Side Effects of the Master Cleanse

First published by Stanley Burroughs more than 50 years ago as a toxin-reducing and body-flushing program, the pamphlet "The Master Cleanser" has morphed into a protocol used by superstars and others seeking to demonstrate their dieting grit. The diet involves consuming nothing but a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water, along with laxative tea and saltwater, for 10 days. You end up taking in just 650 calories per day, so quick weight loss is inevitable -- but so are certain other unwanted side effects.

A glass of a Master Cleanse concoxion.
Credit: AuthenticCreations/iStock/Getty Images

Fleeting Weight Loss

If you stick to the Master Cleanse for the prescribed 10 days, you're likely to lose weight due to the calorie restriction. Most of that weight, though, is water weight, which will return once you go back to eating a normal diet. Any solid weight you do lose will be disproportionately made up of lean muscle mass, which is valuable, calorie-burning tissue. Burroughs never intended the regimen as a weight-loss diet and even acknowledged that you'd gain weight back after following the regimen.

Stress on the Mind

Calorie deprivation and hunger often cause crankiness, irritability and fatigue. You may not have energy to exercise or take on stressful tasks at work. Noted food writer Jeffrey Steingarten reported an inability to focus as a result of his attempt to follow the Master Cleanse. You may become obsessed with the idea of food and, once you finish the cleanse, binge on everything you can find -- which undoes any of the cleanse's purported benefits.

Physical Discomfort

The laxative tea called for by the Master Cleanse, combined with the diuretic effects of saltwater and lemon juice, causes you to visit the bathroom more often than usual. The laxatives may also lead to dehydration, which, combined with a lack of food, can cause headaches. Following the Master Cleanse for too long, or if you're pregnant, breast-feeding, a growing child or teen, a senior or suffering from a chronic condition, could lead to diminished immunity and cardiac problems due to malnutrition.

Reported Positives

Fans of the Master Cleanse celebrate its positive side effects, such as feeling lighter, improved skin tone and, for some, a clearer mind. These can't be directly linked to the lemonade, though. Reducing food intake makes you feel less bloated, cutting out processed foods and increasing water intake could help your complexion and eliminating caffeine and alcohol reduces brain fog. You can achieve these same positive side effects by following a safer, more healthy detox regimen that involves consuming lots of raw leafy greens, lean proteins and whole grains.

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