The Real Deal with Lemon Water and Digestive Health?

Lemon and ginger tea with honey

Ok… I really want to talk about stomach acid! This gets me super excited because I went for YEARS thinking I had too much stomach acid. I bought every over the counter antacid medication there was. I was also prescribed antacid medication (protein pump inhibitors), yet and I never felt much relief.

Have you ever been in this situation?... You go to a restaurant with your friends, family or coworkers and think... “Oh great, I have NO idea how they prepare the food here. There probably will not be much I can order and I will most likely end up looking pregnant after my meal”. All the while worrying about the possibility of an acid ball jumping into your stomach under your rib cage or tooting your way out of the restaurant? If you can relate to this, and you do not have a known ulcer, you may actually have too little stomach acid. It is called Hypochlorhydria (Underactive stomach). I am not here to diagnose anyone or tell you to come off any medications… that is for the doctors… (Naturopathic and Medical physicians), however, I can talk to you about the benefits of lemons and water with an emphasis on digestive health.

Magic (okay maybe science) of lemon juice

I was shocked when I tried lemon water for the first time. It seems completely insane that if I felt burning in my stomach, adding an acidic fruit into my stomach with water would actually help… it does! Lemon juice actually helps balance the pH of your stomach as sufficient levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl) are necessary for the digestive enzyme pepsinogen to convert into the active form, pepsin, to digest protein. If there are inadequate HCl levels, the pancreas is then called up to bat and aid in digestion. It can get exhausted and the digestion of all food can be compromised. I could get extremely nerdy here and dive more into the science but that will have to wait for another article. What you need to know is that HCl is necessary for adequate digestion. Other organs such as the pancreas and liver also release digestive enzymes and bile to help in the process. When there is insufficient HCl, digestion is impaired and other organs in the body can be overloaded. This is also commonly associated with impaired digestion in the intestine as well.

Lemon Water for the Digestive Win

I was over the moon with the relief I experienced by simply combining lemon juice with warm water and altering my diet. This gave me the energy to look into what else was going on with my digestive system, without being in pain every day. Lemon water also helped me manage my symptoms while I went through two pregnancies before I could start treatment for my digestive issues. Because let me tell you, the indigestion gets super REAL the last few months of pregnancy – lemon water and apple cider vinegar saved me and I did not have to take any ant-acid medications…halleluiah! (If you have questions on apple cider vinegar please ask in the comments below – as it can be extremely helpful for low HCl as well).

If you try lemon water and it helps but does not resolve your digestive issues, this is a great test and a potential sign from your body that you should further investigate what is going on with your digestive system. Low levels of HCl can be associated with other conditions such as leaky gut, food intolerances, issues with the immune system, dysbiosis and SIBO. I do not want this to scare you – I want it to empower you to keep looking into why you have a pregnant bloated tummy after you eat, are belching unnecessarily, have indigestion pain in the middle of your rib cage or why the toots may flow a little too often after you eat. Altering your diet and lifestyle can make such a difference to your digestive health and quality of life. Trust me… I know… I am a very outgoing and some may even say fun and funny individual but when my guts hurt watch out. ;)

A Bit More Juice to Digest

I will now get in to the nitty gritty and outline common symptoms of individuals who may benefit from drinking lemon water and I will touch on what can lead to low HCl levels. I will add in some fun facts on how lemon water can benefit multiple systems in your body (as we know they are all connected), include specific instructions on how to make warm lemon water and include some extra tips and tricks for using lemon juice. I will finish off by addressing some of the most commonly asked questions about consuming lemon water.

Common Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid:

  • Bloating, belching, burning, and flatulence after meals

  • Feeling excessively full after meals (when the meal was not actually that big)

  • Indigestion, diarrhea or constipation

  • Feels like food is not digesting properly

  • Multiple food allergies or sensitivities

  • Nausea

  • Acne

Why Do People Have Low Stomach Acid?

Our body is such a fine tuned engine. There are so many things that have to occur for HCl to be released. Ultimately this should be a natural process that we do not have to think about. However, the foods we eat and the stress in our lives all play a role in how this plays out. So what can affect the levels of acid in our stomach?

  • Eating in a rush

    • The parasympathetic nervous system needs to be turned on (rest and digest) and at the same time the hormone gastrin needs to be released to allow for HCl to be released from the parietal cells (cells in our stomach).

    • We need to smell our food and anticipate the taste. We also need to chew our food very well. This will all allow our gastric juices to get flowing.

