Your heart races as the waves of panic begin to wash over you. Even though you know it’s irrational, you can’t control the distress yourself. As you reach for the Xanax, however, you can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a more natural solution that doesn’t rely on a trip to the pharmacy. And, apparently, there is. According to science, the answer to calming your worries may even be in your fridge right now.
If that scenario sounds familiar, though, then you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), just over 18 percent of adults in the U.S. – or around 40 million people – are afflicted by anxiety disorders every year. And for some, the related symptoms are so intense that they’re even admitted into hospital.
Those who have experienced panic attacks will know just how frightening they are – not least because the effects mimic those of heart attacks on occasion. But, of course, there are ways to treat these periods of extreme anxiety – or, indeed, stop them from arising in the first place.
For example, in the U.S. doctors commonly prescribe alprazolam – widely known by its brand name Xanax – for anxiety disorders. This drug soothes panic attacks that may be brought on by worry, phobias and stress, and it’s also a hugely popular solution for milder or chronic bouts of anxiety.
But what is Xanax, and how does it work? Well, alprazolam actually belongs to a group of tranquilizers and sedatives called benzodiazepines that make you feel more relaxed. Benzodiazepines interact with chemicals in your body called neurotransmitters, which are your brain’s way of sending messages around your system.
And each neurotransmitter interacts with others to create physical and psychological reactions – such as the fight-or-flight response. In layman’s terms, this phenomenon prepares your body for either confronting or escaping a situation by enhancing the functions you may need to do so.
In the face of potential danger, the heart’s blood vessels widen, and blood flow accelerates accordingly. This readies our body for immediate physical action, supplying extra oxygen to our muscles and brain to be burned as required. And regardless of whether you run from the threat or or attack it head-on, you need that extra energy.
Other parts of your circulatory system also react in readiness as part of the reflex. Veins and arteries serving muscles widen, while those in parts of your system less crucial in such situations, such as the stomach, contract. In addition, the fight-or-flight response pushes blood to the parts that are most needed for quick reactions: the muscles and brain.
Your bronchi – the airways linking your lungs to your windpipe – dilate, too. Not only does this flood your bloodstream with extra oxygen, but it also accelerates your inhalation and exhalation rate. This prepares you for a prompt reaction to an assault or assists your escape from danger.
And as the fight-or-flight response provides your body with more energy, your liver plays a part. When the organ receives signals from your neurotransmitters, it dips into your glycogen store to transform it into glucose. Stepping up the production of glucose then gives your body more sugar and, as a result, a burst of energy.
The process even affects your skin, which isn’t surprising when you think about the related bodily changes. As skin isn’t considered essential to protection or escape from threats, blood is therefore pushed away from its surface to power other parts of your system. Such a step can make you appear paler as blood flushes around your body.
Lastly, your eyes adjust to the new situation by widening your pupils. This allows more light to enter your optic system, enhancing your vision and making your environment clearer. In that way, you can assess the world around you for escape routes or combat advantages. Yet all these fight-or-flight mechanics may already seem familiar.
Heart beating faster and your body sweating? Check. Your mind racing and skin turning pale? Check. Hyper-alert? Oh yes. They’re the same things you experience during a panic attack, as your brain’s responding to anxiety in the same way as it would during a fight-or-flight situation. One key difference, though, is how your mind interprets this information.
You see, fight-or-flight responses can also trigger psychological reactions. And when you start to experience these changes, it’s common to think of them as something else. You may believe you have reason to panic, for instance, or that these adjustments are a sign of a larger – and more serious – problem. Worse still, this anxiety may just go on to feed into a loop.
But the mind is a complicated thing, and there are many reasons why you may experience anxiety. Phobias – that is, intense fears – can trigger it, as can post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes worrying attacks even strike out of the blue – particularly if you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or a similar psychiatric diagnosis.
Yet while our bodies are responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response, they can reverse the process, too. For proof of this, you need look no further than gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical is an amino acid that your brain releases to combat stress and anxiety, and it can counterbalance some fight-or-flight-associated reactions.
The human brain contains proteins called GABA receptors, in fact, and these specifically respond to the acid. GABA’s presence also reduces the influx of neurotransmitters your brain receives, meaning your heart stops palpitating and your thinking process changes. And this partly explains how Xanax works, as the drug makes GABA’s effects more pronounced.
In essence, GABA helps stabilize your agitated emotions and brings you back to rationality. And, crucially, the acid also works to suppress your physiological fight-or-flight responses. Yes, the elevated oxygen levels and energy production are both reigned back in – calming you down as a result.
