Who doesn’t enjoy a nice cold glass of fresh lemonade on a hot summer day? Or perhaps a pleasant stroll through a lush lemon grove during peak bloom season? All around the world, the beloved citrus fruit known as the lemon is cherished for its gustatory and olfactory delights, adding a uniquely sweet-and-sour zest to our lives. But there’s a whole lot more to the simple lemon fruit than just its invigorating smell and pungent taste.
For at least 1,000 years, lemon (Citrus limon) has been recognized as a powerful healing food with vast therapeutic potential. Its concentrated lemon oil is especially noteworthy, bearing an abundance of terpenes and other bioactive constituents that lend to lemon oil’s uses in a variety of applications. From helping to boost the immune system to supporting healthy digestion to elevating mood and energy levels, the essential oil of lemon is, as some would say, worth its weight in gold… and then some!
D-limonene: The Key to Lemon Oil’s Effectiveness
Spanning many systems of medicine both past and present, lemon oil uses and reported health benefits are many. In describing these benefits using action verbs, one might include words like purify, cleanse, hydrate, nourish, soothe, invigorate, and regenerate.
Simply put, lemon oil is powerfully enhancing to the body, as evidenced in at least 716 scientific studies cited in PubMed, the research database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.1
Lemon oil, it’s important to note, doesn’t refer to anything that comes from the inner fruit of a lemon that most people are used to eating or juicing.
We’re talking about the volatile oil that’s extracted by cold-pressing the peel of a lemon − this is where a bulk of the fruit’s fat-soluble phytonutrients are found. It’s also where you’ll find lemon oil’s most effective and abundant weapon: d-limonene.
Lemon oil contains upwards of 70 percent d-limonene, a citrus terpene also found in the peels of oranges, mandarins, limes, and grapefruits that research shows possesses both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. In vitro laboratory studies suggest that d-limonene can alter the signaling pathways within cancer cells in such a way as to stop them from multiplying. The compound has also demonstrated an ability to induce apoptosis, or cancer cell suicide.
Animal models have produced similar results, suggesting that d-limonene may help to slow the growth of pancreatic, stomach, colon, skin, and liver cancers. According to research cited by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, d-limonene “slowed formation of tumors and their progression in animals exposed to cancer-causing substances.”2
For people who suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), heartburn, or some other form of chronic digestive disease, research out of Texas found that d-limonene may provide extended relief. Patients who took a purified form of the nutrient for as few as 14 days experienced a complete resolve of their symptoms that lasted six months or even longer. And not a single participant reported any adverse effects from taking this nutrient.3
“I recommend one 1000-mg capsule, every other day, for 20 days, or a total of 10 doses,” says Dr. Roger C. Willette, MD, an internal medicine specialist from Houston, Texas, who co-authored this study. “Of all the over-the-counter medications available to patients, d-limonene is certainly number one on my list. It gives the patients quicker, longer-lasting relief than most anything else, and it is extremely safe.”4
Other areas of interest for d-limonene include its use in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Studies suggest that d-limonene can aid in flushing bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream while also protecting the gallbladder against gallstone formation. The liver can also benefit from d-limonene, which reportedly assists in enzyme production and detoxification.
D-limonene may further assist in the following areas of human health:5
- Keeping the bowels clean and regular
- Protecting the gut against overgrowth of bacteria and fungi, including Candida albicans
- Balancing stomach acid levels
- Supporting healthy weight and metabolism
- Boosting mood
- Promoting relaxation and restful sleep
- Enhancing cell regulation and function
- Bolstering the immune system
- Promoting lymph drainage
- Supporting healthy aging
- Maintaining a healthy heart
Other Beneficial Compounds Found in Lemon Oil
D-limonene is just one of many components that make up lemon oil, of course. You’ll also find l-limonene (d-limonene’s terpenoid counterpart), phellandrene, pinene, and sesquiterpene − all of which contribute to the synergistic power of lemon oil.
In other words, as great as d-limonene is on its own, you’re better off taking advantage of its other constituent friends by consuming, applying, and inhaling full-spectrum lemon oil.
