The Real Deal on the Master Cleanse Diet

by Patrika Tsai Patient Expert

The Master Cleanse Diet, also known as the Lemonade Diet, is a liquid diet of water, lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. In other words, you are only allowed to drink lemonade about 6-12 times a day, a glass of salt water, and an herbal laxative tea once or twice a day. The diet was promoted by Stanley Burroughs in his book The Master Cleanser in 1976. It was intended to treat ulcers and detoxify the body rather than lose weight. It has become popular again with Peter Glickman's book Lose Weight, Have More Energy, and Be Happier in 10 Days published in 2004.

Will this diet really detoxify the body? One of the main arguments for using this diet is that the lemon or lime juice will help cleanse the body. The truth is, the stomach acid that your body produces is 10 times stronger than lemon or lime juice, meaning that lemon or lime juice will do very little besides give you vitamin C. Maple syrup is the same as using sugar, and cayenne pepper adds some flavoring.

In reality, the body actually detoxifies itself. Food goes to your stomach where it is broken down by stomach acid. This liquid mixture moves into the small intestine where stomach acid is neutralized and nutrients are absorbed. Any remaining material passes into the large intestine or colon, where water is absorbed, forming solid stool. The body can store a large volume of stool in the large intestine, but these wastes are eliminated quickly ranging anywhere from once a day to once a week. Other wastes or toxins are naturally cleared from the body by the liver and the kidneys and are eliminated through urine.

So will you lose weight on this diet? The amount of calories in this diet is only 600-1200 calories per day or about 100 calories per glass. The recommended daily caloric intake for the average adult is 2000 calories. Essentially, this regimen is a fast which puts the body into a state of starvation. During starvation, fat is lost, but the body also breaks down muscle to provide enough fuel to vital organs such as the brain and heart and slows down how quickly it burns calories to conserve energy. Some weight may be lost, but it will be difficult to maintain.

Is this diet safe? For the average healthy person, a day or two of fasting will probably not have any ill effects, but that does not mean that the diet is safe. The diet actually calls for about 10 days of fasting. In addition to being a very low calorie diet, this diet is nutritionally deficient in protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals. Also, using a laxative to help purge the body in an attempt to lose weight is characteristic of the eating disorder bulimia. This type of diet is often accompanied by weight loss and subsequent regain. Weight cycling stresses the body, in particular the cardiovascular system. There are definitely much safer and more sustainable ways to lose weight that do not incur long-term health risks.

I am a firm believer in natural approaches to health, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding toxins. However, popular diets or detox programs may not always be safe or appropriate for you. I recommend discussing diet plans with your physician, particularly if the diet calls for dramatic changes or if you have any medical conditions.

Patrika Tsai
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Patrika Tsai

Patrika wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Fitness & Exercise and Food & Nutrition.