Still, Xanax comes with some caveats. Some long-term users become addicted, for instance. And as your body adapts to the drug, you may require an increasing amount for it to remain effective – which could run the risk of eventual overdose. So, while a natural alternative to Xanax would be ideal, such a thing doesn’t exist – or does it?
Well, according to health website Medical News Today, some foods may actually help reduce anxiety. For instance, both eggs and dark chocolate provide tryptophan, which produces the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Green tea similarly has calming properties owing to its high concentration of theanine – an amino acid that encourages communication between the brain and nerve impulses.
And recent studies suggest that there could be another food that may work even more effectively than Xanax on anxiety. The revelation comes from Japan, where a trio of researchers from different specialties collaborated with a common goal – and the fruits of their labor could spell good news for people living with chronic worry.
The team heading up the investigation included Tamaki Matsumoto from Shitennoji University’s Department of Health and Education and Osaka’s Ohgimachi Ladies Clinic researcher Hiroyuki Asakura. Cognitive and behavioral science expert Tatsuya Hayashi from Kyoto University was the final member involved in the analysis.
You may be asking why a group of people from such varied disciplines came together and for what purpose. Well, they were actually looking into the effects of fragrances on the human body – specifically, how they may combat stress. And the scientists had an interesting way of gauging the results of their work.
“This experiment measured salivary [Chromogranin (CgA)] and the Profile of Mood States [POMS],” the research paper explained. To break that down further, CgA is a protein our bodies produce. You can detect the substance in saliva, meaning it’s easy to collect from research volunteers. And, relevantly, CgA is sometimes associated with stress.
Indeed, past studies have indicated that when people are placed in troubling situations, their bodies produce more CgA. This provided a way in which the team could assess how a specific scent could help reduce stress. And you may be surprised to discover the identity of the aroma in question.
You see, Xanax’s natural competition is the humble citrus. The Japanese study initially focused on one specific type of fruit: the citrus junos sieb. ex tanaka, otherwise known as a yuzu. This ingredient, the research paper later explained, is a common ingredient in Eastern cooking.
“Yuzu fruit and its juice have been traditionally used for making vinegar and seasoning,” the team said. “The peel of the yuzu fruit is valued by chefs, who use it to enhance flavor and garnish dishes. The Japanese also use yuzu to make various sweets, including marmalade, jellies and cakes.”
But the researchers’ primary reason for studying yuzu was its potential to combat stress and anxiety. “According to food and nutritional science studies,” the paper continued, “[the] yuzu also possesses antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties and exhibits preventive effects on cognitive dysfunction.” Essentially, then, it could have a calming effect on elevated anxiety.
Mind you, other scientists had touched upon this theory before. “Because of its distinctive pleasing fragrance, producers of cosmetics and perfumes use yuzu essential oil in the manufacture of their products,” the paper elaborated. “Studies published in Japanese scientific journals suggest the soothing effects of the yuzu fragrance and its potential application to aromatherapy.”
That said, the research team had found no trace of any dedicated study into the fruit’s calming applications. They wrote, “An extensive literature search for the present study that used the PubMed database, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health… identified no available empirical human-subject research regarding the efficacy of yuzu fragrance for psychosomatic health.”
And as this seemed an untapped subject worth investigating, Matsumoto, Asakura and Hayashi decided to conduct their own analysis with the help of a voluntary control group. A pool of 20 young women applied for the experiment, which took place on two different occasions in what the paper called a “crossover study” for clearer results.
Firstly, the volunteers’ states of mind were assessed. This is usually done on the previously mentioned Profile of Mood States scale, or POMS, in the U.S., although the team used a localized equivalent. The experts then converted the scores they had received in accordance with the Total Mood Disturbance (TMD) scale.
After that, the researchers gave their volunteer group either a yuzu-infused scent or scentless water to inhale for a ten-minute period. This was followed by another look into the participants’ mental states – again using the same mood assessment scale. The group of scientists took samples of saliva to examine the levels of CgA present in each case.
So, what did the study conclude? Well, the paper explained, “The main findings reveal that salivary CgA, reflecting sympathetic nervous system activity, significantly decreased directly after ten-minute inhalation of aromatic yuzu oil.” And a lower level of CgA indicates that the treatment worked in reducing the volunteers’ stress levels – along with an additional residual benefit.
Amazingly, CgA levels continued to drop for up to half an hour after the initial scent test. All the volunteers admitted an improvement in their TMD scores, too. Of this last phenomenon, the paper reported, “The inhalation of the yuzu scent significantly decreased TMD on the POMS test as well as four subscores of emotional symptoms.”
What makes yuzu so effective at relieving stress and anxiety? That remains in question, but the researchers believe it’s partly down to the fruit’s concentration of γ-terpinene. This liquid encourages the human body to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which assists in our rational thinking and pleasure responses.
