When Life Gives You Lemons, Boost Your Immunity With It

Written by Dr. Naveeda Adam on Tue, 01 August 2023


A very catchy Instagram caption reads: 'All sour moments are not that bad; especially, if they give you vitamin C'! Indeed. Vitamin C is a human being's friend for getting a power dose of immunity, getting glowing skin, maintaining blood pressure and so many other things.

Vitamin C is an ascorbic acid; that is to say, it is easily dissolvable in water and that's how it reaches the body tissues to deliver its multiple functions. However, on the flip side, since it is a water-soluble vitamin, it also needs to be consumed on a regular or daily basis to keep the body healthy from infections and illnesses. It cannot be stored by the body to use when it wants.

Nature has devised amazing ways to enrich our bodies with requisite nutrients. It has made several fruit and vegetables powerhouses of vitamin C, such that we get a variety of sources to get our immunity-booster shots from.

What citrus fruit are you taking for boosting your immunity?

There's a whole array of vegetables and fruit that one can choose from to boost your immuity:

  • Help the body make collagen, a fibrous protein that travels through our bones, cartilage, nervous system, blood, and most importantly, the immune system.
  • To reign in wounds and infections.
  • To act as an antioxidant to neutralize harmful free radicals that have an adverse effect on lipids, proteins, and DNA to result in several ailments if allowed to grow.

A quick way of ascertaining whether a food item is Vitamin-C enriched or not, is to see if it tastes sour, or sweet n' sour. Most fruit and vegetables that fall into this bracket usually find their provenance in the 'citrus' genus.

Plants from this genus are most abundantly found in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australia, which is why most citrusy fruit and vegetables can find their roots in these places.

Which vegetables can you find Vitamin C in apart from lemons?

The most obvious ones are citrus fruits like limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and pomelos. However, those are not all.

  • Bell peppers contain capsaicin that helps boost your immunity by reducing pain and inflammation.
  • The herb thyme has the highest vitamin C concentration among all cook-worthy herbs and is a good remedy for fighting infections of the throat and respiratory system.
  • Just 2 tablespoons of parsley a day can help give 11% of the daily value of the body's vitamin C requirement that can boost the absorption of non-heme iron.
  • Spinach is loaded with not just vitamin C but also vitamin A, K, folate and fiber which when working together provides a huge boost to the immune system.
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, kale, broccoli, turnip and radish are loaded with vitamin C and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and the risk of cancer.
  • Regular consumption of broccoli has been seen to dramatically reduce the levels of inflammatory marker C-reactive protein in heavy smokers. Broccoli is known to lower oxidative stress, the risk of cancer, inflammation and heart diseases, and enhance overall immunity.
  • The high content of vitamin C in Brussels sprouts is seen to reduce the risk of getting osteoporosis and bone malfunctions.

What fruits can you consume for Vitamin C other than lemons?

While oranges and sweet limes are important sources of vitamin C and can give multiple immune-system boosting benefits, other fruits you can consume for Vitamin C include:

  • Consuming fruits such as plums, pomelos and guavas are seen to lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol levels, keep away inflammatory skin problems like dermatitis, and lower the oxidative damage associated with chronic diseases.
  • Kiwis have proven very effective in reducing blood platelet stickiness and triglycerides, thus reducing the risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart ailments. Kiwis are also a great immunity boosting agent as they increase the white blood cell activity by almost 20%.
  • Papayas help boost the memory function of the brain and also decrease inflammation to enhance immunity. Strawberries help reduce the bad LDL cholesterol levels, as well as, the blood vessel inflammation marker VCAM.

How much vitamin C do we need?

While vitamin C has several benefits, too little or too much of it has adverse effects on the human body. Hence, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C differs according to gender, age, and life stage.

  • For instance, for 6 months after birth, babies require 40 mg vitamin C per day, then their requirement drops to 15 mg per day from age 1-3 years, irrespective of gender.
  • However, adult men require 90 mg of vitamin C every day, as compared to adult women who need only 75 mg - unless they are breastfeeding, in which case they need 120 mg vitamin C per day.
  • Then of course, there are people who are exposed to free radicals due to smoking, or exposure to industrial chemical fumes, UV rays, and various kinds of environmental pollution who require little more vitamin C than others in their category.
  • Same is the requirement for those who eat very limited types and quantities of food, as also, those with malabsorption issues due to health problems like cancer and kidney trouble.

