November 2015 review featured in the Journal of Ophthalmology.
The same source suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the discomfort associated with glare and enhance visual acuity. Additionally, they may aid in the treatment of retinopathy, one of the most common diabetes complications.
Lemon and Liver Health
This refreshing beverage is widely used for its beneficial effects on the liver. If you do a quick search online for "lemon and liver health" or "lemon for liver cirrhosis," you'll find dozens of pages featuring detox diets and cleansing programs. Some require dieters to live off lemon juice for weeks or even months.
While there is no proof that detox diets work, lemon consumption may improve liver function. A recent article published in the March 2019 edition of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity assessed the effects on citrus flavonoids on cardiometabolic health. These antioxidants reduce inflammation, scavenge free radicals and improve your body's ability to process glucose.
Several studies cited in the above review suggest that citrus flavonoids may lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They may also improve diabetes symptoms and protect against cardiovascular disease.
In one study cited in that review, these nutrients reduced hepatic lipids in mice. Another study found that naringenin, a flavonoid compound, decreased fat storage in the liver. Rutin, a flavonoid compound, has been shown to increase hepatic antioxidant defenses in diabetic rats. Most research has been conducted on animals, however, so the results may not apply to human subjects.
For example, a frequently cited study published in BioMed Research International in April 2017 found that lemon juice may reduce chronic alcohol-induced liver injury in mice, due to its antioxidant properties. (No such studies have yet been performed on humans.)
As the scientists note, lemon contains vitamin C, flavonoids, carotenoids and other bioactive compounds that fight oxidative damage and protect the liver. In clinical trials, vitamin C alone has been found to reduce ethanol-induced oxidative stress.
These findings indicate a possible association between lemon and liver health. However, more research is needed to confirm the hepatoprotective effects of citrus fruits. In the meantime, there are a couple of things you can do to keep your liver functioning properly.
Clean Up Your Diet
Start by cleaning up your diet and losing excess weight. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that affects 20 to 30 percent of American adults, is more likely to occur in people with obesity, according to a September 2018 review published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.
If left unaddressed, this disorder may lead to chronic liver disease. As the researchers point out, losing as little as 5 percent of body weight can help reduce liver fat.
Having overweight or obesity increases your risk of insulin resistance and triggers inflammation. Both conditions are major risk factors for fatty liver disease. One way to protect this vital organ is to remove sugary foods and beverages from your diet. Beware that both sugar and fructose affect liver function.
When consumed in excess, fructose is just as harmful as added sugar.
The American Liver Foundation advises against the consumption of fried foods, fatty foods, added sugars and excess sodium. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other high-fiber foods support liver health, so try to incorporate them into your diet. Lemon juice and lemons, for example, are low in sugar and rich in antioxidants. Enjoy them as part of a balanced diet to keep your liver happy and healthy.
Say No to Alcohol
Alcohol consumption is often the culprit behind liver diseases. Over time, alcohol abuse can affect your liver's ability to regenerate, leading to permanent damage. Alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis are all potential consequences of excessive drinking.
The Cleveland Clinic warns that alcohol can harm multiple organs, not just the liver. Your heart, pancreas and gastrointestinal tract will suffer too.
When consumed in excess, alcoholic beverages may cause inflammation of the pancreas, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, impaired immune function and even cancer — not to mention the empty calories in cocktails, spirits and other drinks, which can easily lead to weight gain.
Read more: 9 Scary Side Effects of Social Drinking
An occasional glass of wine or champagne is unlikely to affect your liver and overall health. Just make sure it doesn't become a habit. Quench your thirst with lemon water, coconut water, fresh lemon juice or smoothies instead of cocktails. These beverages are alcohol-free, taste amazing and boost your energy instantly.
You can even make your own party drinks at home using fruit juice and other healthy ingredients. Mix lemon, lime and orange juice for a refreshing summer drink. If you're craving sangria, fill a pitcher with ice, add passion fruit juice and sparkling water, and then toss in slices of lime, orange and kiwi. Add fresh cranberry to the mix for a rich flavor.
Is This an Emergency?
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Lemons"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Lemon Juice, Raw"
- Frontiers in Physiology: "Vitamin C in Health and Disease: Its Role in the Metabolism of Cells and Redox State in the Brain"
- Dermato-Endocrinology: "Discovering the Link Between Nutrition and Skin Aging"
- Journal of Ophthalmology: "Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Meso-Zeaxanthin in the Clinical Management of Eye Disease"
- NCBI: Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics:"Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence"
- NCBI: Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Beneficial Effects of Citrus Flavonoids on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health"
- BioMed Research International: "Protective Effects of Lemon Juice on Alcohol-Induced Liver Injury in Mice"
- NCBI: Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy: "Obesity and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Current Perspectives"
- Hopkins Medicine: "Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)"
- NCBI: Journal of Hepatology: "Fructose and Sugar: A Major Mediator of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- American Liver Foundation: "A Healthy Diet, a Healthier Liver, a Healthier You"
- NHS: "Alcohol-Related Liver Disease"
- Cleveland Clinic: "6 Surprising Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health — Not Just Your Liver"