A very interesting article crossed my desk earlier today, one which actually gets to the problematic epicentre of this whole “detox” fad. (You can read the whole article here :https://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/does-hot-water-lemon-really-help-detox-142100872.html.) In it, the author goes through, step by step, why lemon juice has been decided upon as our holy grail for health and weight loss. And while he doesn’t necessarily disagree with everything being said about lemon, he does have a few issues with some of the terms being tossed around.
On the first two points, he says the literature could support the interpretation. Lemon is supposed to aid digestion – because it contains citric acid. Citric acid has been shown to boost the absorption of the active ingredient in most antacids. However, citric acid can also irritate some people, and it doesn’t necessarily encourage optimal digestive flora (although some people argue it does). Vitamin C (aka citric acid) also has the effect of boosting mineral absorption – which is why it helps with digestion, because the active ingredient in most antacids is mineral-based (aluminum hydroxide).
So that’s great, but don’t forget that citric acid occurs in tons of fruits and vegetables. Lemons happen to have one of the higher concentrates, but other citrus fruit – like oranges, grapefruits, and limes – also have high levels of Vitamin C. Kale, spinach, and carrots also have quite a bit of ye olde C.
Okay, how about the final claim: Lemon detoxifies our systems. Welllll, here’s where we run into a huge issue. What the eff do we mean by “detoxify?”
In a strict sense, we mean a process of eliminating toxins from our bodies. That sounds really healthy, right? It sounds like something you want to do. Toxins are bad and getting rid of them is good.
That’s generally true, but nobody has ever actually defined toxins or noted which toxins lemon supposedly gets rid of. We tend to think of “detox” as this sort of purifying process where we get rid of all kinds of “nasty” chemicals and “toxins” that are doing huge damage to our bodies, building up and causing all kinds of health problems.
If you want to use a very loose definition of toxin, though, caffeine is a toxin. In fact, so are most things we put into our bodies. Caffeine is a good example here, though: It’srelatively benign, in that it doesn’t do a heck of a lot of damage and it’s usually eliminated from our systems in short order anyway. You have to drink a lot of coffee to notice much long-term damage, although caffeine has been implicated in certain cancers and other diseases. (It also has been indicated in preventing certain diseases, so basically, nature is a crapshoot and you should just stick to the moderation manifesto – do what you want, but don’t go crazy, eh?) And furthermore, the body eliminates this “toxin” anyway – it’s removed in our waste products.
What about calcium? We normally think of this mineral as being incredibly important – our bodies use it to build bones and teeth, and it’s important in preventing osteoporosis. But did you know too much calcium is harmful? If there’s too much calcium in your system, you can get things like bone spurs – where the body just keeps building bone, ‘cause it can, resulting in protrusions that are often very painful and have to be surgically removed. And calcium is also implicated in the formation of kidney stones. So is calcium a toxin that we need to get rid of? Sure – lemonade is one remedy for kidney stones, since the acid tends to help break apart the calcium that’s causing the stones to form. So yes, calcium is a toxin, and yes, lemon juice will detoxify you – provided we’re talking about removing calcium from the system or flushing the kidneys.
But nobody knows that’s what we’re saying. We toss around these nebulous, ill-defined terms like “toxins” or “detoxify” and nobody actually knows what they mean. We just sort of toss them out there and we all get super-excited because, gosh, it sounds really good. Toxic is bad! We’d better get it out. But do we even know what we’re trying to get out?