Humans have been experimenting with tonics since the beginning of time. From the fountain of youth to alkaline water to kale juice, we’re always searching for that magic potion that will restore health and wellness, ward off illness, and make us look and feel 10 years younger. But what if that potion isn’t so mysterious? What if it’s just…lemon water?
Lemon water has been touted as a health and wellness aid for years by some MDs, clean living advocates, and, of course, celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow. And unlike packaged juice cleanses that supposedly brighten your skin and age you backwards, lemon water won’t break the bank. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it seems safe (as long as you don’t try to exist on lemon water alone)—but does it really work wonders?
Some proponents of lemon water claim that it aids digestion, detoxifies the liver, erases age spots, speeds up your metabolism, helps with depression and anxiety, relieves heartburn, wards off cancer, and reduces inflammation. I was sceptical that it could do all those things, but I figured if it does even a few it would be pretty great.
I’ve had lemon water here and there over the years, of course, but I decided to drink two cups a day for two weeks to see if it would have any noticeable impact. Here’s what I learned.
Lemons are high in antioxidants, which help prevent cellular damage and ward off free radicals—including those that lead to wrinkles and other complexion issues related to ageing. (That's why so many skin serums contain antioxidants like vitamin C, and why dermatologists say it's a good idea to eat more antioxidant-rich foods.) I wasn't expecting miracles, and I didn't find them. But by week two I started to notice a slight improvement in my skin. A few trouble spots had cleared up, and when I looked in the mirror my complexion did seem to be less dull and more vibrant.
Health-conscious friends of mine are always claiming that lemon water—especially warm or hot lemon water—can help with digestion and cut down on bloat. And experts do say that the citric acid in lemons can supplement your natural stomach acids to help you break down food. I also learned that lemon water is a surprisingly decent source of potassium, a mineral that helps keep sodium levels in check. (Not that I was drinking it straight, but half a cup of lemon juice has about 125 mg of potassium compared to about 211 mg in a banana.) So maybe it would also combat salt-related fluid retention? At first I wasn't sure if my lemon water habit was doing anything, but after a few days I noticed I was less bloated.
Citrus fruits like lemons are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that research suggests may help ward off colds and reduce inflammation throughout the body. You would probably have to drink a lot of lemon water for a long period of time to really notice a difference in inflammation, and it's tough to gauge the impact of lemon water on your immune system over a short period of time. That said, I didn't get sick during my 2-week experiment.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition found that polyphenols in lemon peel prevented mice from putting on extra fat during a 12-week period. In 2 weeks I lost a single pound, which may or may not have been due to the lemon water. In my case, I suspect it mostly helped with motivation. After starting my day with something as healthy as lemon water, I felt more inclined to stick with workouts, eat clean foods, and pass on caloric drinks like orange juice and soda.
In addition to all of the physical benefits, lemon water has been touted as a balm for lifting your spirits—a claim that brought out my inner sceptic. If lemon water could truly pull you out of a funk, they would bottle it and sell it for about 200 times the price. That said, maybe it was the pound I lost or just the confidence that came from sticking to a health-focused plan for 2 weeks, but I did feel, mentally, just a little bit lighter.
As for my internal organs, it's a bit of a mystery. I have no way to gauge whether or not my liver was "detoxified" or my digestive system really improved. But here’s hoping that any change it had on my body was a positive one.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.