Don’t throw out those lemon peels! Most people don’t realise how nutritionally valuable they are to support the immune system. It is well known that freshly squeezed lemon in a glass of water or cup of herbal tea has wonderful digestive and gut health benefits, but you may be surprised to find out that the lemon peel has very special medicinal properties that help the body combat infection.
Lemon is an important medicinal plant of the family Rutaceae. Studies have found lemon peel is full of nutrients including Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium and pectin. Pectin is a soluble fibre which is great for gut health, weight loss and the cardiovascular system. It brings more hydration to the bowel, which supports colon health and the microbiome.
Lemon peel may even have several anti-cancer properties because it works to detox and neutralise acidic waste products and free radicals, which supports pH balance.
According to a study in the British Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology, “The peel of citrus fruits is a rich source of flavanones and many polymethoxylated flavones, which are very rare in other plants… Citrus flavonoids have a large spectrum of biological activity including antibacterial, antifungal, antidiabetic, anticancer and antiviral activities (Burt, 2004; Ortunoet al., 2006). Flavonoids can function as direct antioxidants and free radical scavengers, and have the capacity to modulate enzymatic activities and inhibit cell proliferation (Duthie and Crozier, 2000). In plants, they appear to play a defensive role against invading pathogens, including bacteria, fungi and viruses (Sohn et al., 2004). 1
Cleaning up cellular wastes for oral and digestive health
The pectin fibre of lemon peels brings more hydration to the bowel, which supports elimination of wastes. It has been found to enhance colon health and support the gut lining by supporting microbiome balance. This is because our good microbes love it, but the bad guys don’t. Elimination of wastes helps to maintain pH balance and to avoid acidosis and biofilm accumulation from pathogens. This supports healthy metabolism, which avoids excessive weight gain, and promotes oral health.
Studies have also found D-limonene may help treat gallstones — the hard calcified deposits which can develop in the gallbladder if the waste disposal system isn’t working properly. In a study in 200 people with gallstones, 48% of those injected with a D-limonene solvent experienced complete gallstone disappearance, suggesting that this treatment could be an effective alternative to surgery. 4
Research also suggests that pectin can reduce your risk of heart disease. A review of 14 studies in 344,488 people found that an average increase of 10 mg of pectin or flavonoids per day, reduced heart disease risk by 5%. 2 The antioxidants in lemon peel, including D-limonene, have a powerful influence to maintain heart health and are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some stomach cancers (see study here). 3
Flavanoid intake, including vitamin C, is associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer. These nutrients have also been shown to bolster the growth and strength of the white blood cells of the immune system. This helps eliminate mutated cancer cells, toxins, pathogens and inflammatory conditions. Oxidants are the waste products of metabolism, so the antioxidant power of flavonoids helps the body to detox and clean its cells, thereby helping to maintain a healthy pH balance.
The D-limonene in lemon peel increases the activity of an enzyme which helps reduce oxidative stress, but we also need enough magnesium to help make enzymes. Oxidative stress is associated with tissue damage and accelerated aging because stress severely depletes magnesium reserves. Like a revolving door, the lower the magnesium the more sensitive to stress we become, and the more we age prematurely. Nutritional strategies to detox, clear wastes and recover from stress are paramount to maintaining a strong immune system and living well longer.
You can see more on how the combination of magnesium and Vitamin C can boost your immune system here.
No reported side effects of lemon peel
There are no reported side effects of lemon peel. It’s recognised as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some animal studies have linked high doses of D-limonene with carcinogenic effects but this finding is irrelevant because humans lack the protein responsible for this association.
Lemon peel may however contain pesticide residue, so it’s a good idea to wash your lemons with a baking soda solution to remove any residues, or use organic lemons.
Here are some ways you can boost your intake of lemon peel:
- Add lemon zest (grated peel) to baked goods, salads or yoghurt.
- Grate the peel of frozen lemons and sprinkle this on soups, drinks, dressings and marinades.
