By: Eileen Marable
Did you know that, yesterday August 20th was National Lemonade Day? Lemonade is probably the most popular thing we think of when it comes to lemons. There are fewer things nicer on a hot summer day than an ice-cold glass of inexplicably sweet-tart lemonade.
There’s much more to lemons than just lemonade however, and just because summer comes to an end doesn’t mean we should stop loving and celebrating them. Lemons are gifted with some pretty powerful natural substances that make them not only smell and taste good, but can do some amazing things for your body, inside and out.
Let’s get to know the four key ingredients in lemon juice and then break down just ten of the many things they can do. Lemon juice contains:
- Citric acid – Citric acid is a weak organic acid that acts as a preservative and a part of the metabolic process in aerobic organisms. In addition to being a preservative, it also adds taste to certain foods.
- Limonene – Limonene is a colorless, liquid hydrocarbon with a strong smell, found concentrated in the rinds of citrus. In various molecular forms, it can be used in everything from solvents to medical applications, including new research on battling cancer cells.
- Ascorbic Acid – Ascorbic acid is a naturally occurring compound that has anti-oxidant properties. It is also known as Vitamin C, which has countless health benefits.
- Lemon Oil – Lemon oil is a naturally occurring oil found in the rind of the lemon; unlike many other oils it is generally not distilled from the fruit but cold-pressed. In addition to being valued for its strong smell, it is also said to have antibiotic properties.
Together the ingredients in lemon juice have a very low pH number, meaning they are acidic – which is no surprise to anyone. Some people love the sour tang of lemons, but beyond taste, the acid in lemon juice can have an effect on the body, even at a cellular level.
So should we see lemons as a magic food waiting in the wings to be consumed en masse? It’s true that lemons and lemon juice is the subject of ongoing cancer research, including some interesting new tests involving other compounds they’ve been found to carry. To add perspective, remember lemons are relatively small and provide a small amount of juice. You’d have to eat a lot of lemons for their juice to have a clinical impact.
Lemons CAN be a great addition to your daily diet and routine. They help aid with some common health problems, and research may prove eating them regularly may even prove to have some important preventative effects.
We love them not only for the health problems they can address, but they are a great to add to your arsenal of sustainable living practices. How? Once you’re done with the juice or the zest, you can cut the lemon into wedges and use them to deodorize and clean everything from your garbage disposal and trash cans to making your fridge smell nice and help scrub your pots and pans. Nothing goes to waste!
So let’s get to it and geek out on just some of the ways the lemon shows us some love.
Acne – While most of our body has a naturally regulated neutral pH balance, it turns out our skin really likes the acid in lemons. Bacteria living on our skin and in our pores often cause nasty breakouts, inflammation and acne. For some, the addition of lemon juice on a cotton swab makes the skin a less of a breeding ground for overactive bacteria on the skin’s surface. Scientists in Korea have found that lemon juice not only curbs the bacteria, but also acts on chemical messengers within that triggers our immune systems to overreact to the bacteria by creating redness and even killing skin cells.
Anti-Aging – All that vitamin C in lemons can help to battle free radicals – highly unstable, quick moving molecules formed from weak chemical bonds that break apart. That creates some hungry molecules looking to repair their own bonds and when our skin cells are in their path they work to steal molecules from our tissue, breaking down cells in the process. Aging. While some of this happens naturally during metabolism, there are a lot of environmental free radicals attacking our skin that pushes the aging process along. By arming out skin, and our bodies in general, with enough vitamin C it can help slow down that process and in some cases help repair it to a degree. While you’ll now see vitamin C added to face creams and beauty treatments, you can also do a lot of good with a daily glass of warm lemon water.
Anti-Bacterial – Have you ever seen a person at the grocery store or in a tollbooth wiping their fingers on a half a lemon? Many people who handle money will use the lemon juice to wet their fingers to make the money easier to handle. There’s another reason, however. We know that the acidity from the citric acid and vitamin C of the lemon juice acts as a natural anti-bacterial agent, and frankly, who knows where that money’s been? Many people even use lemon juice as a disinfectant due to its anti-bacterial properties, but scientists say that on a large scale it may not truly kill all types of bacteria. The acid in small amounts of lemon juice have been shown to kill some bacteria, but its real strength lies in creating an atmosphere where they just don’t want to reproduce and grow. So think of the lemon juice or lemon water on your hands or fingers as a really great retardant for common bacteria.