How can Vitamin C deficiency affect your health?

Deficiency of vitamin C can cause several health problems such as:

  • Scurvy, which leads to fatigue, gum swelling, joint pain, and problems in healing of wounds.
  • Vitamin C deficiency if carried on for prolonged times can cause excessive secretion of hormones from thyroid gland, thus leading to hyperthyroidism.
  • Skin lesions and anemia (since vitamin C helps absorb iron) are other problems caused due to deficiency of vitamin C.

On the flip side, over-consumption of vitamin C beyond 3000 mg per day (megadosing) can lead to a bevy of health problems like diarrhea, increased absorption of iron, increased levels of uric acid (which can lead to gout), and possibility of formation of kidney stones for those with family disposition to the same.

When life gives you lemons...

… Well, make lemonade with it! You're sure to lead a long, healthy life.

Lemons, while a very good source of vitamin C, are not the highest source. They provide around 53 mg of vitamin C per 100 gm of juice. There are other citric fruits that give much more. Yet, lemons are the top contenders when it comes to people choosing their preferred source of vitamin C.

Easy availability of lemons around the year and around the world may be the prime-most reason behind this preference. Widely considered to have originated somewhere in North-East India or China, lemons entered the European culinary landscape in the Roman empire as early as 2nd century AD.

From there, their popularity traveled all through from Egypt, Iran to as far as America. In the 1700s, Scottish doctor James Lind discovered that lemons are useful in treating scurvy, leading to all British naval ships getting stocked with this citrusy treasure to help sailors keep protected from scurvy, which used to be a common cause of death amongst them.

Why lemons are considered to be the most popular source of Vitamin C?

Lemons are also seen as the most popular source of vitamin C because:

  • They are easily usable and storable.
  • They do not require any special preparation to be utilized. Just squeeze a spoonful of lemon juice on your salads and dips, or make delicious lemon-herb rubs for grilled chicken/fish.
  • Lemon zest can jazz up simple stews, soups, and curries in a jiffy. Lemons also pair up well with beverages to make refreshing lemonade, ice tea, or smoothies. Since vitamin C is an ascorbic acid, it gets easily evaporated when heated.
  • Lemons are also easy in terms of storage. They easily stay well at room temperature for around 6-7 days, and if kept in dry, airtight containers in the refrigerator, can stay well for up to three weeks.
  • They are also relatively inexpensive as compared to other sources of vitamin C.
  • Add to all this, the fact that lemons contain other essential micronutrients like B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and fibre, along with antioxidants like Hesperidin and Eriocitrin that have anti-inflammatory properties, also makes them the most favoured source of vitamin C among all others.

A word of caution: Boiling/heating makes lemons lose around 50% of their vitamin C content. Hence, for best results, it is advisable to use fresh lemon juice in its natural form, without cooking it.

What are the health benefits of lemon?

The humble lemon gives myriad benefits for our overall immunity, as well as, various parts of the human body.

Let us look at some of these:

1. For skin care

  • Due to its citric acid content, lemons are a natural astringent and cleanser for the skin.
  • Dab a few drops of lemon juice on a soft cotton ball and wipe your face and neck with it. Its antimicrobial properties help combat pimples and acne by wiping away the deep-rooted dirt and excessive oil, thus also reducing inflammation. It also helps tighten the skin pores.
  • The citric acid in lemon acts as a bleaching agent to reduce pigmentation and dark spots.
  • The antioxidants in lemon help delay the skin's ageing process, while its antifungal properties combat the candida fungus on the skin.

Caution: People with sensitive skin should either avoid using lemons on the face, or should use it in a diluted format to prevent skin irritation. Also do not go into the sunlight immediately after applying lemon juice on skin; it can cause blisters and redness. Always wash your face with ample water after applying lemon.

