Side Effects of the Cayenne Pepper, Lemon Juice and Maple Syrup Diet

Red chili peppers on an old wooden background
Cayenne peppers (Image: malija/iStock/Getty Images)

Several versions of detox diets featuring cayenne pepper have become popular. They promise to flush the body of toxins and deliver fast weight loss. But crash diets can bring unwanted health consequences. Before embarking on any drastic changes in your diet, you should always consult your doctor.

The Ingredients

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The concoction of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup is promoted under several names, including "master cleanse" and the "lemonade diet." Cayenne pepper has a role in speeding up the metabolism. According to molecular biologist Helen Kollias, the capsaicin, a chemical in cayenne peppers stimulates the hormones that cause a fight-or-flight response. This speeds up your heart rate and breathing, making you burn more calories. The lemon juice is a stool softener and is absorbed easily by the bloodstream. The maple syrup makes the drink more palatable and supplies the few calories you’ll get on this diet. Some versions of this diet also allow you to drink a laxative tea.

Lack of Nutritional Value

Cayenne-flavored lemonade provides little nutritional value. According to Susan Moores, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson, this is a dangerous diet. Moores estimates that people on the master cleanse consume about 600 calories a day. She warns that dieters will be bored, irritable, have trouble concentrating and may get headaches. While she admits there might be some small amount of nutrition in the lemon juice, the complete lack of protein and fiber are a serious concern. The body may go into starvation mode, slowing its metabolism to conserve the few calories you’re putting in.

Questionable for Detoxing

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David Dahlman, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based chiropractic physician with a nutrition degree, says not only is this diet dangerous, but it fails to detox the body. The detoxification system works by nutrients combining with toxins, being processed by the liver and then excreted. According to Dahlman, the cayenne pepper diet doesn’t provide the necessary nutrients for the liver to do its job, and it will deplete your reserves within 48 hours. Thus, detoxification stops. Dahlman is a proponent of brief, well-planned detox diets, but says more nutrients are necessary to maintain liver function.

Post-Diet Weight Gain

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When you lose weight quickly by following extreme diets, the weight often piles back on as soon as you return to regular meals. Often the old pounds come back, and bring a few new ones along. Muscle is frequently lost in crash diets. When the weight comes back, that muscle will be replaced by fat, making the body composition even fattier. This is especially true if your body has gone into a self-protective starvation mode. While dieters yearn for a quick solution, there’s nothing to replace the slow, steady habits of portion control and regular exercise.

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