Throughout history, lemons have been used for just about everything. Whether you're looking to add flavor to your drink, or increase your vitamin C levels, this tiny yellow fruit has you covered. Most people have heard that drinking lemon water can even balance your pH level - which would be a good thing, because your pH should never be too high or too low. But does it really? Although this tiny yellow fruit is incredibly versatile and healthy, it doesn't help much if you're pH level is too high. Drinking lemon water is a great way to replenish the body after working out, and it even boosts the immune system thanks to its vitamins and the two chemical substances known as citric and ascorbic acid.
All citrus fruits are acidic, it’s what gives them that tart and sour after-taste. An acid is a chemical substance that has a pH level lower than 7. Lemons contain the acid known as ascorbic acid, more commonly referred to as vitamin C. Vitamin C, also referred to as ascorbate, is a versatile and water-soluble antioxidant, which possesses extraordinary healthful properties.
According to the book “Organic Acids in Citrus Fruits,” by Robert Clemens, lemons have a pH level of about 2.3. This makes them a relatively weak fruit on the acidity scale. Citric acid makes up about 5 to 6 percent of the lemon’s juice and lemons contain the highest level of citric acid among all of its citrusy siblings, according to a 2008 study published in The Journal of Endourology.
Yet the question still remains – do lemons really possess the power to neutralize acids? In other words, can you balance pH levels in the body by squeezing a lemon wedge into a glass of water, or by throwing back a shot of lemon juice?
Contrary to the popular myth, the answer is no. Simply put, acids cannot neutralize other acids. This is indeed the ultimate dietetic myth.
Imagine this. It’s early in the morning, you just woke up, and you’re craving a stack of delicious chocolate chip pancakes. You go into the kitchen and mix together a recipe that calls for flour, milk, eggs, salt, sugar, chocolate chips, and a dash of baking powder. Everything is going great, until you realize that the batter is way too liquidy! So ideally, what should you do next?
For starters, you don't want to add more milk to the mix, since that would inevitably make the consistency of the batter less thick. Instead, what you would need to do is add a stiffening agent would be the flour. Just like flour and milk, neutralizing an acid requires some sort of alkalizing substance.
Unlike acids, alkalis have a pH level above 7. This allows them to neutralize any acids they come in contact with. This is why popular over the counter antacids like ‘Tums’ and ‘Alka-Setltzer’ are consumed by people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease,) also known as heartburn. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the best-selling author and director at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, GERD affects 25 to 35 percent of the population in the United States. These people are in need of some serious stomach acid neutralization but more importantly, without the help of acidic lemons.
So what makes antacids like Tums and Alka-Seltzer work so effectively? Tums contains the active ingredient and antacid called calcium carbonate, while Alka-Seltzer contains a similar antacid known as sodium bicarbonate. The organic mineral, calcium carbonate, is used in classrooms everyday. It’s pure chalk, and has an alkalizing pH level of 9.4. On their website, The Industrial Minerals Association of North America (IMA-NA) states that “calcium carbonate compromises more than 4 percent of the earth’s crust,” and it “is one of the most useful and versatile materials known to man.”
According to The Royal Society of Chemistry, calcium carbonate has been used throughout history as a way to reduce acidity levels in the soil for agricultural purposes. When it encounters hydrochloric acid (HCl), the kind found inside the lining of the stomach, it's “converted into calcium chloride, reducing acidity and removing the unpleasant sensation of excess stomach acid and acid reflux.”On the other hand, Alka-Seltzer’s active ingredient is a popular household chemical also known as baking soda, also known by the chemical formula NaHCO3. The pH level of baking soda is 8.4, which is significantly lower than the pH level of calcium carbonate. When choosing the more effective antacid, the one with the higher pH level is the most optimal choice. In this case, Tum’s would be the winner.
The nutritional value of lemons isn’t lessened just because of its acidity level. One lemon contains 30.7 milligrams of vitamin C or ascorbic acid, and it is almost impossible to consume an amount high enough to cause an overdose. The typical limit for ascorbic acid is 2000 milligrams a day, but patients with cancer and other illnesses have been intravenously treated with doses much higher than that and have experienced great results. According to a 2014 article in BBC News, researchers at the University of Kansas found that treating cancer patients with ascorbic acid injections resulted in the death of cancer cells without harming any of the bodies’ normal cells.
According to The New York Times, ascorbic acid is crucial for tissue growth, protein formation, and is effective in blocking free radicals that been proven to cause conditions like cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Since the body is unable to produce ascorbic acid on it’s own, one must eat a versatile diet of fruits and vegetables in order to obtain it. With that being said, lemons are a great choice when choosing how to get your vitamin C fix.
Although lemons do not neutralize pH levels in the body, don’t rule them out of your diet just yet – ascorbic acid is an essential antioxidant. On top of all of the benefits listed above, researchers also found that women who consume higher levels of ascorbic acid have more hydrated skin and fewer wrinkles, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Lemons may not be the ultimate pH balancing fruit, but they do contain important nutrients that keep the body looking young and energized.
It's not that lemons are bad for you, they're actually really good for you. Lemons are filled with immune-boosting vitamins and minerals that keep the body healthy and strong. The odds of drinking lemon juice to a point that it's dangerously unbalancing to your pH level is low, but lemon's won't rebalance your pH level if it's highly acidic either. You know what they say, “When life gives you lemons, don’t use them to balance your pH level.” Or is that not how that one goes?