Updated: Oct 16, 2020
By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
October 14, 2020
So much can be said about the medicinal properties of lemon - but what is fact, fiction or exaggeration?
Lemons (C. limon) are an excellent source of vitamin C, but also provide small amounts of B-vitamins, potassium, other minerals and dietary fiber.
Traditional and alternative medicine show that lemon use can be an effective treatment against cancer, inflammation, high blood sugar, bacterial infections, protects the liver and that each part of the lemon (pulp, peel and essential oil) are beneficial (1,2,3,4).
So, what are some of the proven health benefits of lemon?
Lemon contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that play a protective role in the body.
Scurvy is historically known as a sailor's disease - sailors that were at sea for long periods of time became deficient in vitamin C and developed fatal side effects. Lemon and other citrus fruits alike contain polyphenols, which include vitamin C. Providing almost 80% of the daily vitamin C requirements, lemons can prevent and cure vitamin C deficiencies, such as scurvy (1,4).
There is promising research on the anticancer ability of lemon. Extracts from lemon juice have been shown in vivo (in a lab) to stop cancer cells from multiplying and leads to the death of cancer cells. Extracts from lemon seeds, combined with other chemicals, have shown potential as a chemoprotective agent against breast cancer (4).
Lowering blood sugar (anti-diabetes)
Extracts from lemon have been shown to reduce blood glucose/sugar levels in as early as 12 days, by increasing the activity of liver enzymes that control blood glucose/sugar. Be mindful that these effects were seen in studies on rats and may or may not work the same way in humans (2,4).
Weight Loss (anti-obesity)
Lemon use is not directly related to weight loss.
The D-limonene extract from lemon has been shown - again, in rat studies - to correct abnormal lipid levels, particularly LDL (the "bad" cholesterol). Through its ability to prevent fat accumulating in the liver, it is suggested that use of this extract can prevent obesity.
In other studies, lemon juice was used in conjunction with low-calorie diets (4).
Other traditional uses of lemon:
High blood pressure
Irregular menstruation (traditional Indian medicine indicates that C. limon can induce menstruation and recommends to drink 2 teaspoons twice per day 4)
Can drinking lemon water help you lose weight?
Not directly. Lemon extracts have been shown to reduce the accumulation of fats in the liver, which may decrease the risk for obesity, however drinking lemon water does not guarantee weight loss.
Drinking fluids help to expand your stomach receptors and the body responds by triggering satiety signals and decreasing appetite - hence, you may feel fuller for longer, and in combination with other health-conscious practices, lose weight.
Is lemon water better than plain water?
Lemon has many health benefits and surely adds a boost of nutrients and flavor to your water. However, both lemon water and plain water are good hydration options.
To conclude, lemon is a functional nutrition food that offers many health benefits, namely as a cough medicine and the prevention and treatment of vitamin C deficiency. Ongoing research continues to reveal the role lemon plays as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of cancer, diabetes and lipid regulation.
How do you like your lemons?
Flavor your water with a squeeze of lemon juice for a sugar-free, tangy experience
Serve up some antioxidants with your next seafood dish when you keep a slice of lemon handy
A tablespoon of honey with a squeeze of lemon may help your sore throat (and this is a traditional remedy in some cultures)
Lemon-flavored cake or cupcakes are an absolute yum
Liqueur anyone? Try this limoncello recipe to spice up your weekend: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/32451/limoncello/
(1)Mohanapriya, M., Ramaswamy, L., & Rajendran, R. (2013). Health and Medicinal Properties of Lemon (Citrus Limonum). International Journal Of Ayurvedic And Herbal Medicine, 1(3), 1095–1100. Retrieved from http://interscience.org.uk/v3-i1/8 ijahm.pdf https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d26cb57c067540001f8a891/t/5d703a536a06240001dad958/1567636051895/Lemon_Research.pdf
(3De, S., Bhowmick, S., Giri, P., Maji, S., & Das, M. (2017). Investigate the Antimicrobial Activity of Raw Lemon and Honey against Human Enteric Pathogens in Vitro, 1, 2469–2474.) http://www.interscience.org.uk/images/article/v7-i1/10ijahm.pdf
(4) Klimek-szczykutowicz, M., Szopa, A., & Ekiert, H. (2020). Citrus limon (Lemon) phenomenon—a review of the chemistry, pharmacological properties, applications in the modern pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetics industries, and biotechnological studies. Plants, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/plants9010119 https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC7020168&blobtype=pdf