Lemons: Health Benefits, Ayurvedic Uses

Beyond balancing vata, the citric acid in lemons can help you find calm, lower blood pressure, even out blood sugar, and even protect against kidney stones.

In This Article

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.

See also Recipe: Lemon, Pistachio, and Ginger Granola

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.

See also Lemon-Miso Potato and Green Bean Salad

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! 

See also Ayurvedic Herbal Support for Belching and Bloat

Balancing Vata with Lemons or Amalaki

Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and Ayurveda’s most powerful single herbal rasayana for longevity, amalaki, are all winter and spring harvested.

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.

Dr. John’s Weekly Livestream on Lemons: The New Superfood?

23 thoughts on “Lemons: Health Benefits, Ayurvedic Uses”

  1. What about sodium ascorbate? Some seeming experts rave about it, as better than ascorbic acid, but I read recently it can congest lymph nodes. Anything to that? Concerned because I’ve been using a lot of it…
    BTW, thanks so much for all your invaluable study and dedication to your craft generally, Dr. John. I have never, ever seen the organ systems so well explained in connection with one another. That makes all the difference for me to determinedly follow thru, as I am now acquiring, thanks to you, some clear, logical sense of how the major systems interact and impact each other. It’s a cliche, but honestly your insight into bodily intelligence is amazing! As a host of lifelong, clueless habits of mine now fall away, my gratitude for your passionate, ongoing inquiries cannot possibly be expressed.

    Reply
    • Hi Stan,

      Wow! Thank you so much–such kind words. I am deeply touched!

      I have not used sodium ascorbate so I would have to dig into it. If you have info (studies) please send it. Thanks!

      Be Well,
      John

      Reply
  2. Can lemon water taken later in the day (like after breakfast or mid-afternoon) be just as or almost as helpful? Or is it really. truly BEST taken first thing in the morning?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Leanne,

      It can be taken anytime – the sour taste is a forgotten taste in our culture. That said, in the morning it will kickstart digestion.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  3. I’m in no way criticising you John; I’m suscribed to your emails and I bought your ‘Eat Wheat…’ book. I’ve learnt a lot from you and I love Ayurvedic medicine but there’s one thing which I’m very confused about since watching this video some time ago,

    I enjoy citrus fruits in my diet and I don’t doubt that they’re very beneficial for health but these guys say that the lemons alkalising us is a myth and their arguments are very compelling. What do you make of it?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O6GhVCvVgE&list=PLkzNRAGs31E1Ffvq4dxYNd5mLXqr8yFb4&index=81&t=0s

    Reply
    • Hi Georgia,

      What is unique about lemon is that it does not act strongly acidic after digestion as it tastes. It is neutral through the digestive tract.

      Be Well,
      Dr. John

      Reply
      • Thanks but the video claims that alkalising ourselves is a myth because different parts of the body need to be differently acidic or alkaline. For instance the stomach needs to be acidic to digest foods and kill bad microbes, and the skin is acidic to also kill microbes but the vagina is alkaline, which is why Candida loves it there and things such as acidic boron pessiaries kill it.

        I’m trying to cohere this science with Ayurveda because the latter usually makes a lot of sense to me but I can’t with the alkalising theory because the body balances itself concerning acidity/alkalinity by homeostasis according to how the different places in it need to be. There’s no way to make the whole body more alkaline and it’d probably make us sick if we could do it because we’re not meant to. Although I still think foods like lemons are great!

        Also testing alkalinity with urine strips doesn’t tell you anything because they’re measuring what’s coming out of the body, not what’s left in it. Did you watch the video because I’m sure if you did you could cohere the opposing views because of your great knowledge of Ayurveda and your skills as an academic?

        Reply
  4. Does adding freshly sliced ginger root to my morning lemon water have efficacy, or is the lemon alone the best route to take?

    Reply
    • Hi Timothy,

      If you were to eat breakfast right after, the ginger would be an added digestive stimulant.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  5. I use to drink lemon water every day but since I got Colitis, I stopped. Is it true lemon & lime aggrevate colon related issues?

    Reply
  6. Hi!
    I’ve heard so many different things from ayurvedic health counselors, some say it’s beneficial with lemon water first thing in the morning and some say it can increase acidity, teeth erosion and inflammation. I am a pitta-vata person so should warm lime water first thing in the morning be more ideal for me?

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara,

      Lemons are a great addition to a diet, so both would work. According to Ayurveda, warm or room temperature water is easier for your body to digest over cold/iced water.

      Best,

      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  7. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I’d love a reminder next winter/spring that amalaki is a beneficial citrus to take at that time. I forget that amalaki is a citrus!

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah,

      It would be best to discuss with your doctor for further advisory or make a consult with Dr. John!

      Best,

      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply

Leave a Comment