Lemons (Citrus limon) are a citrus fruit known for their sour, bitter flavor and bright yellow color. They’re packed with vitamin C and antioxidants that support various aspects of health. For example, lemon water has gained a lot of popularity for helping to reduce the risk of kidney stones, promoting vitamin C intake, and supporting healthy digestion.
1. Helps Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are also known as renal calculi or nephrolithiasis. They're hard deposits made of minerals that build up in your urinary tract and form in your kidneys. Kidney stones affect about 10% of people. Increasing levels of a weak acid called urine citrate and making urine more alkaline can help prevent kidney stones.
Lemons contain a form of citrate called citric acid which helps increase urine citrate levels. Citric acid binds with urinary calcium to help prevent oversaturated urine. It also binds to hard clumps of minerals called calcium oxalate crystals to prevent them from growing and becoming painful kidney stones.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, daily consumption of four ounces of lemon juice concentrate mixed with water may help prevent kidney stones. However, an alkali citrate, like potassium citrate, may be better if your urine pH levels are too acidic.When in doubt, speak with your doctor about your risk for kidney stones and the best prevention options for you.
2. Supports Heart Health
Lemons are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that support heart health. Consuming adequate vitamin C protects your cells from damaging free radicals—highly unstable particles that can cause damage to cells if they aren't neutralized. This can help prevent atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), a condition that increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Phenolic compounds are a type of antioxidant found in lemons that support healthy blood pressure, endothelial function, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Endothelial function refers to how smoothly blood runs throughout your body. Hypertension (high blood pressure), high LDL cholesterol levels, and reduced endothelial function increase your risk of heart disease.
Eating lemons also increases your total fruit and vegetable intake. A large 2017 study found that higher fruit and vegetable intake was associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality (risk of death due to any cause).
3. Enhances Iron Absorption
One lemon contains over 30% of your daily value (DV) for vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for iron absorption as well as for reducing your risk of heart disease. It helps you better absorb nonheme iron, which is found in plants and iron-fortified foods like bread and cereals.
Pairing food sources of iron with vitamin C helps you absorb iron more effectively. This can be especially beneficial if you're vegan or vegetarian and consume primarily nonheme iron. It can prevent iron deficiency anemia, a condition caused when your body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body.
4. Prevents Cell Damage
Antioxidants in lemons prevent cell damage associated with health conditions like cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a group of chronic, progressive lung diseases that limit airflow to your lungs and cause difficulty breathing.
Numerous studies have shown that citrus fruits are rich in antioxidants.The antioxidants are present in the juice and flesh, but recent research shows that citrus peel contains even higher amounts of health-promoting antioxidants.
A Quick Review
Lemons can add bright flavor and nutritional value to your meals and beverages. They’re packed with vitamin C and antioxidants that promote heart health, help prevent kidney stones and cell damage, and enhance iron absorption.
Some people have a sensitivity to citrus fruits. The acidity of lemons can also erode tooth enamel and cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Pay attention to possible negative side effects of consuming lemons and reach out to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns.