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Lemons: Lemons Balance Vata, and So Much More
According to Ayurveda, the sour taste of citrus fruits has a balancing or calming effect on the nervous system. Along with sweet and salty tastes, sour balances vata and is specifically beneficial during exhaustive and stressful times, or during cold and dry winter months, when this dosha can become aggravated.
That said, most of us still reach for sweet and salty snacks when we’re seeking comfort, and comfort food.
But new science on how lemons may support longevity should have you pausing next time you reach for sweet and scorn sour.
Lemons and Longevity
According to research coming out of Japan, lemon and citrus polyphenols may support healthy aging, longevity, and a more diverse microbiome. In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, senescent cells in mice were exposed to lemon polyphenols and water or just water. Senescent cells are aging cells that cause damage to other cells they come in contacts with through oxidative damage. Healthy cells that begin to age are programmed to die and be discarded as waste but senescent cells do not fully die and linger as damaged cells that cause further damage.
In this study, the mice that received lemon polyphenols saw a significant extension of lifespan and improved cognitive function and locomotion, along with a healthier and more diverse gut microbiome.
A Forgotten Miracle Fruit
Here’s some lemon history: according to DNA evidence, the first lemon trees appeared about eight million years ago in the southeast foothills of the Himalayas. According to research published in the journal Nature, all citrus fruits, including amalaki (amla fruit), limes, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, mandarins, and others, were genetically derived from these original lemon trees of India.
Lemons, one of the world’s first high-vitamin C fruits, are rarely consumed in enough quantities to support optimal vitamin C levels. Worldwide, vitamin C deficiencies range from 7% to 73%, suggesting getting enough vitamin C is difficult. One way to get your daily dose of vitamin C is by starting your day with a glass of warm lemon water, the Ayurvedic way.
TIP: Mix a warm 6-8 ounce glass of water with juice of a quarter of an organic lemon—add the peel and start your day. To prevent citric acid from affecting tooth enamel, rinse your mouth after drinking.
Ayurveda and Lemons
Ayurvedically and clinically, sour lemons are used as a digestive aid to boost digestive fire; as an anupan (carrier) to boost absorption of herbs, spices, and foods; and as a cleanser for the blood, lymph, and mouth, according to the original Ayurvedic text, the Caraka Samhita.
Lemons, along with many other citrus fruits, are an integral part of an Ayurvedic seasonal diet. In fact, in addition to drying the pith and seeds for medicine and cooking with lemons, drinking warm lemon water in the morning is part of the Ayurvedic dinacharya, or daily routine, particularly during late winter and spring, when lemons are harvested.
Late winter- and early spring-harvested lemons and other citrus fruits, like amalaki, provide the perfect antidote for accumulation of vata (winter) and kapha (spring). In fact, Studies show the winter-harvested vitamin C in citrus protects volatile fat-soluble vitamins so desperately needed to balance vata in winter.
Water-soluble vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against vata-aggravating and damaging oxidative stress, or lipid (fat) peroxidation, which depletes vitamin E levels.
See also How Vitamin C Protects Vitamin E
Lemons as an Antacid
Lemons are extremely acidic, with a pH between two and three, so why do some people swear by their antacid effect? Citric acid increases stomach acidity, but also increases mucus and other gastric juices, which balance pitta and acidity. Citric acid also stimulates liver bile production, which tells the stomach to release acid contents quickly, helping occasional heartburn.
According to research, lemons also have a negative PRAL score (potential renal acid level), suggesting that while lemons are acidic when ingested, when they reach the kidneys, they have a very low acid impact on the urinary tract system. This is likely due to their high calcium, potassium, and magnesium content. Meats and other proteins show a positive PRAL score, suggesting their acidity is not mitigated by the body as easily as the low pH of lemon.
Lemons for Healthy Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure
Lemons have been used for thousands of years to increase digestive agni in the form of production of HCI (hydrochloric acid). In one study, lemon juice completely blocked breakdown of starches by the enzyme amylase by increasing acidity, or agni, in the stomach. Researchers conclude lemon juice not only boosts stomach acid production, but could slow uptake of starches or sugars into the blood, thereby supporting healthy blood sugar.
