When life gives you lemons, make lemonades, say some. We say, every once in a while, skip the lemonade. As much as you love lemons and swear by an early-morning lemon detox, you have to acknowledge that lemon juice has adverse effects. But the good news is that the side effects of lemon juice manifest only when you have too much.
[pullquote]Vitamin C overdose occurs when you have around 2,000 mg vitamin C. One 8 oz cup of lemon juice contains 94.4 mg. So it would take you about 21 cups of lemon juice to suffer from vitamin C overdose.[/pullquote]
Lemon is an acidic fruit with a pH of 2, thanks to ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and citric acid, which makes up about 8% of the dry fruit weight.1 Most of the side effects of lemon are due to its high acidity, and some are due to vitamin C overdose. That said, the risk of vitamin C overdose from lemons is quite rare since you need 2,000 mg vitamin C to overdose – that is equal to 21 cups (each 8 oz) of lemon juice.2 3 But remember that it is not the only source of vitamin C in your diet and you might be taking supplements too.
[pullquote]It’s best to have no more than 2 lemons a day or 3 cups of diluted lemon juice. Do keep in mind that side effects could also depend on your health and that of your teeth and gum.[/pullquote]
As lemons are quite acidic and have a strong decaying effect on your teeth, always dilute the juice. The usual serving size for diluted lemon juice is 1 cup (240 ml or 8 oz), and 1 cup diluted juice requires a little less than 1 lemon. Try to limit consumption to 2 lemons a day, which means you could have 3 cups of diluted lemon juice, spread across the day. Beyond that the citric acid load can become a concern. Also note that the standard amount of lemon juice when used as a cooking ingredient is 5 ml (1 teaspoon).4 But do note that the numbers are not absolute. All of us have different health conditions and genetic makeup, which is what determine the extent of side effects.
Here’s a look at the possible side effects of overdosing on lemon juice.
1. Can Decay Tooth Enamel
Ever noticed how sensitive your teeth feel after you’ve sucked on a wedge of lemon? That’s because of the lemon acids acting on your tooth enamel.
Tooth enamel has a pH around 5.5, so it can be eroded by substances more acidic than it. Studies have shown that any acid below a pH of 4 can cause tooth erosion. Citric acid, malic acid (in apples and pears), and tartaric acid (in tamarind) are the worst culprits.5
[pullquote]To protect your teeth, drink lemon juice through a straw to minimize contact with the teeth.[/pullquote]
Like we discussed, lemon juice has a pH of around 2, thanks to its citric and ascorbic acid content. So when these acids act on the calcium in the tooth enamel, they erode the tooth. Moreover, lemon juice also has natural fruit sugars. Bacteria in the teeth break these down and cause further tooth damage.
Julia Morton, in her book, Fruits of Warm Climate, suggests that using it for a long time may even reduce the teeth to the level of gums.6 While that sounds extreme, a study does find that among a variety of soft drinks and fruit juices, lemon juice has the most erosive effect on teeth.7
2. Can Worsen Canker Sores
Canker sores (little open sores inside the mouth) are often caused by an allergic reaction. You may get them if you are allergic to acidic foods like lemon juice.
[pullquote]Stay off lemon juice or dilute it well to avoid irritating canker sores.[/pullquote]
There is little evidence to support the claim that lemon juice can cause canker sores in people who are not allergic. However, common sense and most doctors would advise you to stay off acidic foods like fruit juices and fizzy drinks when you have these lesions.8
3. Can Worsen Heartburn, GERD, And Ulcers
Overdoing your lemon juice intake – even if you are just having it regularly in your food and not in medical doses – can have side effects. The acidic juice can irritate the lining of your stomach and your esophagus, bringing on a bout of heartburn or acid reflux.
[pullquote]Lemon juice can make your stomach acids move back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.[/pullquote]
This is because it activates the stomach enzyme pepsin, responsible for breaking down protein. When your digestive juices move backward, up to the throat and esophagus, you experience the burning sensation associated with acid reflux.
Studies have not, however, been able to definitively prove that the acidity in the lemon is the root problem. Still, for those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn, avoiding too much lemon juice is one of the many essential dietary changes.9
Those with stomach ulcers may find that having too much lemon interferes with the healing process.
4. Can Cause Nausea, Vomiting, And An Upset Stomach
Lemon juice is chock-a-block with vitamin C. While vitamin C is an essential nutrient, too much of it is a health hazard.
[pullquote]Nausea, vomiting, and an upset stomach after drinking lemon juice may indicate that you need to cut down on your vitamin C intake.[/pullquote]
When you have too much lemon juice, your body cannot absorb all the vitamin C in it. To flush out the extra vitamin C and restore balance, water rushes into the bowel. Nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea are typical symptoms of the problem.10
But like we mentioned, it’s difficult to overdose on vitamin C. So you may not experience this side effect unless you are already taking a lot of vitamin C supplements.