- Dehydrate lemon peels by cutting them into strips and baking at 200°F (93°C) and then add these strips to cups of tea.
- Chop dehydrated peels and mix them with salt and pepper for a homemade seasoning.
- Add fresh lemon peel to hot tea or to your favourite cocktail.
RECIPE: Delicious lemon and apple smoothie – an immune system ‘punch’
You’ll need the juice and peel of one lemon, one green apple, some mint and parsley from the garden, cinnamon and a pinch of monk fruit sugar or honey.
Juice the two fruits, including their skin, and then add the mint and parsley. Add some mineral water and blend the mixture into a smoothie. Add in a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of monk fruit or honey and blend again. Split this mixture into two drinks and drink one in the morning and the other later in the afternoon.
Herbal tea with lemon peel
You can slice a few pieces of lemon peel and add it straight into your herbal tea. Use herbal teas that have strong antioxidant, cleansing and digestive benefits, such as chamomile, elderberry, peppermint, dandelion, ginger and fennel. This article about toxicity and bloating explains more. Add some honey to taste and there you have a great tonic for any cold and flu symptoms.
Other supports for the immune system
MOVE THE LYMPH: We tend to be less active in winter, but the body still needs to move to help circulation and the elimination of protein wastes via the lymph system. You can do this with moderate exercise, or with magnesium massages. You can also increase detox by sweating in a sauna or hot bath.
DIGEST: To support stomach digestion and colon health you can add to your diet some papaya (which has papain enzyme), or pineapple (which has bromelain enzyme. When we are sick and fighting infection, the body needs to conserve energy, so it takes that energy away from digestion to give it to the immune system. We can fast with teas and juices, or eat light and easy-to-digest foods, such as well-cooked soups or broth, to speed up recovery time.
pH BALANCE: Lemon water and peels also help digestion, cleansing and pH balance. For extra pH buffering, which helps to inhibit pathogenic bacteria, use bicarbonate of soda (half a teaspoon in a glass of water on an empty stomach).
MAGNESIUM and SUNSHINE for VITAMIN D: Studies show that vitamin D is essential for the immune system. You also need enough magnesium to make vitamin D in the skin.
HYDRATION: Drinking herbal teas helps hydration and provides antioxidant and antibacterial plant power, which supports the kidneys and liver. Remember to add the lemon peel! (see more about this in our story here).
SLEEP: We also need to stay warm and get plenty of sleep so we’re not over-stressing our body when it’s cold. Deep restful sleep is when the body repairs itself and does a lot of cleaning housework. Reduce stress levels to give the immune system more power to do its job. Ensure you have optimal magnesium levels to dampen stress, sleep better and boost the immune system.
NOTE: This article is not meant to give medical advice, but merely for the purpose of education. If you have concerning symptoms please refer to your health practitioner.
By Sandy Sanderson © 2022
(1) Dhanavade, Dr. M.; Jalkute, Dr. C.; Ghosh, J.; Sonawane, K. Study Antimicrobial Activity of Lemon (Citrus Lemon L.) Peel Extract. British J. of Pharmacology and Toxicology 2011, 2, 119–122.
(2) Wang, X.; Ouyang, Y. Y.; Liu, J.; Zhao, G. Flavonoid Intake and Risk of CVD: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Br J Nutr 2014, 111 (1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711451300278X.
(3) Zhang, G.; Wang, Y.; Zhang, M.; Wang, Q.; Luo, Y.; Han, C.; Lu, Y.; Rao, Y. [Inhibition of growth and metastasis of human gastric cancer implanted in nude mice by the angiogenesis inhibitor endostatin]. Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi 2002, 40 (1), 59–61.
(4) Igimi, H.; Tamura, R.; Toraishi, K.; Yamamoto, F.; Kataoka, A.; Ikejiri, Y.; Hisatsugu, T.; Shimura, H. Medical Dissolution of Gallstones. Clinical Experience of d-Limonene as a Simple, Safe, and Effective Solvent. Dig Dis Sci 1991, 36 (2), 200–208. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01300757.