      • What does this all mean? Eating on the run and inadequately chewing our food can impact HCl levels and how effectively food will be digested.

  • STRESS!

    • Of course – stress affects everything! If our stress levels are high, our sympathetic nervous system will be activated and blood flow will be re-directed away from the digestive tract. Thus, compromising stomach and intestinal function (digestive secretions).

  • Nutrient poor diet – If you do not consume a nutrient dense diet this will impact the parietal cells ability to release HCl (ie: Eating too much processed foods and insufficient healthy real foods)

  • Excessive food intake – Eating too much food can exhaust parietal cells and impact the release of HCl

  • Certain medications – Lower HCl levels

  • Age – Half of people over the age of 60 have hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)

How Lemon Water Can Benefit Your Health

There are so many more ways lemon water can benefit your health but this post is getting VERY long so in hopes you actually finish the article - I will narrow it down to 3 for today.

  • Support the Immune System

    • Lemons are loaded with vitamin C

  • Aid in Digestion (of course!)

    • Lemon juice can help increase the production of (HCl)

    • Lemon juice helps to balance the pH in the stomach

    • Helps to up regulate digestive enzymes

  • Improves Liver Health

    • This point can be over sold in the nutrition world, however lemon water can provide a gentle daily liver cleanse. The liver is a magnificent organ that plays a major role in detoxification. Since the liver plays such a large role in regulating the body, it is important to support its health so it does not get overloaded. Some of the various functions of the liver are: helping to balance blood sugar levels, metabolism, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and of course digestion.

Important Note: By improving overall digestion, we can alleviate some of the added stress to the liver. Thus, allowing it to function more effectively to carry out the hundreds of functions it needs to help our body function optimally. This will ultimately improve our energy, health and overall wellbeing.

How to Make Warm Lemon Water (It is So Easy!!)

  • Start by juicing a lemon (ó tsp of fresh lemon and work up to the juice of half a lemon) into a

    mug while you are boiling water

  • Pour the boiling water into your mug and allow the water cool slightly until it is warm (not boiling hot)

  • You can drink it just like this or feel free to grate in some ginger for added digestive health and anti-nausea benefits

  • Drink warm water with lemon first thing in the morning. Ideally you should try to consume it 20 minutes before your meal (I definitely do not always follow this as my life can not always accommodate that schedule). I find as long as I drink it before my meal it helps significantly

  • You can drink solely in the morning or before each meal (if you feel it is helping your GI symptoms)

Other Lemon Tips and Tricks:

  • You can take 2 organic lemons, wash and juice them into a 1L Mason jar. Fill the jar with water and leave them in the jar over night (in fridge). In the morning take out the lemons and bring the Mason jar to work and/or sip on it throughout the day for a refreshing cool beverage that will provide extra support for your liver. Try to do this between meals and not with your meals if possible. Drinking too much water with meals can impair digestion.

  • Juice lemons into ice cub trays (with specific amounts – ó of a lemon or 1 Tbsp), so you always have some on hand to make tea, lemon water or to enjoy in cool water as a refreshing summer time beverage. *p.s. you can add honey and mint leaves as well.

  • You can make lemonade by just adding more lemons to the water and a natural sweetener like raw honey. You can also add honey to your warm water with lemon and grated ginger whenyou are battling a cold.

Commonly asked questions:

Will this harm my tooth enamel?

  • Talk with your dentist to see if this is an area of concern for you. I do not like to speak out of my scope so I would encourage you to talk with your dentist. I can provide my own experience and what I have heard through talking with a dentist. So here are the helpful tips I have found:

  1. Consider how much lemon juice you are drinking. Are you juicing an entire lemon? Or just ó tsp? Do not shoot the lemon juice - try mixing it with adequate amounts of water.

  2. You can drink it out of a straw (try for metal or compostable paper)

  3. Rinse your mouth out with water after you drink the lemon water.

  4. Wait to brush your teeth (30 minutes) after your drink the water.

* I have been doing this for years and my teeth have been absolutely fine. However, I do ensure I talkwith my dentist when things change in my diet that may affect my dental health.

Will this cause heartburn?

I know… this sounds bizarre, but lemon water will generally help heartburn. When you support your digestive system and allow for adequate HCl secretions while regulating the pH in your stomach, you will most likely see a decrease in your heartburn symptoms. If not, drink some water with ó - 1 tsp of baking soda to allow your system to return to normal and talk with your health care provider.