Lemon water has become quite a popular drink in the last few years among the health and diet world including liver detox and weight loss. We won’t explore what the science has to say about those claims but we will explore whether lemon water can help to lower blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar is dangerous and can lead to dangerous side effects including neuropathy, increased risk for wounds, kidney disease and ketoacidosis. Maintaining good blood sugar control is not easy but important.
Lemon water has also been shown to help with kidney stones and bone health. Some may think it is a miracle drink but it does have negative side effects as well.
Do the side effects outweigh the potential benefits lemon water can have?
Without further ado, let’s dive into the research and see what the science says.
What is Lemon Water?
Lemon water is lemon juice added to water. The amount of lemon juice added to water may have many beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.
Can Lemon Water Lower Blood Sugar?
While hydration does not impact blood sugar directly it may have an indirect effect. Drinking lemon water before meals may lead to a fuller stomach which could cause an individual to drink less.
Lemon water may also be used to replace another drink. Some people do not like plain water and would prefer a beverage like soda or juice. Replacing it with lemon water would be a better option as the lemon would give the water taste without adding extra sugar.
Slowing Blood Sugar Absorption:
The body also has enzymes called a-amylase, which break down carbohydrates, like rice, into sugars which then enter into the blood stream (1).
Lemon essential oil was studied by scientists on its effect on this enzyme. Their tests showed that lemon essential oil slows the activity of this enzyme, which would lead to sugar entering the blood stream at a slower rate (1).
Though it’s unclear how this could aid in the future as essential oils shouldn’t be consumed orally and the effect is unknown if applied with a carrier oil topically.
Blood Sugar Spikes:
No lemon water cannot lower blood sugar levels; however, it may help to reduce insulin spikes after a meal, especially after a high carbohydrate meal.
Scientists studied the effects lemon water had when drunk before a massive meal of rice. They noted that lemon water helped to reduce too much blood sugar from entering into the bloodstream 45 minutes after the meal was eaten. The specific amount of lemon water used in this experiment was 30gm (~2Tbsp) with 150ml (~2/3 cup) of water (2).
A similar effect was seen when lemon juice was drunk right before bread was eaten (3).
Despite the limitations in these studies, it does hold potential for another way to reduce blood sugar spikes after meals. It is unclear the effect lemon water or lemon juice may have with a complex meal including protein and fat, such as pizza.
Dangers of High Blood Sugar
All of this is interesting but why should anyone be concerned about high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can cause many different negative side effects.
Neuropathy is a numbness and tingling of the arms and legs caused by nerve damage (4).
Diabetic wounds are sores usually found on the toes or feet that if not treated right away could eventually lead to an amputation. These sores occur among 15% of people with type 2 diabetes with 84% needing an amputation (5).
Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys get damaged. This leads to the kidney’s inability to filter certain nutrients such as sodium, potassium and phosphorus. If the kidneys are not taken care of then a person may need to get dialysis 2-3x/wk or receive a kidney transplant (6).
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body retains high amounts of blood sugar in the blood without enough insulin to transport the blood sugar into different cells in the body to be used as energy. This forces the body to use fat as a fuel source, which breaks down into acids called ketones. If left untreated it could result in death (7).
For more information about the complication of diabetes then check out the American Diabetes Association website.
Other Benefits of Lemon Water
Looking at other benefits of lemon water, research is being done into its potential to reduce kidney stones. The researchers asked participants to drink 60ml (~4 Tbsp) lemon juice twice a day for 2 years. It did show some effectiveness, however adherence was difficult due to reports of GI issues (8).
Another potential benefit of lemon water is improved bone health. In the study done, 30ml (~2 Tbsp) lemon juice increased bone resorption and bone formation in women (9).
Consequences of too much Lemon Water/Juice
Despite these potential benefits consuming lemon water especially straight lemon juice can cause negative effects on the body. Lemon juice can cause heartburn, which can lead people to avoid drinking any lemon juice (10).
Tooth Enamel Erosion:
Concentrated lemon juice has been shown to cause tooth enamel erosion due to its low pH level. The lower the pH the more acidic a beverage is (11) (12). Teeth enamel tends to degrade when the pH of a drink is less than 4.24 (13). Lemon juice by itself is very acidic with a pH ~ 2 (14).
To minimize these effects consider drinking lemon water through a straw.
However, other factors can also lead to dental erosion such as buffer capacity, the body’s ability to resist changes in pH; chelating effect, chemicals that bind together to form a ring; and phosphate or calcium content of a beverage (11).
For curiosity sake, I squeezed 30ml of lemon juice in 150ml water to test the pH of the drink. My drink had a pH ~ 4 .
Dosage of Lemon Water
At this time, it is too early to say what a good dosage of lemon water would be to reduce insulin spikes after meals but 30ml in 150ml water seems to be a good place to start while reducing negative effects of straight lemon juice.
Lemon water is a popular drink that has been touted to have many different health benefits but this article explored its effect on blood sugar levels for diabetes.
After sifting through the research, it does appear to reduce blood sugar spikes when lemon water is drunk before meals, though keep in mind that the research is limited.
It appears that the lemon juice in the lemon water slows the breakdown of carbohydrates into the blood stream.
The best way to prepare the lemon water is to add water into a smaller mug ~ 6 oz or 2/3 ml of water with the juice of ~ 1 lemon. It is unclear how effective diluting it with more water will have on blood sugar spikes or drinking before a high protein or high fat meal.
Some side effects may include heart burn or tooth enamel corrosion.
Want to experiment to see how effective lemon water effects your blood sugar, check out the free blood sugar tracker handout.