4 Lemon Water Benefits That Are Actually Backed By Science
If #WaterTok is any indication, we're all looking for ways to jazz up our H2O. One such tactic is infusing water with fruits like lemons. Making your own lemon water is a simple way not only to add flavor but also to boost the wellness factor of your daily hydration.
That being said, lemon water isn't a miracle drink—but it offers some potential health benefits that we're diving into below:
What is lemon water?
Lemon water is as simple as it sounds—it's literally just lemons and water.
While it's possible to purchase store-bought lemon water, these versions can contain added sweetener or other less-than-desirable ingredients.
It's easier (and cleaner, diet-wise) to whip up your own by steeping slices of lemon in refrigerated water for a few hours. You can add as many slices as you like, either using an infuser pitcher or popping some wedges into a glass and covering them with water. You can muddle the fruit a bit to squeeze out its juice before removing the lemons, or leave them in as you sip (just watch out for seeds!).
Lemon water benefits
Lemon water has been hyped on social media as a cure-all for everything from digestive woes to skin issues. Some of its buzz may be justified, but it's important to realize that not a lot of research has been performed on the drink—so lemon water's scientific benefits are hard to verify 100%.
That said, dietitians and functional docs say there are several good reasons to drink up:
Lemon water is hydrating
First things first—and no surprises here—lemon water hydrates your body. Considering that we're made up of 65% water, keeping our liquid stores stocked is critical for health.
"If you're not hydrated, everything else you do to stay healthy, like diet, exercise, stress, and sleep management may be compromised," says integrative medicine practitioner Dana Cohen, M.D.
If you struggle to drink enough plain water, adding some pretty, peppy lemons might help you reach your daily hydration target.
Lemon water may promote healthy digestion
A 2022 study found that lemon juice increased gastric emptying 1.5 times more than water1, likely due to its acidity level. "Lemon water may help with the production of digestive juices that break down food into smaller pieces so it can be better absorbed," explains Cohen.
Still, you might need to drink a lot of lemon water to achieve these effects. "Lemons have been observed to aid in digestion and as a diuretic, but research is limited, and standard dosing and formulation studied has been 85 milliliters (60 mEq citrate), which is about 3 ounces, or two medium lemons," points out Monique Richard, M.S., RDN, LDN, owner of Nutrition-In-Sight and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Lemon water may offer cognitive benefits
Some recent research has examined how flavonoids in lemon peel could affect brain health. A 2019 study in the International Journal of Molecular Science, for example, found that nobiletin, a compound in citrus peels, could be used to improve cognitive deficits in people with Alzheimer's disease2.
Research is definitely in the very early stages here, though. "Many of these studies have been observed in animal models, which provides limited conclusive evidence, and few have been brought into clinical studies and application," says Richard. "One specific plant compound will not be solely responsible for supporting cognitive health but is likely one of many contributing components."
Lemon water may boost immunity
If there's one nutrient lemons are known for, it's vitamin C. This antioxidant may have a role to play in immune health. "Vitamin C supports the production and function of immune cells, as well as acting as an antioxidant," says immunologist Jenna Macciochi, Ph.D.
But like lemon water's other potential benefits, bear in mind that this one isn't an instant fix for the common cold (or any other disease).
"While lemon water contains vitamin C, the amount is relatively small compared to other sources like actually eating fruits and vegetables," says Macciochi. "So while it can contribute to your overall vitamin C intake, it needs to be considered as a small part of a well-rounded diet that supports immune health."
Is it any more hydrating than plain water?
According to Cohen, lemon water offers some extra boosts for hydration you won't find in plain water. "The addition of lemon to water can provide extra electrolytes that help get those minerals into the cell, which in turn quenches your thirst and keeps your body running more readily than just plain water."
How to add it to your routine
Drinking any amount of lemon water will add hydration and vitamin C to your daily diet. The more lemon juice you include in your H2O, the more of its benefits you'll likely experience. Experiment to see how much tartness you can handle.
Do you need to drink it in the morning?
If you judge by TikTok videos, you might think drinking lemon water on an empty stomach is the only way to go. But Macciochi says that's not quite true.
"There's no best time to drink lemon water, but there are a few considerations. Drinking lemon water in the morning on an empty stomach is a common practice to hydrate after sleep, and it's believed to help kick-start digestion—but you can consume lemon water at any time that suits your routine and preferences," she says.
Whether you prefer your lemon water before bed, with lunch, or as an afternoon refresher, you do you.
Ready to get your citrus on? Here's a basic lemon water recipe to start with:
- 1 lemon
- 8 cups cold water
- Wash the lemon and cut into thin slices. Place in a bottom of a pitcher. Muddle slightly with a pestle or wooden spoon.
- Add cold water, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- Squeeze excess juice from lemons and remove them, if desired.
To add even more variety and nutrients to your lemony sipping, you can always incorporate other ingredients as well. Optional add-ins include fresh ginger or turmeric for anti-inflammatory benefits—or try herbs like fresh mint or basil to step up the flavor. If you're looking for an electrolyte upgrade, you can even make lemon water with salt by adding ¼ teaspoon salt and mixing well.
Lemon water myths
Some of the claims about lemon water are more credible than others. It's certainly a hydrating drink, and there's evidence that it may offer benefits like improved digestion and a stronger immune system. But, contrary to what you might read online, lemon water won't detoxify your organs or burn belly fat (sorry!). As with any food, take any dramatic claims you see on social media with a grain of salt.
Some people could experience some undesirable side effects from drinking the citrusy water. Heartburn and dental erosion are two of the most common outcomes of consuming too much citric acid from lemons. If you already eat and drink lots of other foods with high acidity, lemon water could aggravate these health issues.
Protect your pearly whites
How much lemon water should you drink a day?
You can feel free to sip lemon water throughout the day. "When consumed in levels typically found in foods, lemons and lemon juice are generally well tolerated with little safety or adverse effects," says Richard.
What happens if we drink lemon water daily?
Making lemon water part of your daily routine may yield the health benefits above, so it's a-OK to drink daily. If you notice you're experiencing adverse effects like heartburn or an upset stomach, though, it's probably time to cut back.
Does lemon water have to be warm?
Nope! "The temperature at which you drink lemon water is largely a matter of personal preference," says Macciochi. "Some people prefer warm lemon water, especially in the morning, as it can feel soothing and help ease the digestion process or during winter. Others enjoy it cold on a hot day as a refreshing drink throughout the day."
A lemon water a day may not keep the doctor away, but since it's hydrating and rich in vitamin C, we say drink up! If adding a few wedges of lemon to your bottle gets you to drink enough fluids, it's totally worth slicing and sipping. As a refresher, here's how much water you should be taking in daily.
Sarah Garone, NDTR is a licensed nutritionist and freelance health and wellness writer in Mesa, AZ whose work has appeared in numerous publications. After a first career as a college German teacher, health problems led her to pivot her work to the way food impacts wellness. In addition to her writing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and three teenage kids, cooking, running, volunteering at a certified pro-women's healthcare center, and singing in a concert choir.