Lemon water health benefits: the truth about sipping on hot citrus

We ask the experts about the alleged health and weight loss benefits of sipping lemon water.

Health and wellness influencers have long been singing the praises of a hot cup of lemon water to ‘detoxify’ your liver and kick start weight loss, but will squeezing citrus into your morning cuppa really transform your digestive health and just what are the health benefits of lemon juice?

We speak to Sophie Medlin, registered dietitian and owner at City Dietitians, and Anna Middleton, dental hygienist from London Hygienist, about what drinking hot lemon water actually does to your health:

Is lemon water good for your skin?

Lemon juice is often touted as the ultimate health hack for fixing your face. But can sipping on a warm mug of citrus fruits really rejuvenate your skin?

‘Lemon contains vitamin C which is really important for our skin. It helps to promote collagen production and protects from UV damage,’ says Medlin. ‘Adding a flavouring to water may also help us to drink more, which is also good for the appearance of your skin.’

It’s not all good news though. ‘The anti-aging effects of lemon water will quickly wear off when your teeth are black from all the acid though!’ adds Medlin. ‘The amount of vitamin C you actually get from lemon water is not significant. You’re much better off upping your fruit intake to see the real benefits.’

Can lemon water speed up weight loss?

Many wellness gurus maintain lemon juice can have a transformative effect on your midriff. But is this really true?

‘No,’ says Medlin. ‘There is some evidence that a very high intake of grapefruit juice may help weight loss in studies with rodents but there is no evidence at all the lemon water has any impact on weight loss or metabolic rate. There is no physiological mechanism by which this would happen.’

Is lemon water good for digestive health?

Bad news for lemon-lovers, sipping on citrus is not that great for your belly either. ‘Outside of the body, the acid in lemon can help to breakdown bacteria, but when it reaches the stomach, there will be no additional benefits to digestive health and most people with digestive problems find citrus to be an irritant to their condition due to the high acid content,’ says Medlin.

Does drinking warm lemon water have any health benefits?
Dimitri OtisGetty Images

Does lemon water maintain PH balance?

Again, another health myth that you should probably ignore. ‘The pH of lemon water is around 2 and the pH in your stomach is around the same, so it has no impact on the pH of the rest of your body, as everything you eat and drink is turned into acid as soon as it hits your stomach,’ says Medlin.

‘As a dietitian, I have worked extensively in intensive care where the pH of the patient’s blood can be affected by breathing problems and sepsis,’ adds Medlin. ‘If the pH of someone’s blood is even slightly above or below the normal range, they die very quickly. It is impossible for the pH of your blood to be affected by what you eat and drink. If it could be, many people would accidentally kill themselves all the time.’

Will lemon water damage your teeth?

To make matters worse, the popularity of drinking lemon in water is causing an unexpected increase in tooth enamel erosion, so proceed with extreme caution unless you want to irrevocably damage your gnashers. ‘This is the permanent and irreversible wearing away of the tooth enamel (the outer layer of the tooth), which can lead to sensitivity, yellowing and increased risk of decay,’ says Middleton.

‘It is not the amount of acid you have but the frequency over which it is consumed. When you consume food and drinks that have sugars and acid in them, the bacteria in the mouth are fed and produce more acid which in turn attack the teeth.’

The good news is, aside from avoiding an excess of lemon water, there are a number of ways you can minimise enamel erosion and keep your pearly whites in check. Middleton offers the following tips:

✔️ Use a straw (avoid plastic ones) for drinks and rinse your mouth with water after.

✔️ Keep acids and sugars to meal times only and aim for no more than three to four sugary/acidic attacks per day.

✔️ Sugar-free gum/mints increases salivary flow, which can neutralise plaque acids, help remove food debris, strengthen teeth and reduce dry mouth.

✔️ Opt for products with Xylitol as an ingredient, which can help fight tooth decay.

✔️ Use a toothpaste designed to fight acid erosion twice a day.

Can lemon water fight the common cold?

Finally some good news! If you’re prone to coughs and colds or feel one coming on, get stuck into a warm glass of lemon juice, because it IS good for battling the sniffles.

‘Vitamin C is a really important vitamin for our immune system and making sure that you’re getting enough vitamin C in your diet can help your immune system,’ says Medlin.

What’s more, one study found that eating 24 grams of citrus fibre extract for a month reduced total blood cholesterol levels, so there is evidence that lemon pulp may benefit your ticker.

Can lemon water flush out your toxins?

If you buy into this fad, you’ll be wasting a lot of money on lemons. ‘There is no such thing as “toxins” really. Nothing we eat is “toxic”,’ explains Medlin.

‘Our environment and behaviours like smoking, drinking alcohol, intense exercise and restrictive dieting can cause free-radicals to build up in our bodies, which lead to tissue damage. Antioxidants like vitamin C can help to counteract these free-radicals.’

‘People believe that lemon water helps to break down fat,’ she adds. ‘This is because of the belief that the acidic nature of the lemon impacts on fat digestion. As mentioned previously, stomach acid and bile are both perfectly designed to break down fat in the most efficient way.’

Is lemon water anti-inflammatory?

Another myth that needs shelving, Medlin maintains that lemon water does not in fact have anti-inflammatory properties and sipping it to ease inflammation could in fact have the opposite effect. ‘Constantly exposing your mouth and oesophagus to the acid in lemon water is likely to lead to inflammation,’ she says.

Does lemon water help with hydration?

Many health gurus will have you believe that lemon water comes enriched with electrolytes, but Medlin smashes this belief. ‘You will be getting some sugar and some potassium however, this will not have any significant benefits on hydration over just drinking water,’ she says. Enough said.

Is lemon water a good source of vitamin C?

When it comes to oranges and lemons, while the latter is still in the running, the former wins the health battle. ‘Lemons contain some potassium, calcium, phosphate and magnesium,’ says Medlin, ‘but not enough that it will make any difference to nutritional status and all are found in greater concentrations in oranges.’

The brain-boosting benefits of lemon is another health claim that sadly doesn’t stack up. ‘There is no mechanism by which lemon water can impact on mood or memory function,’ says Medlin.

‘High levels of vitamin C may improve these things in studies but drinking lemon water won’t have an impact. The best thing for memory and mood is a healthy, balanced diet that includes nuts and seeds, fish, whole grains and plenty of vegetables.’

Lemon juice proven health benefits

So, now that we’ve busted all the hot lemon myths and single-handedly crushed the UK citrus trade, aside from fighting off the sniffles from a seasonal cold, just what is lemon juice good for? Tequila! 🍋