Is water with lemon the new kale?
It was when my most exhausted friend, a mother of four small children, told me she'd replaced her morning coffee with a hot mug of water with lemon-"I thought that was the thing?"-that I knew the alternative-leaning practice was no longer so alternative. "Hot water + lemon gets the day started right," another pal posted to Instagram soon after, along with an artistically-lit picture of a bottle of juice she'd squeezed from the tree in her L.A. backyard-a brief pause from her regular social media programming of her dog, giant glasses of wine, and road trip rap videos she'd made with our friend Chip.
Google "hot lemon water" and surely it does seem like everyone's doing it, with more than 21 million hits, most of which also detail its many purported benefits, including aiding weight loss, digestion, and hydration, as well as promoting good skin and better breath. Although the mainstream rise feels sudden, hot water with lemon has been a thing within the wellness community for decades, with roots in the ancient healing tradition of Ayurveda. "If you view the digestive system as a kitchen sink and plumbing system," says Erin Casperson of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, in Lenox, Massachusetts-and really, who doesn't?-"imagine that the stomach is the sink and the plumbing is all the tubes of the intestines, down to the liver and colon. When we clean the kitchen sink, we use hot water to loosen debris and soap to clear away bacteria and germs." Lemon juice in this case is the soap and the hot water is the rinse. "Its sour and bitter taste will detox the liver, which will help to promote a morning bowel movement," says Casperson, "and Ayurveda teaches us that a sign of well-functioning digestive system is a bowel movement within one hour of waking." (Like my Italian grandmother, it's pretty much the tradition's main concern.)
Still, as it is with so many other things, lemon water's current popularity can likely be ascribed to its famous fans, who love to spread the lemon water gospel. In the last few years, Lauren Conrad has called lemon and water "a match made in heaven" (writing on her blog that, "it will flush you out") and Miranda Kerr says she "it really kick starts the digestion and boosts the immune system." Susan Lucci credits it with keeping her looking so young. Naturally, Gwyneth loves it too. Pair the Hollywood endorsement with the fact that, as far as health fads go, this one's pretty easy and cheap, requiring neither a Vitamix nor or a trip to Whole Foods, and it's no wonder lemon water has taken off.
Still, many doctors wonder if lemon water actually lives up to its hype. "To date there is no science to support the claims being made with regards to hot water with lemon," says Dr. Joy Dubost, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Your body does not need any assistance with discarding or eliminating so-called toxins. The lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and liver complete this process." Indeed, one of the best-confirmable-benefits of hot water with lemon may be that it may encourage people to drink more water.
That said, more isn't necessarily better. "8 to 16 ounces of boiled water with lemon is plenty for the day," says Casperson. "You don't want to drink hot lemon water all day as this will be too much cleansing and can lead to unwanted weight gain, agitation of the mind, and digestive disturbances," none of which is, it should go without saying, is even remotely GOOP-approved.
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