Originally published on Nymag.com’s The Cut on 5/20/15
By Kathleen Hou
It seems like every time we conduct or read an interview with someone about their beauty routine, at one point or another in the conversation, they mention that they drink lemon water in the morning. Naomi Campbell claims that she eschews coffee for hot lemon water with probiotics. Gwyneth Paltrow drinks it to detox. Lauren Conrad says it aids in “energizing” and “cleansing.” Miranda Kerr says she drinks it because “it kickstarts the digestive system.” But could lemon water really do all of these things? In an attempt to get to the bottom of this trend, the Cut interviewed several nutritionists and doctors about the benefits of drinking lemon water.
Will lemon water help me to lose weight?
Triple board-certified nutritionist Dana James simply says no when I ask whether it can speed up your metabolism. Dr. Passler (nutritionist to Victoria’s Secret Angels like Adriana Lima) clarifies that it could have a possible, slight, and indirect effect. “Lemons are rich in potassium, which is a key nutrient for healthy metabolism. Also, since it aids in the digestion of proteins and fats, it may play an indirect role in the production and fueling of muscles that can improve your ability to burn calories.” In other words: Lemon water can only help you to be skinnier if you drink it instead of eating a carrot-cake doughnut (or do the Master Cleanse).
Can lemon indirectly stimulate my liver?
Experts disagree on this point. Dr. James says, “The bitterness from the lemon can stimulate bile flow. Bile is used to bind up the fats and fat soluble toxins so it can be taken out of the body.” Dr. Passler explains, “When the bitter tastebuds are activated on your tongue they start a cascade of effects that can improve the liver and gallbladder’s ability to metabolize fat.” However, Dr. Gina Sam, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital, weighs in by saying, “There is no [scientific] data that says it metabolizes your bile, or helps you lose weight. I think that’s just a myth.”
Naturopaths believe it has alkalizing effects on the body.
Here are the facts: Lemons are acidic and contain citric and ascorbic acid, an acid with antioxidant properties. However, some experts interviewed believe that it can have alkalizing effects on the body, or can assist in ensuring the body stays in a more ideal, alkaline pH level. “Lemon water is a good source of several alkalizing minerals such as calcium and potassium. When lemon juice is consumed, its minerals may dissociate in the bloodstream to have an alkalizing effect,” Dr. Passler says. Dr. Lancer (dermatologist to both Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian) adds, “The body’s metabolic process breaks down the acids and allows the mineral content of the lemons to alkalize our blood and digestive system.”
However, a healthy body stays within in a certain alkaline range on its own. Your body isn’t switching between different pH levels depending upon the foods or water you may drink. James explains, “You can’t eat a junky diet and think that the lemon water is going to make it more alkaline or you more healthy. However, if you eat a clean diet and add to that, it is going to improve it. It’s about the load put on your body to remain in an ideal pH — by drinking lemon water, you can decrease the load a little bit.” When I ask Dr. Sam if the medical community had evidence of this, she simply says, “We need more data. It could very well be possible, and there may be health evidence indicating this, but we need more data.” Practitioners of naturopathic medicine are more supportive of the claim that lemon water is alkalizing.
Drink lemon water for the Vitamin C, and the water.
All the experts agree that lemon water contains lots of vitamin C. Dr. Passler adds, “Lemon juice contains vitamin C, which in numerous studies has shown immune-boosting properties. The hydrating effects of water consumption can also have a positive effect on immune status. Vitamin C also lends essential support to your adrenal glands so you can handle stress better.” According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, vitamin C is also effective for iron absorption.
Conclusion: Drink lemon water because it is hydrating and contains vitamin C. Drink it if you like the way it tastes. Don’t drink it if you’re looking for steadfast scientific evidence indicating that it can help your metabolism, liver function, or body “alkalize.”