5. Can Cause Frequent Urination And Dehydration
[pullquote]Drink a lot of water to make up for the water lost due to frequent urination.[/pullquote]
As lemon juice increases urine production because of its high vitamin C content, some scientists suggest giving it to patients of hypertension or those with urinary diseases.11 12 So it’s essential that you increase your water intake too to avert dehydration.
6. Can Increase Iron Content
Vitamin C increases non-heme iron (plant irons) absorption in your body. That’s bad news if you suffer from a rare inherited condition called hemochromatosis in which your body stores excess iron. Excess iron can damage your organs.
[pullquote]Cut down on your lemon juice intake if you know that your body stores more iron than usual.[/pullquote]
The University of Virginia Health System claims that the amount of dietary vitamin C you normally consume is too low to cause problems, but it cautions against having orange juice with meals.13 A cup of orange juice has about 31% more vitamin C than 1 cup of lemon juice does.14 So it’s not necessary to skip lemon juice, but it might be a good idea to reduce your intake.
7. May Be A Trigger For Migraine Patients
[pullquote]If lemon juice is your migraine trigger, don’t go beyond 1/2 a cup of diluted juice.[/pullquote]
For some people, citrus fruits like lemon may be a migraine trigger. In a study, 11% of 490 migraine patients said that eating citrus fruits brought on an attack.15 This is because citrus fruits have tyramine, a protein product, which has been seen to be a migraine trigger. You don’t have to avoid lemons altogether. Just lower your daily intake to half a cup.16
[Also Read: Home Remedies To Treat Migraine]
8. Can Cause Sunburns
While lemon juice is a popular anti-tan remedy used to bleach the skin, it can backfire. If you are light-skinned, lemon juice can actually increase your chances of sunburn.
[pullquote]Lemon juice does help remove tan, but it is not a sunscreen. Don’t step out into the sun with lemon juice on your skin.[/pullquote]
This condition is called phytophotodermatitis (lime disease/margarita photodermatitis). It makes the skin sensitive to light and a sunburn can form after a mere 2.5 minutes out in the sun with lemon juice on the skin. Dark spots and blisters are often a fallout.17
The reaction is attributed to the organic chemical compound furocoumarin in lemons that is “excited” by UVA (ultraviolet A) radiation.18
Avoid lemon juice if you have a dry skin type. It can make your skin even more dry and flaky.
9. Aggravates Kapha Dosha
[pullquote] Ayurveda suggests not to mix lemon juice with milk, yogurt, tomatoes, and cucumber.[/pullquote]
Ayurveda suggests that those with kapha imbalance should avoid kapha-aggravating foods – one of which is lemon juice.19 A kapha imbalance results in poor digestion and lethargy, among other ill effects. What’s your dosha?
Myth: Lemon Juice Causes Kidney Stones
Some claim that lemon has oxalic acid, which binds with calcium and forms kidney stones (calcium oxalate); this also affects calcium absorption in the body. But studies prove otherwise.
[pullquote]Lemon juice does not cause kidney stones; rather, as scientists suggest, it can be used to prevent and treat them.[/pullquote]
Lemon juice does not let the calcium levels in the kidney and gall bladder increase. It also stops the calcium oxalate from crystallizing and aggregating. Moreover, the citrates (citric acid salts) it forms once digested help the body expel oxalates through urine. Some researchers claim that lemon juice can be used to treat patients with kidney stones.20 21 22
While a study suggests that vitamin C supplements can increase the risk of kidney stones, only in men, dietary vitamin C, like in lemon juice, has no such risk.23
Myth: Lemon Juice Makes Your Blood Alkaline
We came across a few articles claiming that lemon juice when digested makes your blood alkaline. So though it’s an acidic substance, having a lot of it is actually good for health. Sadly, that’s a false and potentially dangerous claim.
Your kidneys maintain the blood pH, not your food. Your diet, however alkaline, cannot and should not change your blood pH. Change of blood pH is potentially fatal.
[pullquote]More lemon juice is not equal to a more alkaline body; and a more alkaline body is not equal to better health.[/pullquote]
The misconception probably arose from the fact that your urine becomes slightly more alkaline after you have lemon juice. But that does not indicate your blood has become alkaline too. Lemon acids form salts like citrates, which are then excreted via urine. This may make the urine slightly more alkaline, but that only indicates that your body is flushing out the extra alkalis.
A Word Of Caution: Lemon Peels May Be Coated With Inedible Wax
Lemons you buy in a supermarket may be coated with wax. This is done to protect them from damage during shipping. Plant-based wax like carnauba or even insect-, animal-, or petroleum-based waxes may be used. Carnauba isn’t harmful, but the other waxes may not suit you. The wax on the peel is a concern if you crush the peel for juice or use it to infuse your water or use the zest in your dishes. It’s always a good idea to choose organically grown lemons.
