#HEALTHCHECK: The Not-So-Magical Lemon Water

“PIECES OF LEMON IN A GLASS OF HOT WATER CAN SAVE YOU FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE” is a phrase you may have heard a number of times. You may have come across the assertion or variations of it on various internet sites or WhatsApp broadcast messages or perhaps sent by a friend or family member. The claim is said to be supported by “Professor Chen Horin, Chief Executive of the Beijing Military Hospital”.

There are several reasons why this claim appears incredulous but the first of it is that there is no one hospital with the name Beijing Military hospital! There are a number of military hospitals in Beijing alone and none of them is named “Beijing Military Hospital”.

Reason Two which makes us doubt the truth of this information is that military hospitals in China have come under fire in recent years for promoting and selling treatments that are not approved by the Chinese Health Ministry or even international health authorities. In a recent case, one of such military hospitals, the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps had been discredited for the death of a 21-year old cancer patient who bought into one of their experimental treatments and had consequently died. These military hospitals in China are largely unregulated by the Chinese Health Ministry but are subject to supervision by the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi Jinping.

Beyond these reasons, however, science does not seem to agree with the claims of lemon water as the magical cure of all ailments. The claim that the combination of lemon and hot water kills cancer cells is unproven. While studies indicate that citrus fruits, including lemons, contain compounds that may be beneficial in preventing or combating some types of cancer, to say it cures or prevents cancer is a gross exaggeration. The citrus fruit family to which lemon belongs indeed contains certain chemical substances in higher concentration than in other fruits.

These chemical substances are called phytochemicals and the citrus fruit has phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids, folate, and limonoids, which are physiologically active in certain ways that are preventive to cancer. The substances are referred to as antioxidants and they remove the effect of the by-products of normal chemical reactions going on in the body. These by-products can cause chronic illnesses like cancer.

This simply means that the citrus fruit has chemical substances that are good for detoxification, that is, removing substances that are harmful to the body. All fruits in the citrus family contain these antioxidants in varying degrees and NOT just lemons, and no research has shown that taking lemon in hot water or any other citrus fruit can cure every form of cancer! Any claim to lemon water destroying cancer cells or shrinking cancerous tumours is just not true.

Although these phytochemicals have been subjected to several anti-cancer tests, they have only shown promise for certain types of cancers and not proven effective against all kinds of cancers. No specific tests have been done on humans and it will take years of research to ascertain and narrow down which phytochemicals are active against which cancers and whether these will work on humans before it is tested on humans; as far as existing knowledge goes, these levels of research are part of the ongoing race to combat the cancer scourge and no one has reached the finish line yet.

Another claim of the magical lemon drink is that it becomes alkaline in water. This is simply not true. Lemon, as is the entire Citrus family, is acidic in its natural form with a PH of about 2.0. Adding water to lemon juice, whether hot or cold, in whatever volume will not make it alkaline. Citrus only changes to an alkaline form after digestion.

Lemon water is also said to affect only unhealthy cells leaving the healthy cells untouched. Again science has proven this is not true as the acidity in the lemon erodes the enamel of the teeth, exposing it to more sensitivity and leaving behind a yellowish tinge.

Hot lemon water drinking every day has become a fad touted by celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé, and Madonna popularising this as a master clean diet & healthy lifestyle. Science, however, does not quite agree; a glass of water early every morning can do as much “detoxifying”, keeping you well rehydrated from the night’s dehydration. Including a slice of lemon or a drop of lemon juice may make the taste better but does not offer much in the way of magical medicinal benefits.

The potential of citrus fruits to prevent cancer is recognized, but this claim exaggerates such potentials without basis in science or current reality. Healthy eating consisting of different food sources including fruits and vegetables, generally regarded as good sources of antioxidants, should be the fad.

The idea of a magical pill that cures all ailments appeals to the human sense but science is yet to find such a pill.

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  1. Excellent, well rounded exposition hi lighting how easily myths can transmutate into “facts” only too easily online. Thanks for your clear and evidence-based deconstruction of this particular myth.

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