This year’s ultimate health goal has been drinking warm lemon water in the morning on an empty stomach. Supposedly, warm lemon water is good for many things, from improving digestion and stomach health to perfecting skin appearance, clearing the body of toxins, alkalizing the blood, curing respiratory infections and several other surprising benefits. But is drinking lemon water that good for us? Actually, the properties of lemon and lemon juice in particular produce some unexpected, less beneficial health effects that may negatively impact various aspects of our health.
What causes regular consumption of warm lemon water to be bad for us is the acidity of the fruit. Acidic fruits such as lemons are not recommended for people with stomach problems, sensitive teeth or for people who believe that eating a certain food will reverse a lifetime of bad dietary habits, counteract harmful lifestyle habits such as smoking or alcohol consumption or improve their health to such an extent that they don’t have to pay attention to any other aspect of it from that point on.
In order to understand why it might not be wise to start drinking warm lemon water in the morning we should first know its supposed health benefits. And I call them ‘supposed’ because all the benefits falsely attributed to lemon water are in fact the result of other dietary and lifestyle habits as a single glass of water with two slices of lemon does not have the nutritional value required to generate visible changes in one’s health. Because vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are the basis of good health and we require them in rather high amounts every single day. A bit of lemon juice contains only negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals.
In any case, here are the supposed benefits warm lemon water:
1) Improves digestion and is good for the stomach.
2) Relieves constipation.
3) Boosts immunity.
4) Controls high blood pressure.
5) Helps with weight loss and controls hunger cravings.
6) Helps treat respiratory diseases and infections.
7) Detoxifies the liver, cleanses the blood of toxins, alkalizes the blood.
8) Great for oral hygiene.
9) Improves skin appearance.
10) Good for rheumatism.
Why is warm lemon water bad for you? Here are 10 reasons that explain how drinking warm lemon water on an empty stomach in the morning can do more harm than good and not deliver the promised health benefits:
1) Bad for stomach health. Lemon juice is acidic in nature, so drinking warm (room temperature or cold) lemon water on an empty stomach irritates the stomach lining. Moreover, lemon juice worsens existing gastritis, acid reflux and stomach ulcers which is why people with stomach problems are recommended to avoid citrus fruit, lemons and limes in particular. In addition to this, the lemon in lemon water and the warm temperature of the water do little for digestion. Drinking water is necessary to remain well-hydrated, stay alive and keep healthy and sometimes wash down foods that are too dry or too rich in protein. See Foods to Eat and to Avoid for Gastritis.
2) Not that great for constipation. Relieving constipation is more about addressing the factors that cause it such as a low fiber intake, not drinking enough liquids, eating too little fats (for fear of gaining weight mostly), sedentarism or prolonged use of antibiotics which destroy good gut bacteria that help with breaking down food and normal transit. While a glass of water in the morning does contribute to keeping us hydrated by adding to our intake of liquids, it’s not going to make any difference for constipation.
You actually have to continue to drink water throughout the day, eat sufficient fiber, keep active, include healthy fats in our diet etc. The fact that we drink liquids on an empty stomach somewhat puts things into motion and helps us go to the bathroom simply because we are upping our liquid intake, but there are limits to what a glass of water can do. Also, lemons aren’t rich in fiber so they can help us deal with constipation. We would be better off with prunes, almonds or kiwifruit and a glass of water in the morning.
As for lemons containing pectin (a type of dietary fiber that binds jams and helps with constipation and diarrhea), know that lemons and other citrus fruit have pectin for the most part in their rind, which you don’t consume except for in jams or baked goods, making them even less suitable for treating constipation. Apples, strawberries, cherries, grapes, apricots etc. are better choices in this respect because you can actually eat their pectin-rich skin.
3) Doesn’t boost immunity by itself. The reason why lemons are recommended for a strong immune system is because they contain vitamin C, a vital nutrient for good immunity. However, adding a slice or two of lemon or the juice from half a lemon to a glass of water provides us with very little vitamin C, especially considering that emerging research shows that vitamin C produces visible health benefits starting from a daily dose of at least 500 mg. Compare this to:
(90 mg) the current recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
(38.7 mg) the amount of vitamin C in 100 g of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
(18.6 mg) the amount of vitamin C in a 48 g lemon (the estimated weight of a fruit).