In a 2021 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers set out to see if combining a starchy meal with lemon would inhibit the starch-digesting enzyme amylase.
In a randomized crossover study researchers compared the effects of tea and lemon juice on blood sugar control. Surprisingly, lemon juice significantly lowered blood glucose levels (by a whopping 30%), while tea had no measurable effect.
In addition, the rise in blood sugar after a meals was delayed by 35 minutes in those who ate lemons, compared to the tea drinking group. The researchers concluded that by lowering Ph in the stomach with citric acid there was a significant lowering of blood sugar due to the inhibition of amylase.
This was just one of many studies that have been done on the effects of lemon on blood sugar. In another study, bread, wheat, and gluten-free pasta were combined with either water or lemon juice. When combined with water, as much as 85% of the starch was released into the blood as a blood sugar spike. When the same meals were combined with lemon juice, the blood sugar spike was halved. Once again, it was the citric acid found in lemons that was responsible for lowering blood sugar by inhibiting amylase
So next time you have an unrelenting craving for something sweet or salty, squeeze a half of a lemon in a glass of water and let the sour citric acid taste balance your vata and stop your craving!
Lemons have blood pressure benefits, too.
In another study, published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers found that both consuming lemons and walking made significant changes in lowering blood pressure.
Lemon Juice for Kidney Stones
Citric acid in lemons can also help prevent kidney stone formation, through two mechanisms.
First, it binds with urinary calcium, thereby reducing supersaturation of urine. In addition, it binds with calcium oxalate crystals and prevents crystal growth. Low citric acid, or a vitamin C deficiency, is one of the most common metabolic disturbances in patients with calcium stones, affecting approximately 60% of kidney stone patients. The citric acid found in lemons has been shown to increase urine citrate levels by more than two-fold and is suggested as a therapy for those with urinary stones from vitamin C deficiency. The American Urological Association suggests a citrate supplementation, the effective ingredient in lemon juice or lemonade, for kidney stones, since citric acid blocks calcium from crystalizing and forming a stone.
Consuming just 4 ounces of lemon juice per day has been shown to significantly increase urine citrate levels without increasing oxalate levels, according to research.
Lemon Water May be Good for the Heart
More research has shown that citrus flavonoids in lemons can scavenge free radicals, improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, modulate lipid metabolism, and support healthy weight loss, all while supporting healthy function and elasticity of the endothelium (arterial lining). Studies show heart patients who increase citrus flavonoid intake have improved cardiovascular outcomes.
Lemons Help Absorb Iron from Plants
Iron from meat contains a more easily absorbable form of iron, called heme iron. Plant-based iron is heme-free and more difficult to digest, which is why vegetarians have to monitor their iron levels.
The citric and ascorbic acid found in vitamin C has been well studied to support absorption of plant-based iron into the bloodstream, supporting a healthy response to iron deficiency anemia.
Lemons for Weight Balance
Fasting with honey and lemon water has been the holy grail of fasting ever since Patricia and Paul Bragg’s popular book The Miracle of Fasting was published.
And the science is there to back it up. One study, published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, put 50 healthy individuals on a lemon-honey-water fast for four days. At the end of the four-day fast there was significant weight loss and lower triglycerides.
Other studies show certain polyphenols in the pith, or white skin of the lemon, support healthy weight balance in mice. Mice were divided into three groups and, for 12 weeks, fed either a low-fat diet, high-fat diet, or high-fat diet supplemented with lemon polyphenols extracted from lemon peels. Fat pad accumulation, and development of hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance were significantly suppressed by lemon polyphenols.
For all of these benefits, consider starting your day with warm lemon water and let us know what you notice!
Balancing Vata with Lemons or Amalaki
The sour taste that balances vata is most needed at the end of winter and in early spring because this is the time of year in which vata can most aggressively accumulate, aggravate, and become symptomatic.
The citric acid found most abundantly in lemons and amalaki protect the healthy fats in the body from going rancid, which in turn helps balance vata. In fact, even if the fats do go bad, amalaki or lemon juice can reconstitute the fatty acids, restoring vata and nervous system balance. In short, both have calming effects. Fats balance vata and insulate us during a cold dry winter. Citrus fruits are harvested on cue to make sure those fats are protected and vata stays balanced.