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There is a common belief that one can reduce tummy fat by drinking honey and lemon juice mixed in warm water the first thing in the morning.

This questionable website, for example, makes this claim without citing research:

Fasting on honey and lemon-juice, an alkaline food, is highly beneficial in the treatment of obesity without the loss of energy and appetite. For this natural cure , mix one teaspoon of raw honey (unheated) with the juice of two teaspoons of lime or lemon juice in a glass of room temperature or lukewarm water (not boiling water!). Take this remedy as a wake-up drink once in the morning on a empty stomach.

Whereas this one refutes the claim, again without citations.

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Related question: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1374/… –  Oddthinking Feb 25 '13 at 11:21
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"Fasting on honey and lemon-juice" will probably reduce weight if you are reducing total calorie intake. "Breakfasting on honey and lemon-juice" on top of your normal daily food will probably not, if you are adding extra calories –  Henry Apr 30 at 13:34
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Well, honey and lime/lemons are all acidic, so you'd probably have a hard time getting an alkaline mixture (which would be a base). Honey is a natural sweetener from, as usual, sugars, which are known to contribute to weight-gain. The website actually seems to be saying drinking this instead of eating breakfast (and perhaps drinking coffee), using it as an energy drink - so it'd be more the fact that you aren't eating another that would help with weight loss. –  Clockwork-Muse Apr 30 at 13:39
    
Waiting, waiting, waiting... summaries.cochrane.org/CD010665/… –  Oddthinking Jun 27 at 15:26

2 Answers 2

This is a difficult question to directly answer, for a number of reasons.

  • Some people tried to address it in previous answers (since deleted) by pointing out that honey and lemon are not alkaline. Unfortunately, that is undermined by proponents of alkaline diets simply shifting the definition of alkaline and pH around to use misleading, non-standard definitions.

  • It is also difficult because it prescribes some very specific rules (e.g. water temperature, time of day), which means it is difficult to apply the results of existing studies to this. I could point to references that honey is energy-dense and that adding energy-dense foods to an existing high-intake diet is likely to be a risk factor for obesity. However, this is speculation, because it doesn't ruled out that honey, lemon juice, or some special synergy between them and luke-warm water consumed before breakfast breaks this general rule.

  • It is difficult because the original source doesn't clearly define what else is being consumed.

    • In one place it mentions "fasting" - i.e. consuming it instead of a high-calorie diet. It is easy to believe that someone sticking to such an ill-advised diet would lose weight because their calorific intake would be low.

    • In one place it mentions it can be taken as a tonic "after a big and oily meal". Having additional calories to a high-calorie diet makes it far less likely to be effective.

    • Finally, it cops out by saying:

      And of course, in every successful weight loss program, do bear in mind that principles such as forming healthy eating habits and diets, and keeping to a regular exercise regime over the long run are extremely important as well.

    Under this far more sensible weight-loss regime, the effects of a dilute honey and lemon drink isn't likely to be more than minor noise in the far more significant effect of exercise and an appropriate diet.

In summary, the claims are both too specific to be precisely addressed by the extensive existing literature (in my searches) and too vague to be knocked down on first principles.


Despite this, there are some things we can say about the surprising effects of honey on obesity.

In lab rats (which, remember, aren't humans!) there have been many experiments on the effects of replacing sucrose with honey.

  • Rats given food sweetened with sugar grew faster than those given unsweetened or honey-sweetened food. In this experiment, the percentage body fat wasn't different, but in a later almost-replication (sharing a co-author) it was higher for the sucrose-fed rats.
  • Lab rats were given too many calories (lots of sucrose vs. honey + fat + a little sucrose vs. regular diet). Both hypercalorific diets led to higher weight and body fat levels, but the sucrose-fed rats also had higher blood-pressure and larger fat cells.)
  • Lab rats offered sugar-laden (versus honey-laden) foods tended to eat more, and gain more fat. A later experiment (sharing co-authors) found similar results.

The conclusion seems to be that honey in the diet is preferable to sucrose in terms of weight gain - perhaps because rats prefer to eat more sucrose-laden foods?

Some experiments have also been conducted on humans.

  • In an Iranian study, overweight and obese individuals had their diets supplemented by 70g of sucrose or 70g of honey for 30 days. Surprisingly:

    results showed that honey caused a mild reduction in body weight (1.3%) and body fat (1.1%).

    Some other measurements related to cardiovascular risk also improved.

  • An American study in healthy non-obese women fed them breakfast fortified with honey or sucrose. Honey had a slower effect on some hormonal response to the breakfast, but didn't change how hungry they reported they were, or how much they ate over the next six hours. They conclude

    Alterations in meal-induced responses of ghrelin and PYY3-36 but not meal-induced thermogenesis may be responsible in part for the potential “obesity protective” effect(s) of honey consumption.

  • A Pakistani trial asked obese and healthy subjects from several ethnic groups to add 40g of honey dissolved in water to their consumption each day for four weeks. It had no significant effect on their Body Mass Index (making the idea that it is a miracle weight loss technique less clear, but it is promising/counter-intuitive that it didn't lead to weight gain.) There were positive effects on lipid profiles in some subgroups.


In summary:

There is no straight answer. The claims from the original site seem to be largely exaggerated and sufficiently vague to be hard to falsify.

Nonetheless, honey appears to have some counter-intuitive effects that simple calorie-counting wouldn't predict. There's some evidence that it is healthier than consuming the equivalent amount of sucrose.

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At this point we don't have any studies to confirm the benefit of lemon juice with honey on reducing visceral fat. There are a couple of studies on using honey alone including this one which found improved diabetic control in rats:

Glibenclamide or metformin combined with honey also significantly reduced the elevated levels of creatinine, bilirubin, triglycerides, and VLDL cholesterol. These results indicate that combination of glibenclamide or metformin with honey improves glycemic control, and provides additional metabolic benefits, not achieved with either glibenclamide or metformin alone. [1]

The diabetic rats lost weight, presumably due to poor diabetes control, but the drugs + honey group fared better in this respect.

A recent randomized cross-over pilot study using 20 type 1 diabetic patients was conducted in Egypt where the dietary intervention was 12-week honey consumption in a dose of 0.5 mL/kg body weight per day ( a lot more than one teaspoon ).

The intervention resulted in significant decreases in subscapular skin fold thickness (SSFT; P=.002), fasting serum glucose (FSG; P=.001), total cholesterol (P=.0001), serum triglycerides (TG; P=.0001), and low-density lipoprotein (P=.0009), and significant increases in fasting C-peptide (FCP; P=.0004) and 2-h postprandial C-peptide (PCP; P=.002). As possible long-term effects of honey after its withdrawal, statistically significant reductions in midarm circumference (P=.000), triceps skin fold thickness (P=.006), SSFT (P=.003), FSG (P=.005), 2-h postprandial serum glucose (P=.000), TG (P=.003), and HbA1C (P=.043), and significant increases in FCP (P=.002) and PCP (P=.003) were observed. This small clinical trial suggests that long-term consumption of honey might have positive effects on the metabolic derangements of type 1 DM. [2]

Though not mentioning weight per se, they did show some reduction in subcutaneous fat.

Another study, however, found no effect on BMI studying 80 obese subjects fed 40 g of honey daily over 4 weeks though it appeared to improve their lipid profiles. [6]

How honey might have favourable effects on metabolism is unclear. It is mainly comprised of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. Fructose has lately been implicated in the metabolic syndrome due to the addition of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener to food. Yet, there are studies to suggest it can lower cholesterol when exchanged for carbohydrate in type 2 diabetes as concluded in this meta-analysis:

Pooled analyses demonstrated conditional triglyceride-raising and total cholesterol-lowering effects of isocaloric fructose exchange for carbohydrate in type 2 diabetes. Recommendations and large-scale future trials need to address the heterogeneity in the data. [3]

Fructose has also been shown to aid weight loss in this 6 week Mexican study

Patients were randomized to receive 1500, 1800, or 2000 cal diets according to sex, age, and height. Because natural fructose might be differently absorbed compared with fructose from added sugars, we randomized obese subjects to either a low-fructose diet (<20 g/d) or a moderate-fructose diet with natural fruit supplements (50-70 g/d) and compared the effects of both diets on the primary outcome of weight loss in a 6-week follow-up period. [4[

when they found:

Weight loss was higher in the moderate natural fructose group (4.19 ± 0.30 kg) than the low-fructose group (2.83 ± 0.29 kg) (P = .0016).

Fructose has a different metabolic pathway from glucose

metabolic pathways for fructose

and previously was thought to be stored mainly in the liver. Isotopic metabolic studies show a different picture with only a little amount being stored as glycogen or turned into fat.

frucose effects

Metabolic fate of dietary fructose carbons. The data are obtained within study periods less than or equal to 6 hours. After 50–150 gm fructose ingestion, the peak of fructose concentration in plasma would be between 3–11 mg/dL. The percent data above arrow lines or under box are the estimated amounts of ingested fructose doses via the pathway, and the question mark represents that the data remain to be further confirmed. The dash-line represents presumably minor pathways.

Since the bulk of the fructose is converted to glucose or lactate, it is thus available directly as an energy source ( muscle can use lactate ).

Fructose in food such as honey may be quite a different beast from fructose as a food sweetener, but its role in weight loss is yet to be defined though data suggests it may be beneficial to lipid profiles, and does not in the amounts taken increase body weight.


[1] Erejuwa OO, Sulaiman SA, Wahab MS, [..], Gurtu S. Glibenclamide or metformin combined with honey improves glycemic control in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Int. J. Biol. Sci. 2011 Mar 14;7(2):244-52. PubMed PMID: 21448302.

[2] Abdulrhman MM, El-Hefnawy MH, Aly RH, [..], Mohamed WS. Metabolic effects of honey in type 1 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover pilot study. J Med Food. 2013 Jan;16(1):66-72. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.0108. PubMed PMID: 23256446.

[3] Sievenpiper JL, Carleton AJ, Chatha S, [..], Jenkins DJ. Heterogeneous effects of fructose on blood lipids in individuals with type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental trials in humans. Diabetes Care. 2009 Oct;32(10):1930-7. doi: 10.2337/dc09-0619. PubMed PMID: 19592634.

[4] Madero M, Arriaga JC, Jalal D, [..], Lozada LG. The effect of two energy-restricted diets, a low-fructose diet versus a moderate natural fructose diet, on weight loss and metabolic syndrome parameters: a randomized controlled trial. Metab. Clin. Exp. 2011 Nov;60(11):1551-9. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2011.04.001. PubMed PMID: 21621801.

[5] Sun SZ, Empie MW. Fructose metabolism in humans - what isotopic tracer studies tell us. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Oct 2;9(1):89. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-89. PubMed PMID: 23031075. Full text

[6] Mushtaq, Rehana; Mushtaq, Rubina; Khan, Zahida Tasawar Effects of Natural Honey on Lipid Profile and Body Weight in Normal Weight and Obese Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial Pakistan Journal of Zoology;2011, Vol. 43 Issue 1, p161

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I wrote this answer while drinking a lemon and honey drink! –  HappySpoon Jun 28 at 11:50

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