What are the side effects of lemon water detox?


Lemon water detoxes have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to cleanse the body, promote weight loss, and improve health. The premise behind lemon water detoxes is that lemon juice contains nutrients and compounds like vitamin C and antioxidants that can “detox” the body when consumed daily over a set period of time, usually ranging from 3 to 7 days.

Lemon water detoxes typically involve drinking a mixture of lemon juice, water, and sometimes maple syrup, cayenne pepper, or other ingredients. Proponents claim that these detoxes can help remove toxins from the body, cleanse the liver, kidneys and digestive tract, boost metabolism and immunity, improve skin health, and promote weight loss.

However, there is limited scientific evidence to support these broad health claims. Like any cleanse or detox diet, lemon water detoxes come with potential side effects and risks. Understanding the real impacts can help you decide if a lemon water cleanse is right for your health goals.

What happens in the body during a lemon water detox?

To understand the side effects of a lemon water detox, it helps to first look at what happens in the body when you drink diluted lemon juice daily for several days:

– Increased vitamin C intake – Lemons provide vitamin C, an essential nutrient and antioxidant. Consuming it through frequent lemon water will significantly boost vitamin C consumption.

– Change in pH – Lemons contain citric acid, which can make the body’s pH slightly more acidic when consumed regularly.

– Irritation of the esophagus – Frequent exposure to citric acid could potentially irritate tissues in the esophagus in some people.

– Increased urination – The citric acid may increase urination, causing more fluid loss.

– Avoidance of other foods – Following a strict lemon water cleanse can lead to avoidance of other solid foods for several days.

– Loss of blood sugar regulation – Blood sugar regulation can become impaired on a liquid-only diet.

– Electrolyte imbalance – The diet’s diuretic effect can lower electrolyte levels like potassium and sodium.

– Insufficient calories – Long-term calorie deprivation may kickstart adaptive thermogenesis, where the body conserves energy.

Understanding these impacts the lemon detox diet has on the body can help shed light on the potential side effects that may result.

1. Hunger and headaches

One of the most common side effects of lemon water detoxes is hunger and headaches.

Lemon water contains very few calories. Following a lemon detox diet that replaces meals with just lemon water for 3 or more days will lead to an extreme calorie deficit.

Women need at least 1200 calories per day, while men need at least 1500 according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Consuming so far under these thresholds can leave you feeling hungry, weak, and fatigued. It can also trigger headaches in some people.

One study found that females consuming 810 calories per day and males consuming 1070 calories per day experienced increased feelings of hunger and declines in concentration. Consuming even less than that on a lemon detox could worsen these effects.

2. Irritation of mouth, teeth and esophagus

Drinking acidic lemon water frequently can also lead to mouth, teeth and esophageal irritation in some people.

The citric acid in lemon juice has an erosive effect on tooth enamel according to in vitro studies. Case reports have highlighted instances of excess lemon juice consumption causing tooth damage.

Lemon juice also contains acids that can irritate sensitive tissues in the mouth and esophagus. A case study showed that a patient who drank 8 ounces of undiluted lemon juice experienced painful esophageal lesions.

Diluting the lemon juice more thoroughly, drinking through a straw, and rinsing with water can help prevent some of this irritation during a lemon detox.

3. Blood sugar crashes and cravings

Lemon water lacks carbohydrates and protein. Following a prolonged very low carbohydrate diet can lead to drops in blood sugar levels, resulting in fatigue, mood swings, headaches, and cravings.

When blood sugar drops, the body releases counterregulatory hormones like glucagon and epinephrine. These hormones stimulate glycogen breakdown and gluconeogenesis to increase blood glucose.

However, glycogen stores and the substrates for gluconeogenesis decline the longer someone follows a very low carbohydrate diet. This can make it difficult for the body to raise blood sugar levels adequately, leading to hypoglycemic symptoms.

Some compensatory mechanisms the body uses to raise blood sugar like breaking down muscle tissue for gluconeogenesis can also worsen fatigue and cravings during a lemon detox.

4. Metabolic slowdown

Severe calorie restriction for several days can cause adaptive thermogenesis, where your body’s resting metabolic rate slows down to conserve energy.

One study had participants follow a 25% calorie restricted diet for 8 weeks. They experienced a 7% greater drop in resting energy expenditure than expected based on their weight loss.