Cancer – Can lemons cure cancer? No, not as such, but studies have shown that people with a high vitamin C intake do have lower instances of some forms of cancer. Plus we know vitamin C works against those free radicals in the body that attack our cells. Seriously damaged cells are those that lead to cancers. The citric acid in lemon juice shouldn’t be ignored either; not only does it help battle free radicals, but it is a compound that acts as a catalyst for the absorption of other essential vitamins and minerals in the body. So not only is it healthy in its own right, it helps the other healthy things you eat do their job.
Diuretic – Lemons are one of those foods that can help the body flush out extra fluids, and that’s helpful for many reasons. It can help lower blood pressure and ease a case of uncomfortable bloating. Over the counter diuretics do the job, but often they deplete your body of other things like vitamin B in the process. Lemon juice doesn’t work that way. We know that on the whole, lemon juice and its citric acid like to help the body keep and metabolize what’s good for it. Many people claim that lemon juice helps them lose weight – likely due to the loss of excess water, but it must be stressed that although darn healthy, lemons cannot be directly correlated to long-term weight loss. Think of them as a big picture health tool.
Detoxification – Many people have heard of the lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper cleanse. That is a serious concoction that should only be considered with doctor’s advice. On a more day-to-day preventative level the ingredients in lemon juice can help keep your kidneys and liver functions on the right path. The juice and oil from the peels contain a compound called d-limonene. It acts as an antioxidant that activates enzymes in the liver to fight against and break down toxins. In the kidneys the citric acid in the lemons help fight kidney stones. Again it’s the acids that help correct the alkaline levels, combined the boost it gives to binding calcium that helps your kidneys flush out the right things. Here too, think of lemons in the big picture as part of your healthy diet and not as a magic cure all.
Electrolyte Replacement – When you exert yourself or when you are sick, your body loses important salts, minerals and acids. All of these are important because they contain the ions or the electrical energy that helps your body work properly. The electrical energy communicates instructions back and forth between your cells and neural pathways. While there are many products on the market, you can make your own electrolyte replacement with lemons. Lemon juice also contains calcium and potassium, and those combined with the acids help speed the replenishment of the lost minerals and resets your pH balance. A quick recipe is 32 oz. of water, a pinch of salt, 16 oz. of lemon juice and a half a teaspoon of honey – which adds some sweetness and glucose to speed up absorption of the replenishing compounds.
Insect Repellent –Instead of using chemical sprays to ward off insects, lemons may again provide a natural alternative. Mosquitoes are particularly attracted to sweet smells and warmer temperatures among other things, but they do NOT like the sour citrus scent of lemon. It’s the essential oil of the lemon that is projecting the strong smell so you can make a natural solution of lemon oil and water and wipe yourself down to stay cool and bug free. Be careful though; the essential oil of the lemon is so strong it could irritate some people’s skin so be sure to test your level of tolerance and mix the oil with water or a non-scented cream. It’s no joke to ward off pests like mosquitoes – they carry West Nile Virus and other diseases that are serious health risks above and beyond being itchy.
Nausea – Surprisingly, for some people sipping lemon water can help stave off nausea. Citric acid helps neutralize troublesome gastric acids, much like popular antacids. Again it’s all about that balance between alkaline and acid, and citric acid can act like a regulator to even things out. It’s not a treatment that works for everyone, and should be tried in moderation as too much of the citric acid can create an upset stomach in its own right.
Stress relief – We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of stress in our overall health. When we are stressed all our systems are knocked out of the balance our body needs. As we’ve learned from the facts above, lemons and the compounds within them love to keep body systems in balance. Plus, the acids in the lemons – ascorbic acid and citric acid help boost the immune system by amplifying the effect of vitamins and minerals you are taking in from other foods. They are like tasty little bundles of peacemaking compounds for your body. Then there is the citrusy smell. Lemon oil has been used in aromatherapy for centuries for its relaxation and calming properties Some sources believe the smell of lemons has the ability to stimulate you and make you more focused and productive, so don’t be surprised if you see some people using a citrus scent at their desks to give them an edge.
The takeaway is lemons are remarkable fuel for the body. Their powerful compounds act as a regulator when needed to reset the body’s pH balance and make the environment for bacterial growth and toxins unfriendly. Amazingly they also boost other vital vitamins and minerals so your body gets to a more overall sense of well being.
So take those versatile lemons and add the zest to your diet or start your day with a warm cup of water with lemon. All things in moderation so don’t go crazy with these simple little fruits. Just augmenting your daily diet with a little bit of lemon can bring a bigger picture of good taste, good health, and a good sense of well being.
Some day in the future, science may find a way to harness the power of these fruits to provide targeted cures, and there is no doubt they are interested in what they see. But until then, just enjoy your lemonade.
PHOTO CREDITS: VEER