2. Controls blood pressure

  • One of the lesser explored benefits of lemon, is that it is helpful is controlling blood pressure and is a great remedy for hypertension.
  • Lemon softens the hardened blood vessels and makes them flexible. It helps lower the triglycerides and cholesterol content of the body. Excessive triglycerides can affect the liver and lead to making a person obese. Drinking lemon water in the morning can help combat the growth of triglycerides and cholesterol.
  • However, be sure to drink this lemon water without sugar. Instead, if needed, add some honey to the mix. Lemons are loaded with minerals and complex plant-based compounds. These micronutrients keep the human heart healthy and improve the overall blood circulation, thus reducing the risk of heart diseases.

3. Flushes out toxins

  • Pectin, a soluble fibre found in lemon, is very helpful for combatting digestive issues like diarrhoea, vomiting, and constipation.
  • Pectin is also said to help reduce cholesterol, remove contaminants from the body, and normalise the glucose metabolism.
  • Apart from that, it also helps to flush out the free radicals from the body due to the lemon's antioxidant properties, and works as a diuretic to help flush the kidneys of its toxins.

4. Reduces inflammation

  • The citric acid, vitamin C, and polyphenols in lemons are powerful anti-inflammatory agents which reduce swelling and help the body repair any damaged tissue.
  • Vitamin C helps produce collagen, a protein that repairs skin, bone, blood vessels, and connective tissues. The vitamin C content in lemon makes it easier for the body to repair damaged tissue.
  • Phytonutrients and vitamin C in lemons have powerful antioxidant properties that prevent cell damage from oxidation and cleanse the body of free radicals, respectively.
  • Factors like exposure to smoking (active and passive, both), industrial chemicals, UV rays etc., all enhance the risk of increasing free radicals in the body. Excessive free radicals can impair your immunity and cause damage to the DNA too.

5. Aids in weight loss

  • The pectin in lemon - when had as lemon juice or lemon water - helps quell hunger pangs due to the fibre content in pectin. This in turn helps arrest the need for bingeing.
  • Lemon water helps boost our metabolism, while also flushing out toxins that make us feel bloated. The water content of lemon water ensures good hydration, which in turn, enhances the working of the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cells). This leads to faster metabolism and subsequently, weight loss. The water content also enhances metabolism via thermogenesis, the process by which calories get used up to produce heat.

6. Enhancing potassium levels

  • Potassium is a very important mineral for human health. It helps the brain get enough oxygen and dilates the blood vessels in the brain to prevent brain strokes.
  • It maintains bone health by neutralizing acids that interfere with calcium absorption.
  • It enhances the heart function by regulating sodium levels which, in excess, can cause hypertension and high blood pressure. Lemons are a storehouse of potassium, and thus helpful for many reasons.

7. Boosts overall immunity

All the aforementioned ways help the body retain its immunity in different ways:

  • Faster metabolism helps prevent obesity and related immune system problems.
  • Reduction of inflammation helps arrest the probability of autoimmune diseases.
  • Flushing out of toxins helps prevent endocrine disruption and inflammatory dysregulation, which send awry messages to the immune system functions.
  • In fact, the vitamin C in lemons helps control the cell damage that can occur due to free radicals emitted by our immune system for fighting infections.
  • Apart from that, the vitamin C content in lemon helps boost immunity in direct ways too. When we're under physical or mental stress, the vitamin C in our blood serum is used up by the immune system to fight infections.
  • Consumption of lemon improves the functioning of the body's natural killer cells, aids in antimicrobial activity by killing bacteria, viruses, parasites, and germs,β€―and thus helps eliminate infections.
  • The phytonutrients in lemon help prevent colds and sinus pain. Zeaxanthin and lutein in the drink are good for maintaining eye health.


The benefits of lemon for boosting immunity are innumerable. Hence, do not forget to stock your pantry with this humble fruit all year round, for maintaining your and your family's health!

Read for more ways to strengthen your immune system.


Dr. Naveeda Adam

Dr Naveeda Adam is currently Medical Officer of the Gastrology Department at the Muhimbili National Hospital, Dar es Salam, Tanzania.

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Current Version

Aug, 01 2023

Written By

Dr. Naveeda Adam