Continue to have lemon juice, but in moderation. Its benefits outweigh its side effects. But if you want to use it to cure a medical condition, ask your doctor about the safe dosage. Also, if you are on certain medicines like aspirin or warfarin, ask your doctor about possible drug reactions.
|↑1||Penniston, Kristina L., Stephen Y. Nakada, Ross P. Holmes, and Dean G. Assimos. “Quantitative assessment of citric acid in lemon juice, lime juice, and commercially-available fruit juice products.” Journal of Endourology 22, no. 3 (2008): 567-570.|
|↑2||Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||Basic Report: 09152, Lemon juice, raw. Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28|
|↑4||Reference amounts customarily consumed per eating occasion. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑5||Moynihan, Paula, and Poul Erik Petersen. “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases.” Public health nutrition 7, no. 1A; SPI (2004): 201-226.|
|↑6||Morton, Julia Frances. Fruits of warm climates. JF Morton, 1987.|
|↑7||Zimmer, Stefan, Georg Kirchner, Mozhgan Bizhang, and Mathias Benedix. “Influence of various acidic beverages on tooth erosion. Evaluation by a new method.” PloS one 10, no. 6 (2015): e0129462.|
|↑8||Altenburg, Andreas, Nadine El-Haj, Christiana Micheli, Marion Puttkammer, Mohammed Badawy Abdel-Naser, and Christos C. Zouboulis. “The treatment of chronic recurrent oral aphthous ulcers.” Pathogenesis 36 (2014): 5.|
|↑9||Kaltenbach, Tonya, Seth Crockett, and Lauren B. Gerson. “Are lifestyle measures effective in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease?: an evidence-based approach.” Archives of Internal Medicine 166, no. 9 (2006): 965-971.|
|↑10||Jacob, Robert A., and Gity Sotoudeh. “Vitamin C function and status in chronic disease.” Nutrition in clinical care 5, no. 2 (2002): 66-74|
|↑11||Viatmin C (Ascorbic Acid). University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||Sarfaraz, Sana, Ghulam Sarwar, Wajeeha Fatima, Saima Ramzan, Raana Amjad, Ramsha Tareen and Soofia Irfan. “Evaluation of diuretic potential of lemon juice and reconstituted lemon drink.” World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research Volume 4, Issue 7, 254-259.|
|↑13||Dietary Guidelines for Hemochromatosis. University of Virginia Health System.|
|↑14||Basic Report: 09206, Orange juice, raw. Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28|
|↑15||Peatfield, R. C., V. Glover, J. T. Littlewood, M. Sandler, and F. Clifford Rose. “The prevalence of diet‐induced migraine.” Cephalalgia 4, no. 3 (1984): 179-183.|
|↑16||Low-Tyramine Diet for Migraine. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑17||Gonçalves, N. E. L., H. L. Almeida, E. C. Hallal, and M. Amado. “Experimental phytophotodermatitis.” Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine 21, no. 6 (2005): 318-321.|
|↑18||Kung, Andrew C., Mark B. Stephens, and Thomas Darling. “Phytophotodermatitis: Bulla formation and hyperpigmentation during spring break.” Military medicine 174, no. 6 (2009): 657-661.|
|↑19||Jayasundar, Rama. “Healthcare the Ayurvedic way.” Indian journal of medical ethics 9, no. 3 (2012).|
|↑20||Touhami, Mohammed, Amine Laroubi, Khadija Elhabazi, Farouk Loubna, Ibtissam Zrara, Younes Eljahiri, Abdelkhalek Oussama, Félix Grases, and Abderrahman Chait. “Lemon juice has protective activity in a rat urolithiasis model.” BMC urology 7, no. 1 (2007): 18.|
|↑21||Oussama, Abdelkhalek, Mohamed Touhami, and Mohamed Mbarki. “In vitro and in vivo study of effect of lemon juice on urinary lithogenesis.” Archivos Españoles de Urología (Ed. impresa) 58, no. 10 (2005): 1087-1092.|
|↑22||Aras, Bekir, Nadir Kalfazade, Volkan Tuğcu, Eray Kemahlı, Bedi Özbay, Hakan Polat, and Ali İhsan Taşçı. “Can lemon juice be an alternative to potassium citrate in the treatment of urinary calcium stones in patients with hypocitraturia? A prospective randomized study.” Urological research 36, no. 6 (2008): 313.|
|↑23||Ferraro, Pietro Manuel, Gary C. Curhan, Giovanni Gambaro, and Eric N. Taylor. “Total, dietary, and supplemental vitamin C intake and risk of incident kidney stones.” American Journal of Kidney Diseases 67, no. 3 (2016): 400-407.|