What does the Master Cleanse do?

The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, is a liquid-only fasting and detoxification diet that has been around since the 1940s. Created by Stanley Burroughs, the Master Cleanse involves drinking 6-12 glasses per day of a lemonade-like concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water for a period of 10 days to 2 weeks.

Proponents of the Master Cleanse claim that it can help remove toxins from the body, aid in weight loss, and act as a form of gastrointestinal tract cleansing. However, there are some risks associated with undergoing a liquid-only fast, so it’s important to understand what the Master Cleanse does and doesn’t do before trying it. This article will examine the purported benefits and drawbacks of the Master Cleanse diet.

What Happens During the Master Cleanse?

The Master Cleanse is broken down into three phases:


For at least two days before starting the Master Cleanse, you slowly wean yourself off solid foods and transition to drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade made with lemons, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. The ease-in phase gently prepares the body for the liquid diet to follow.

Lemonade Diet

For 10-14 days, you consume 6-12 glasses daily of the lemonade mixture. No solid foods are allowed during this time, only the spicy lemonade drink and water. A laxative tea is consumed at night, and a saltwater flush can be done each morning to stimulate bowel movements.


Once the lemonade diet phase is over, solid foods are gradually reintroduced over a few days. The ease-out phase allows the digestive system to readjust to eating solid foods again.

Purported Benefits of the Master Cleanse

Proponents make some lofty claims about what the Master Cleanse can do for your health and body. But what does the science say about the potential benefits?

Weight Loss

By consuming only the lemonade drink for 10-14 days, a significant amount of weight loss can occur. However, almost all of this weight loss is water weight and lean tissue rather than fat.

Type of Weight Loss on Master Cleanse Amount Lost
Water weight 5-10 lbs
Lean tissue (muscle) 2-5 lbs
Fat Negligible

As you can see, very little fat is actually lost on the Master Cleanse. Furthermore, fluid and muscle loss can be dangerous. Losing weight in this manner is neither sustainable nor healthy.

Body Detoxification

Done properly, a liquid fast like the Master Cleanse can help remove some toxins from the body. The lemon juice is a diuretic that makes you urinate frequently to flush out toxins and sodium. The laxative tea stimulates bowel movements to cleanse the colon.

However, the body already has its own highly-efficient detoxification systems in the liver, kidneys, and GI tract. There is limited evidence that the Master Cleanse provides any meaningful boost to the body’s own detox abilities.

GI Tract Rest

The digestive system does get a chance to rest and reset during the liquid-only phase of the Master Cleanse. For those with gastrointestinal issues, a short cleanse can sometimes provide relief.

However, for healthy people, there is no evidence of benefits, and the extreme calorie deficit can actually cause GI problems like nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating.

Potential Dangers of the Master Cleanse

While the Master Cleanse may have some benefits, it also carries significant health risks:

Nutrient Deficiencies

The Master Cleanse provides almost zero protein, fat, vitamins or minerals. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies if done more than a few days.

Nutrient Symptoms of Deficiency
Protein Muscle wasting, weakness, headaches
Fat Hormonal issues, poor mental health
Vitamin B12 Fatigue, neurological problems
Iron Anemia, immune dysfunction
Calcium Bone loss, muscle cramps

Nutrient deficiencies can develop rapidly when fasting. This table shows some of the deficiencies that can occur on the Master Cleanse and their associated symptoms.

Muscle Loss

The combination of fasting and low protein intake causes substantial muscle breakdown during the Master Cleanse diet. Losing muscle can slow the metabolism, increase weakness, and make simple daily tasks more difficult.


Despite drinking large volumes of liquid, dehydration commonly occurs on the Master Cleanse due to the diuretic effect of the lemon juice. Headaches, dizziness, fatigue, constipation, and kidney problems can result.

Blood Sugar Crashes

Due to the total lack of protein, fat or complex carbs, blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly on the Master Cleanse. Both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) may happen. This can lead to energy crashes, mood swings, and sugar cravings.

Gallbladder Problems

The high volume of lemon juice consumed on the Master Cleanse may irritate the gallbladder and lead to gallstones in some people. Those with a history of gallstones should not do the Master Cleanse.


The Master Cleanse has never been proven as an effective way to detox, cleanse the body or lose fat. Any weight loss is primarily from fluids and muscle, not fat.

In healthy people, the Master Cleanse is unlikely to have any real benefits, and poses threats from dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, muscle wasting and blood sugar dysregulation. It may even harm the gallbladder.

Prolonged fasting or liquid diets should only be done under medical supervision. For safe, sustainable weight loss and detoxification, you are better off eating a diet focused on lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds while limiting processed foods. If detoxification is the goal, increase your intake of fiber, probiotics and water. See a doctor before attempting drastic diets like the Master Cleanse.

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