They seem like the most normal fruit. You can get them year round, they’re cheap, and they’re always the same. So you buy a few, cut them up, sprinkle the juice on fish or use it in a salad dressing.
Lemons are no big deal, right?
Well, not so fast.
Turns out, lemons have a number of unique qualities that set them apart.
They are unusually charged with a purer concentration of negatively charged ions, or anions, than any other fruit. Some scientists think this might be why lemons are so good for your digestion. Lemons balance the other foods and help your body extract energy from them.
Also, the history of where they came from is obscure… we don’t know how much mankind played a role in the development of what we call a lemon. No one is quite sure whether they occur as they are in the wild or if they’re the product of early hybridization. It’s made more confusing by the terminology. Everywhere else in the world, what we would call a lime they call a lemon.
Some people think lemons are a cross between a lime and a citron. Others think they originated in the ancient Indus Valley between India and Pakistan.1 Seems archaeologists found what look like 5,000-year-old lemon-shaped earrings in some ruins there. Other scientists think lemons come from Italy.
Wherever lemons originated, they’re kind of picky as to where they’ll grow. I have a tree that does pretty well in my yard, but it wasn’t easy to get it to grow. For the most part, lemons reject Florida. They like warmth, but not too much. And they don’t like humidity – even though my tree needs a lot of water.
I just finished picking the last of this season’s lemons. I like to have them in the house because lemons do much more than aid your stomach.
Ayurvedic medicine, the oldest system of healing in the world, uses lemons extensively. When I traveled to India and visited the original Ayurmana, or “ancient healing house,” I watched the Ayurvedic masters use lemon juice and lemon oil for many of their remedies.
For example, lemon has a cooling, energizing and refreshing effect and can reduce tension. At the same time, it’s used in Ayurvedic beauty formulas because it improves skin tone and adds shine and volume to hair.
The lemons we see in the United States are big and yellow, but if you go to South India and check them out, the lemons are small and the pulp has a drier consistency more like limes.
Lemons have four times as much vitamin C as an orange, which may be why Ayurveda uses lemon to help the skin. Vitamin C helps you make collagen, which is a major component of skin cells.
Another nutrient you can find plenty of in lemons is potassium. It nourishes your brain so you can think clearly throughout the day. Potassium channels play a key role in maintaining the electrical conductivity in your brain. Potassium is also involved in higher brain function like memory and learning.
Lemons can even break down calcifications, including kidney or gallbladder stones.
The fruit of the lemon, but not the stems or leaves, contains promising cancer-fighting compounds called limonoids. Limonoids seem to cause apoptosis, a process that causes the cancer cell to commit suicide. One limonoid called limonin stays in your body for up to 24 hours.
This kind of bioavailability may help explain why citrus limonoids are so strongly anti-cancer. Other natural anti-carcinogens like the phenols in green tea and chocolate only stay in the body for just a few hours.
Limonin also fights obesity and lowers blood sugar.2
There is no known virus or bacterial agent that can live in the presence of lemon oil for any length of time.3
I like to drink straight lemon juice because I think lemons have healing capacity. It’s one of the only fruits I’ll use my juicer for. I like to take about six lemons, juice them, and drink the straight juice without water.
It’s very alkalinizing, it’s detoxifying… it’s even good for a hangover. I like to use lemon juice when I’m on vacation. If I’m in Central or South America I might ask our host to just make me lemon juice for five days in a row.
Adding a couple teaspoons of lemon juice to any meal will lower your body’s insulin response. It’s very effective at helping with digestion because it stimulates your liver to produce enzymes, and assists your stomach and gallbladder in using those enzymes.
Another way to get the benefits of lemons is to drink water with lemon juice in it every day. Sir Edmund Hillary credited lemons for his conquest of Mt. Everest. He put lemon juice in his water on the way up, which helped him avoid dehydration.
When zesting a lemon – you want the yellow, not the white.
To get more juice out of a lemon after you cut it open, either roll it on the counter while pressing down on it slightly, or put it in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Both will let the juice flow out more freely.
When you can, try to get organic lemons. They can be a little smaller, but it’s worth it because the rind and skin won’t have pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants.
Choose lemons that are heavy for their size and feature peels that have a finely grained texture. They should be fully yellow, and without wrinkling, soft, or hard patches. Fresh lemons will stay fresh at room temperature (away from sunlight) for about a week.
You can get more lemon flavonoids into your food by adding the zest of the lemon. The zest is the colored part of citrus rinds. Just use a fine grater and turn the lemon as you go to remove only the yellow part. You don’t want the white pith just beneath. It’s bitter.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1 Visser, M. “Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal.” Grove Press, Reprint Edition 2010. p. 262. 2 Ono E, Inoue J, Hashidume T, Shimizu M, Sato R. “Anti-obesity and anti-hyperglycemic effects of the dietary citrus limonoid nomilin in mice fed a high-fat diet.” Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011 Jul 8;410(3):677-81. Epub 2011 Jun 12. 3 Dabbah R, Edwards VM, Moats WA. “Antimicrobial action of some citrus fruit oils on selected food-borne bacteria.” Appl Microbiol. 1970 Jan;19(1):27-31.