Every time I go to Grand Rapids, Michigan I stop in at Malamiah Juice Bar to catch a healthy buzz from what many juice bars call a ‘health shot’. Recently, I ordered up a round for a few friends. I watched their facial expressions as sensory overload hit their taste buds. Raw lemon, garlic and ginger juice, honey and cayenne pepper in a double shot glass is sure to wake you up. We all agreed that we felt a perky and energized almost immediately.
Many juice bars claim that these health shots can detox the body, boost immunity and lead to mental clarity. But I always have to wonder, is the hype all in my mind or do these proposed health shots really boost immunity and mood? Let’s look at the science:
The tartness that makes you pucker when eating certain foods is due to its acidity. In lemons, it is ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, which provides the low pH. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant that increases iron absorption, improves our immunity and stimulates the production of collagen and other tissues.
Raw lemon juice, as used in these health shots, will provide about 12% of your vitamin C intake in just 2 tablespoons. That’s about 20 times as much vitamin C as found bottled lemon juice. Pasteurized lemon juice is heated to high temps to destroy microbes. Unfortunately, this heat destroys a lot of vitamin C too.
The acidity of lemons has also been shown to boost digestion and get the GI tract moving. Sour and bitter flavors causes mouth watering, thus increasing oral enzyme activity. This also stimulates production of stomach acids and enzymes too. A chain reaction from these biological processes results in peristalsis, or movement along the GI tract.
Lemon contains phyto-chemicals, hesperetin and diosmin, which have been shown to lower cholesterol. This is pretty amazing considering not everyone responds to pharmaceutical approaches, such as the use of statins. Furthermore, lemon extracts have been shown to reduce obesity and cancer risk. In many studies, researchers have focused on lemon extract, not the raw juice. This means not all claims can be applied to lemon juice, the ingredient used in most drinks, juices and health shots.
Bottom line, the lemon used in these fun little health shots boosts immunity and promote digestion. However, you are unlikely to reap the rewards that long term use that citrus and lemon extracts provide.
Hot peppers, like cayenne contain a chemical called capsaicin. This chemical tricks your body into thinking it is being burned. The mind responds by naturally releasing endorphins, our body’s natural form of morphine. This is the same chemical that give athletes that runner’s high and reduces pain. Capsaisin is extracted and placed in tablets or pills to be used orally. It is also used in creams or patches and applied directly to the skin. Both applications produce beneficial results.
Preliminary research suggest that consuming capsaicin orally, in the form of cayenne pepper, can reduce functional dyspepsia, ulcers and joint pain. Additionally, a combination of oral capsaicin, black pepper, ginger and garlic has a small effect on weight loss compared to a placebo.
In short, research is promising, yet limited on cayenne’s effects on weight loss. However, it does release endorphins, which can boost mood and reduce the sensation of pain. The effects of this ingredient were certainly felt after taking this health shot- a natural endorphin rush to the brain.
A strong anti-inflammatory ingredient, ginger has been shown to reduce joint and muscle pain, migraines, nausea and vomiting. One study found that 2 grams of raw ginger reduced exercise induced muscle pain by up to 25%. The same study also found that cooked ginger reduced muscle pain by about 23%. This is great news because most people prefer to eat this powerful herb cooked, rather than raw. Research shows there are benefits in consuming ginger either way.
Furthermore, rodent studies have concluded that ginger supplements are associated with improved symptoms of depression and anxiety. As optimistic as these results may be, rigorous human trials will be needed for me to justify any mental health claims for humans. Promising none-the-less!
Overall, ginger consumption reduces pain and improves digestion. But it is not ingredient responsible for improving mood!
This spice has anti-microbial effects, mainly due to a compound called allicin. This chemical is destroyed during cooking so consuming raw garlic is best.
Garlic also has the potential to improve liver and cardiovascular health and inhibit tumor growth. The studies on garlic are fascinating because most of them can be applied to everyday uses of garlic. For example, men in China who consume about 1 clove of garlic per day had a 50% decreased risk of developing prostate cancer. Additionally, consuming 300 mg of garlic powder daily reduces the progression of atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing of arteries due to palque build up and loss of elasticity.
I am amazed at the bounty of scientific literature supporting the health claims related to garlic consumption. Even if you don’t want to eat it raw in a health shot from a juice bar, I recommend adding this ingredient to you home cooked meals.
A popular belief about raw, local honey is that it eases seasonal allergies. Though some studies confirm this, overall results are conflicting. However, honey does reduce coughing and inflammation in the oral cavity. In fact, honey eases these symptoms as effectively, if not better, than over-the-counter cough suppressants.
Other scientifically validated benefits of honey relate to its ability to heal wounds and burns on the skin. However, this does not relate to consuming honey orally. The main benefit of honey in these health shots are to offset the tartness of the lemons.
So, for less than a shot at the bar, science says these elixirs are sure to boost your immunity, brighten your mood and stimulate digestion.
As a registered dietitian, this product gets a PASS for consumers!