Limonene could be another reason for the yuzu’s calming nature, as citrus fruits contain varying levels of this oil – which affects the nervous system – in their peel. Indeed, studies have found that in higher concentrations such as those found in grapefruit, limonene can help speed up and promote alertness. Lower doses, on the other hand, aid in relaxation, as is the case with yuzu.
The study also mentioned that sweet oranges exude a calming scent, and likewise they possess relatively low levels of limonene. Yet while an experiment performed in a dentist waiting room indicated that an orange aroma was effective at relaxing female patients, men proved rather more resistant to its charms.
Further research is needed to explore this curious difference between the genders, of course. But considering the number of people out there experiencing stress and anxiety, it’s a topic worth investigating – especially when you consider how any results could completely change the quality of life of a sufferer.
So, if you live with anxiety and want to try something to ease your symptoms, pick up some yuzus, as the scent could help when you’re having a stressful time. Even if they don’t, the worst-case scenario is they give your home a fresh citrusy smell. And overall, it turns out that when life gives you lemons, it may be a good thing after all.
You can even dunk that sliced-up lemon in water. And while the scent of the citrus fruit may relax you as you sip, there are actually further benefits to drinking this concoction – especially if you’re downing multiple glasses of the stuff every day for a week.
If you usually reach for a cool soda or beer on a hot summer’s day, however, then you’re certainly not alone. But perhaps you should be switching your choice of beverage to lemon water – something that millions are thought to drink every day. Why? Well, although it’s an acquired taste, lemon water is becoming increasingly popular across the planet – and that’s perhaps because of the surprising impact it has on the body if you drink it for a week straight.
As its name suggests, lemon water is a very simple combination of just two basic and easily attainable ingredients, and making it is as easy as pie. Simply pour a glass of clean, safe-to-drink H2O – tap water in most developed countries is fine – and then carefully squeeze about half the juice from the yellow-colored fruit into the liquid.
And as well as being easy to make, the drink is also relatively cheap – particularly if you live in a warm enough climate to grow and maintain your own lemon tree. That’s likely at least part of the reason why it’s such a popular thirst-quencher in Asia. But the effects of the sour concoction may account for its increasing ubiquity, too.
Yes, as we previously mentioned, drinking lemon water can have quite the dramatic impact on the human body. And while some of these changes are more or less immediate, others are reported to take hold after only a week of consuming the beverage several times a day.
So, what exactly does lemon water do to us? And what happens if you go the distance and incorporate this drink into your life for at least seven days? Well, content marketing guru Bill Widmer has revealed some of the things you can expect if you choose to take on the lemon water challenge.
In a piece for the website Lifehack, Widmer picked out some problems that the juicy concoction is alleged to flush away. And, apparently, one of these issues is tiredness. The expert wrote, “If reaching for a cup of coffee every few hours is becoming your norm, you should really consider drinking lemon water for a week to cleanse your system.”
Widmer even suggests forgoing your joe altogether, adding, “While the first two days are going to be a little tough due to caffeine withdrawal, by the end of the week you should start feeling a lot better than you have in a while. Stop reaching for your coffee mug and start squeezing lemons to get more energy in your day.”
The second thing Widmer covered was getting sick. He noted, “If a runny nose and constant cough occur every other week for you, lemon water can help! The natural vitamin C in lemons will help your immune system fight off viruses and bacteria. Drinking more water will also help cleanse your system and remove bad toxins from your bloodstream.”
And according to the marketing specialist, lemon water may even help you stick to that diet. “Thanks to lemon acid and pectin, infusing your water with this fruit will help your stomach feel fuller for longer periods of time,” he explained. “Pectin is a natural chemical found in many [types of] produce, so feel free to combine lemon with some water to give your stomach a little more substance to digest. You can have lemon water before any meal to keep you from feeling overly hungry.”
Even if you’re eating in moderation, though, you may still experience tummy troubles. Fortunately, lemon water can help those, too – or so Widmer has claimed, anyway. He explained, “Drinking lemon water for a week can cleanse your system of toxins and other harmful bacteria, and [it] also has a similar molecular structure to your stomach’s digestive juices. Lemon water will trick your liver into creating bile, which helps move food throughout your digestive tract. This is why any indigestion, bloating or gas is alleviated with the consistent consumption of this drink.”
The next item on Widmer’s list was the bane of many a teenager’s life: acne. He revealed, “Lemon produces antioxidants [that help] prevent your skin from breaking out. Additionally, lemon helps your body produce collagen, which is known to smooth out wrinkles in the skin and promote skin elasticity. Drink lemon water for a week, and you’ll see some major changes in your face!”