4) Doesn’t affect blood pressure. Drinking warm lemon water in the morning doesn’t lower high blood pressure. Hypertension is caused by a high intake of sodium (eating too salty), a low intake of potassium (which helps eliminate excess sodium and balance blood pressure), cholesterol buildup on artery walls (narrowing of the arteries restricts blood flow) etc.
Lowering our sodium and raising our potassium intake as well as increasing our magnesium intake (for the good functioning of the heart muscle) can treat high blood pressure in a matter of weeks or months, not warm lemon water. On average, an adult body needs about 4,700 mg of potassium daily and lemons contain about 103 mg/100 g of juice (and 49 mg/ 48 g of juice). See High Blood Pressure: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.
5) Warm lemon water and weight loss. Healthy weight loss is a complex process that relies primarily on having overall healthy eating habits. Incorporating lemon water in our diet is not going to do much for us because losing weight is not dependent on one single food. It’s a process that involves eating less calories, eliminating processed foods completely, reducing alcohol intake, fat intake etc. But if it gives us the confidence to eat healthier for the rest of the day, then why not?
As for the cravings and hunger, there is nothing satiating about lemon water. It’s just filling up on flavored water to deceive hunger. What this does is starve the body and deny it vital nutrients it needs to keep us alive, to keep us healthy and help us maintain a good weight and a positive mindset. Eating the right foods is the best weight loss diet with the most beautiful long term results at a both physical and emotional level.
6) Warm lemon water and respiratory infections. The reason why lemon water is said to help treat throat and other respiratory tract infections is because it contains vitamin C, an extremely powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. However, lemons contain very little vitamin C compared to the amounts needed to constitute an actual protective intake against infections of any sort. As mentioned above, research now suggests that intakes far higher than the current RDA of around 90 mg of vitamin C are needed to obtain visible health effects. So adding 2 or 3 slices of lemon in a glass of water doesn’t make such a great difference for our health.
7) Warm lemon water and the liver. The liver’s function is to do exactly this: process things and eliminate toxins, thus cleansing the blood of them. Drinking lemon water won’t have it perform any better, but clean eating, healthy living will. So if we’re trying to help our liver, then we should enjoy a balanced, varied diet, no processed foods, no alcohol or sugary beverages, fizzy or not, no smoking, less pollution, resting sufficiently etc. The good thing about lemons is that they are alkaline, meaning they can influence our blood pH positively (research suggests a more alkaline blood pH can lower the risk of chronic disease).
However, we can only achieve a more alkaline blood pH only if we eat mostly alkaline foods, not just drink a glass of lemon water in the morning because this alone will have very little impact on our overall health. At the same time, drinking the water in which we have soaked lemon rind might not be the healthiest option because it is likely contaminated with dangerous pesticides.
8) Damages teeth. Lemon juice is highly acidic and constant exposure of teeth to acidic foods will sensitize them, leading to pain and discomfort. This is caused by the acidity of lemon juice which wears down tooth enamel and leads to sensitivity. Drinking it using a straw might help limit damage. Other problematic foods include other citrus fruit, tomatoes, certain herbal teas, but also hot and cold foods and beverages, sweet and sour ones. In some cases, eating a slice of lemon can help with bad breath. Unfortunately, it won’t cover the smell of pungent foods completely (garlic odor, for example) or treat bad breath that originates in stomach problems. Also see Garlic Body Smell: Causes, Symptoms and Remedies.
9) Skin care. Drinking warm lemon water does not have a major impact on skin appearance. Drinking plenty of water does because it helps hydrate the skin and offers it a more youthful, plump, rested appearance. Lemon juice is best used topically, mixed with various other foods such as honey and yogurt for skin care.
10) Warm lemon water and rheumatism. There really isn’t a known mechanism that can confirm the beneficial effects of lemon water on rheumatism. High amounts of vitamin C can help reduce inflammation and improve pain, but the amounts in a daily glass of water with a few slices of lemon are nowhere near producing visible effects.
Conclusion. Overall, warm lemon water is not an unhealthy habit. It’s just that it doesn’t produce measurable benefits either. In fact, its supposed health benefits proclaimed in most health and wellness articles are either untrue or grossly magnified. Moreover, while it doesn’t pose any health risks for the majority of people, anyone suffering from stomach ulcers, gastritis, acid reflux or other gastrointestinal conditions and teeth sensitivity benefits more from not drinking lemon water at all. Just water will be fine.