Anti-Cancer Recipe: Lemons, Limes, Limonene

anti cancer limonene

Note: One of the pitfalls of a plant-based diet is that some foods can soften the enamel on teeth. The acid in citrus can definitely do that,  As a reader suggests, the solution is to rinse your mouth with water. And wait an hour or so before brushing. You don’t want to brush enamel that’s been softened. 

D-limonene, to be precise. Put it in your anti-cancer vocabulary.  It’s a member of a very fragrant class of molecules that abound in citrus–terpenoids or terpenes. And they’ve been shown to inhibit cancer cell progression and induce cell death. 

Think lemons, limes, oranges—especially the peel.  In fact, the highest content of limonene is found in the white spongy inner parts. Steep them in water, sip as tea,  munch on the softened rinds (but not too much or it will do a number on your teeth.)

“This is so refreshing,” says food blogger Holly Botner, downing my homemade “limonade” –lemon juice plus rinds of lemons, limes and oranges soaked in cold water for a few minutes. No sweeteners.  

And it’s not just the limonene at work here. Another terpene called perillyl alcohol, derived from citrus peel (and from lavender and mint and lemongrass and more), has also demonstrated anti-cancer properties in some studies.

The research on these aromatic molecules has been done in several types of cancer cells –including liver, gastric, colon and lymphoma. Structurally some terpenes are similar to human hormones, and some research has shown them effective against breast and prostate cancer cells as well. 

How do they work? The mechanisms are many, including stimulating production of enzymes that help the liver detox carcinogens and causing cancer cells to differentiate into a more benign version.

So far, most of the work has been done in the petri dish and lab animals, but promising results have some scientists calling for research and use in humans.    “The efficacy of these terpenoids against breast or prostate cancer cells, as demonstrated in pre-clinical studies, supports clinical application of these naturally occurring terpenoids in treatment of hormone-related human cancers.”  

Naturally, not all the results have been positive and as with most anti-cancer foods, more studies are needed before science can declare them proven to help– or not, but with so much encouraging evidence, what’s the harm in swigging a bit of citrus water all day long? Just make sure the citrus is organic.  

8 thoughts on “Anti-Cancer Recipe: Lemons, Limes, Limonene

  1. You mention not to munch on citrus rind too much or \”it will do a number on your teeth \”. But what about sipping citrus water all day….might this also do a number on your teeth?


    • Bathing one’s teeth in acid, whether it is sugar, sugar substitute, or citrus water weakens the enamel, and is ill advised. It would better to drink full glasses followed by some plain water to neutralize the mouth’s ph, especially before biting into anything, or brushing one’s teeth.


  2. Pingback: When Life Hands You Lemons, Detox. « Happy Little Surprises

    • Thanks, Joe, for your comments. I have read that d-limonene is in the pith as well as the peel but that it’s more difficult to extract from the pith than peel in science experiments. I will double check my sources and get back to you.

      I’ve also read that it’s highest in fruits at the end of the growth phase when fruits are still green, before they’ve ripened (See
      That would make a green lime a better choice than a more yellow lime, which is riper.

      As I suggest in that recipe, soften the rinds by throwing them into the citrus water, then munch on them (but don’t overdo it.)

      Thanks, again.


  3. Try using a straw to drink any liquid that has lemon in it if you are concerned about damage to the teeth enamel.
    Adding a carrot to the juicing improves the flavor and is very good.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s