Lemon detox diets providing only around 1,000 calories or less per day could have an even more extreme slowing effect on your metabolism. This makes it easier to regain weight when you stop the detox.

5. Loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium

Frequent urination from drinking lemon water can lead to the loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

Electrolyte Roles Low levels may cause
Sodium Balances fluids, aids muscle function and nerve transmission Fatigue, headaches, decreased reflexes
Potassium Supports nerve and muscles function Muscle cramps, weakness, heart palpitations

Getting very low in sodium and potassium from a liquid diet and frequent urination can lead to mild symptoms like fatigue. More severe losses could cause abnormal heart rhythms. Those at higher risk may need medical oversight during extended lemon water fasts.

6. Loss of lean muscle mass

Consuming very few calories from just lemon water for several days can cause the body to break down muscle protein to produce glucose through gluconeogenesis.

The body preferentially breaks down muscle before fat. Extended periods of calorie and carbohydrate restriction can exacerbate muscle wasting.

One study had overweight police officers follow an 800 calorie ketogenic diet for 12 weeks. They lost an average of 5.7 pounds of lean mass. Consuming even fewer calories during a lemon detox could cause greater loss of muscle over just a few days.

Losing lean muscle mass negatively impacts strength and metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain weight loss.

7. Constipation and impaired digestion

A liquid diet without solid foods for several days can lead to constipation and impaired digestion.

Without fiber from whole foods, stool bulk and quality decline. Fiber gives stools structure and helps them move smoothly through the colon. Insufficient fiber allows stools to become hard and difficult to pass.

Going without solid food can also impair the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. It takes away opportunities for the gut microbiome to feed on fermentable fibers from whole foods.

Prolonged fasting may also decrease secretion of digestive enzymes needed to break down foods and absorb nutrients properly. These effects together set the stage for constipation, bloating, cramps, and indigestion when you return to regular eating after a lemon detox.

8. Fatigue, dizziness and low blood pressure

Fatigue, dizziness, and low blood pressure can occur on a lemon water detox due to calorie restriction, blood sugar crashes, sodium depletion, and muscle loss.

When your blood sugar crashes, you can feel tired and dizzy as your brain receives inadequate glucose.

Low sodium levels make it difficult for blood vessels to constrict properly and control blood pressure. As blood pressure drops, it reduces blood flow to the brain contributing to fatigue and dizziness.

Loss of muscle mass also harms your stamina and endurance, further limiting energy. All of these impacts can leave you feeling profoundly fatigued and faint.

9. Greater challenges with compliance

Compliance with an intense lemon water detox program for several days can be challenging. Side effects like hunger, headaches, mood swings, and cravings increase the desire to abandon the detox before completion.

One study looked at 171 participants who followed calorie-restricted diets for 6 to 12 months. Their reported hunger levels showed that restriction was difficult to maintain over time. More extreme calorie deprivation causes greater compliance struggles.

Lemon water detoxes lasting 3 days or longer deprive your body far below even the minimum daily calories recommended for basic function. For many people, side effects impair the ability to follow through with the full cleanse regimen as directed.

10. Weight regain after the detox ends

Once a lemon water detox ends and you return to regular eating, it’s very common to regain weight as your calorie intake increases.

The severe calorie deprivation triggers adaptive thermogenesis, slowing your metabolism. Ending this starvation state leads to increased hunger and fat storage.

The loss of lean muscle mass during the detox also lowers your resting metabolic rate, making it easier to gain fat.

Fad crash diets like lemon detoxes often show dramatic short-term weight loss on the scale. However, the loss is typically from fluids, carbohydrate stores, and muscle instead of lasting fat loss.

When you halt the unsustainable detox, weight regain is unfortunately the normal and expected result for most people.


Lemon water detoxes may seem like an easy shortcut for fast weight loss and quick health improvements. However, the extreme calorie deprivation has many potential side effects.

Hunger, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, loss of lean muscle mass, and metabolic slowdown are some of the impacts. These effects also make it hard to comply with the full detox duration.

While a lemon water detox may show a temporary drop on the scale, the lost weight is often rapidly regained after the cleanse ends.

For lasting improvements in sustainable weight loss, metabolic health, and overall wellbeing, alterative rituals involving regular, balanced whole food meals and moderate activity levels tend to be safer and more effective.

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