Evidence of this has been seen with diabetic neuropathy, which one 2014 study found is targeted by another constituent of lemon oil known as geraniol (GE). Diabetic rats with diabetic neuropathy (DN) that were fed geraniol saw significant improvements in cellular function, with marked reductions in both oxidative stress and inflammation. This research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research and the authors concluded:
“From our data, we hypothesize that GE may be a promising therapeutic candidate in the management of DN in humans. Further understanding of the molecular mechanisms of its neuromodulatory effects is essential in order to exploit its therapeutic efficacy.”6
The mood-lifting benefits of lemon oil represent another area of efficacy that’s worth noting, particularly with regards to the central nervous system. Science has shown that lemon oil can help to bring depleted dopamine stores back to normal levels, in turn helping folks to feel happier and more alive. Individuals who suffer from lethargy, anxiety, depression, and other feelings of malaise can benefit most from this, as simply breathing in the vapor of lemon essential oil on a regular basis can bring about emotional revitalization.
Chinese researchers put it well in a 2013 review published in the journal Current Drug Targets:7
“Most studies, as well as clinically applied experience, have indicated that various essential oils, such as…lemon…can help to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. Most notably, inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) thereby further regulating mood.”
Ingesting lemon oil can also help improve digestive function. The citric acid content found in lemon oil has been shown to directly counteract acidity and ulcers through the production of carbonates and bicarbonates of both potassium and calcium.8 Lemon oil also supports a healthy immune system by enhancing the body’s production of white corpuscles or leukocytes, which are immune cells that protect against infectious disease.9
For pregnant women in the early stages of labor pain, a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial in Iran found that lemon oil can aid in pain relief. This same study concluded that “lemon oil can be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.”10
Popular Lemon Oil Uses at Home
With this in mind, diffusing lemon oil at home is a great way to support a healthy nervous system, as well as boost emotional stability. And since it’s safe to ingest (after all, lemon oil is one of the most common essential oils used in food manufacturing), there’s also the option of adding lemon oil to food or beverages for an even greater biological impact. Adding just a drop or two of lemon oil to water every day can help jumpstart metabolism, for instance, thus aiding in healthy weight maintenance.
Lemon oil can also be used as a replacement for recipes that call for lemon zest. Many cooks go by the rule of thumb of 1/4 teaspoon of lemon oil to replace 1 Tablespoon of zest.
Lemon oil is further beneficial for skin when mixed with a quality carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil, helping to nourish and moisturize it without chemicals. It also functions as an astringent, helping to tighten skin while giving it that little extra “glow.” Always test for sensitivity before using any essential oils on your skin and dilute heavily with a carrier oil until you know how your skin reacts.
Last but not least, real lemon oil is a wonderful way to give your home a “lemony clean scent” without the use of toxic chemicals found in many commercial cleaners.
Simply combine two parts lemon oil with one part tea tree oil and mix it with water and/or vinegar in a spray bottle.
This recipe will produce an all-natural, non-toxic cleaning spray and disinfectant that you can use all around your house without having to worry about it negatively impacting your health, or that of your children or pets.11
An important note: When using any essential oils to support your health, use only quality essential oils and always consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner who can help you address your particular health needs.
Essential Oils from Epigenetic Labs are among the highest quality oils available to consumers and are made with indigenously sourced plants retrieved from the world’s best sources.
- Lemon Essential Oil
- Willette RC et al. “Purified d-limonene: An Effective Agent for the Relief of Occasional Symptoms of Heartburn.” Proprietary study. WRC Laboratories, Inc.
- How to Manage Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- D-Limonene: Help for Digestion, Metabolism, Detoxification, Anxiety & Breast Cancer Prevention
- Protective Effects of Geraniol (a Monoterpene) in a Diabetic Neuropathy Rat Model: Attenuation of Behavioral Impairments and Biochemical Perturbations
- Aromatherapy and The Central Nerve System (CNS): Therapeutic Mechanism and its Associated Genes
- Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Oils in Aromatherapy & Herbalism
- The Effect Of Lemon Inhalation Aromatherapy on Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy: A Double-Blinded, Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial
- Top 10 Lemon Essential Oil Uses & Benefits