And if you want to get in shape, lemon water may be the key. How? Well, Widmer has clarified this, too, writing, “The acidic nature of lemon juice combined with the juice’s negative[ly] charged ions give your body a boost in energy. This energy boost means your metabolism will kick into higher gear. In addition to [giving you] a faster metabolism, the pectin will keep you fuller for longer periods of time – again helping you kick those detrimental eating habits.”
Finally, Widmer argued that lemon water helped with psychological issues – including mood swings. He expounded, “Lemon consumption has been found to reduce stress levels and improve moods. If you drink lemon water for a week, your improved energy levels will combine with the natural stress relief properties of lemon juice and result in optimum and controlled mood levels.”
So, if you’ve previously been on the fence about lemon water, those many supposed benefits may just encourage you to make the leap. But we shouldn’t just take Widmer’s word for it, as other folks have been doing some investigating of their own into the effects of the fruity beverage.
Nicole Yi knows better than many about this, too, as she once consumed lemon water for seven days straight. And in 2018 Popsugar’s former associate editor for fitness penned a piece for the site revealing what exactly she had experienced during her week-long experiment.
Yi began her article by writing, “With perks [such as] digestion aid, weight loss and kidney-stone prevention, lemon water sounds like a miracle elixir. So, when I found out that the benefits of lemon water actually weren’t all hype, I knew I had to put it to the test myself.”
Yi continued, “For one whole week, I added half a lemon sliced – any less won’t yield enough vitamin C – to my water and drank it from morning till night, refilling as needed throughout the day.” And while the journalist “didn’t wake up each morning with glowing skin and a flat belly as [she had] expected,” she did notice one unanticipated benefit.
Specifically, Yi observed, “During the week of my experiment, I was surprised to see how much more water I was drinking each day. Most of the time, my problem with plain old water is that it’s too boring to drink. But lemon added enough flavor to make things interesting, encouraging me to reach for my infused glass more and more.”
Yi found that her H2O intake close to doubled, in fact, going from around 20 to 32 ounces per day over the length of the challenge. However, she went on, “This little experiment also came with an unexpected side effect: I began to feel slightly nauseous in the mornings when I drank the lemon water on an empty stomach.”
Yi continued in her Popsugar column, “I don’t typically eat breakfast — mostly due to force of habit, not because of intermittent fasting — and I refused to give up my cup of coffee for this experiment. That plus lemon water on an empty stomach until lunch was a recipe for stomach irritation. This might be due to the acidity of the coffee and the alkalizing effect of the lemon, but I can’t be sure. While it wasn’t enough to keep me from continuing, I’d definitely line my tummy with some food before trying this again.”
Summarizing her experiment, Yi concluded, “I don’t recommend drinking lemon water all day, every day for an extended period of time for the sake of preserving your teeth enamel. But if you’re seeking an easy way to reset healthy habits, try starting your morning off with a warm glass of lemon water to replenish your body and give yourself a boost of vitamin C. And if you’re just as bad as hydrating, it may be worth infusing your water with different fruits to see if it makes a difference like it did for me.”
Freelance writer Gianluca Russo similarly took on the lemon water challenge, drinking a glass of the stuff every morning for a week after rising out of bed. He also noted his newfound habit’s apparent effects in a 2019 article for the website Insider. And it seems that Russo had only positive things to report.
Russo explained how the regimen had improved his skin, writing, “First off, upon the completion of my one-week lemon water challenge, I noticed my skin was almost flawless, [with] no breakouts, no excess oils [and] no new blemishes. I also found that, to the touch, my skin was much softer and appeared to be much brighter. Essentially, the lemon juice created a natural highlight on my face.”
Russo continued, “I also found that the lemon water helped with my breath. Having been cursed with bad breath, mornings have always been a particularly difficult time for me. However, I soon found that the lemon water improved this, [as] the fruit’s citric acid helps to break down and fight bacteria in the mouth.”
After the writer had completed his seven-day routine, though, his acne reportedly began to return – suggesting that maybe the lemon water had made a difference. Furthermore, he noted, “At the end of the week, I also found I was much less bloated. Lemons are a natural diuretic and help the body let go of any extra salt it’s hanging on to. In turn, this decreases bloating.”
And while Russo didn’t manage to spot any more immediately discernible health benefits, he did suggest that drinking water may have boosted his immune system, as he hadn’t felt ill during the experiment. Even so, he admitted, “I found each day that I became thirsty faster in the mornings. I also found that if I didn’t quench this thirst, a weird aftertaste was left in my mouth.”
But while such anecdotal evidence is all well and good, what do the experts say about the pros and cons of lemon water? Well, Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in England, meaning the subject is well in her wheelhouse. And she has given her thoughts on the matter in a piece written for BBC Good Food’s website.
Before analyzing the many claims that have been made about lemon water, however, Lewin outlined the basic facts about lemons themselves. She wrote, “Lemons and other citrus fruits are well known for their colorful pitted skins and tart, refreshing taste. Lemons contain citric acid and have a high vitamin C content.”
But consuming lemons for health reasons is not a new practice, as Lewin pointed out. She went on, “Lemons have been used for centuries and have been highly regarded in the past for treating scurvy – a now rare condition that can develop through lack of vitamin C. Vitamin C is often claimed to support the immune system; however, studies have been inconclusive.”
So, does getting a regular supply of vitamin C through lemon water prevent you from contracting a cold? Well, while Lewin cited a study that suggested this isn’t the case, this investigation nevertheless found that the vitamin “may shorten the duration of symptoms [as well as halve] the common cold risk in people exposed to short periods of extreme physical stress – for example, marathon runners.” Lewin added, “Lemons also contain protective antioxidants called flavonoids.”
The nutritionist also took a look at the supposed benefits of lemon water that have been touted by writers such as Widmer. “Headlines have linked drinking lemon water to many other health claims, including weight loss, improved digestion, ‘alkalizing’ effects on the body, improved skin and detoxification,” she wrote. However, Lewin went on, “The research, especially human studies, to support these health claims is minimal.”
It’s not all bad news for those convinced of lemon water’s advantages for health, though. As Lewin attested, “Some evidence has linked vitamin C and flavonoids to improvements in skin. Vitamin C is known to help the body produce collagen, which contributes to the integrity of skin.”
And although it contains naturally occurring sugars from the fruit, lemon water is viewed by Lewin as a good bet for quenching both thirst and hunger. She wrote, “It’s possible to mistake thirst for hunger, so if you have been advised to lose weight, try having a glass of lemon water first when you feel hungry to see if you’re really just thirsty. If you usually opt for fizzy or sugary drinks, lemon water would be a lower-calorie and lower-sugar alternative.”
Naturally, then, as lemon water is predominantly made up of H2O, it is also excellent for hydration. Lewin stated, “Dehydration is common and can present with headaches, dizziness and tiredness. It’s important to make sure that you consume enough fluid while exercising or in hot weather. The [British National Health Service] advises drinking six to eight glasses of fluid – ideally water – a day.”
Lewin additionally acknowledged the assertions that the beverage can assist with stomach issues, writing, “Some people find drinking a glass of lemon water, particularly first thing in the morning, aids digestion.” Yet she stopped short of suggesting that the drink was a miracle cure, saying instead that any positive findings to this end were “mainly subjective, and reports are anecdotal.”
Furthermore, Lewin questioned the legitimacy of the claims that lemon water should be consumed immediately upon rising. She opined, “The effects of lemon water will not change regardless of whether you drink it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you like the taste of lemon water, it could be a good choice for first thing in the morning, as we often wake up a little dehydrated – especially if you’ve had alcohol or salty food the night before.”
And the nutrition expert denied that lemon water assists in the detoxifying process. She revealed, “There is currently no evidence to suggest that lemon water has an alkalizing or detoxing effect on the body. The liver is responsible for eliminating toxins from everything we eat, drink and are exposed to in our environment, so no amount of lemon water is going to ‘detox’ our bodies. There is also no truth to the claims that lemon water balances pH levels.”
A number of these findings were backed up by Joe Leech, who in a May 2020 article for Medical News Today similarly questioned the veracity of some of the claims made about lemon water. Leech hinted, however, that the flavonoids in the fruit could potentially reduce inflammation, while lemon’s citrate may heal or prevent kidney stones.
Yet the writer was largely skeptical about some of the perceived benefits to consuming the drink, writing, “There are many other health claims surrounding lemon water, but most do not have any scientific evidence to support them.” He also refuted suggestions that lemon water could aid substantial weight loss, effectively alkalize the body, help fight cancer or, perhaps most bizarrely, raise IQ.
So, we’ve covered the potential positives to sipping lemon water, but are there any drawbacks we should know about? Well, perhaps just one. In her article for BBC Good Food, Lewin highlighted the consequences that long-term lemon water drinking could have on our teeth, explaining, “Fruit juices and acidic liquids can impact the enamel of teeth, so it is best to dilute concentrated lemon juice with water or drink through a straw.” Altogether, then, while lemon water is not quite the magic potion many would have us believe, it is a perfectly healthy and refreshing thirst-quencher that can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet.