What is the Master Cleanse? Does It Work for Weight Loss?

If you’ve been reading into diet programs, you’ve probably come across what we call the Master Cleanse diet. The name itself probably got you thinking what it is, what it does, and whether you should give it a go or not. You might also be wondering if there’s an advantage to doing it diet against other popular diets like low-carb, paleo, and keto. Read on to know more. 

What is the Master Cleanse Diet? 

Also known as the lemonade diet, this is a short-term liquid diet that is popular with people who want to lose weight quickly or reset their habits toward healthier eating. Those who go on the diet drink a lemon beverage and saltwater for at least 10 days to slim down. Like most liquid fasts, the program is not supported by the mainstream medical or nutrition community.

It was developed by self-taught alternative health practitioner Stanley Burroughs in the 1940s, this cleanse was originally called the Master Cleanser. This was also the name of his 1967 book, but is commonly referred to as a Master Cleanse as well.

According to the book, a cleansing diet is a necessary part of the treatment for any health ailment. The Master Cleanse was primarily used by people who wanted to detoxify their bodies of chemicals and toxins. Its popularity for weight loss has grown by word of mouth and Internet testimonials. Multiple celebrities have used the diet, including singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles and Robin Quivers. 

The central feature of this program is the Master Cleanse lemonade made with water, fresh lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and pure, organic maple syrup. According to the book, lemons and maple syrup are used because they are readily available and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Lemons are also considered a cleansing, healing food in alternative medicine (1). While lemon juice and maple syrup do contain some vitamins and minerals, many other foods have the same amount or more of vitamins and minerals.

For example, one of the touted benefits of the lemons is potassium, however one banana contains about the same amount of potassium as all of the lemon juice consumed each day on the Master Cleanse (2). Also, maple syrup is high in sugar.

This drink, which is the only calorie-containing item allowed, is consumed six to 12 times a day for 10 days. You’ll also sip on a saltwater flush in the morning and laxative tea before bed. Laxative teas vary by ingredients, but some include senna leaf, which has the potential to help shed excess water.

Does It Work?

The health claims range from detoxing and cleansing your system of impurities to curing certain health conditions and rapid weight loss, but cleansing your body isn’t really necessary. Our bodies have a natural detox process and doing a healthy detox is about supporting that natural process and reducing external stressors.

The Master Cleanse is a restrictive diet that eliminates food and key nutrients. Any program that eliminates food is bound to cause some temporary weight loss. Since the Master Cleanse is a modified fast, the weight loss is primarily a result of consuming very few calories over several days. However, this rapid change in weight is not so sustainable, as all the weight lost is essentially water weight.

That said, there are some reported benefits to fasting. A 2019 study looked at a Buchinger periodic fasting program, a fasting diet of only fruit and vegetable juices, as well as tea and mineral water with fasting periods between four and 21 days. While this diet is a little different than the Master Cleanse, both programs allow you to reach a fasted state. Researchers found in this study that after the one-year observational period, periodic fasting led to weight loss and improvements in several cardiovascular risk factors in more than 1,400 subjects (3).

Additionally, the use of lemons during fasting protocols has been shown to improve weight loss, due to their vitamin C content. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine states that low levels of vitamin C are associated with increased BMI and central fat distribution. On the other hand, increased vitamin C intake is associated with higher HDL levels, the good cholesterol. The study found that drinking a beverage of lemon water and honey during a four-day fast led to an average weight loss of 4.8 pounds (4).

Although studies and research about the benefits of various fasting protocols exist, there are no studies to support the specific claims made by the Master Cleanse and other similar diets and its ability to remove harmful toxins from the body or improve overall health (5).

A Complete Guide to the Master Cleanse Diet

Preparing for the Master Cleanse

“Easing in” to the master cleanse gives your body a chance to prepare for the fast. Most experts suggest a period of four to five days before you begin the actual lemonade diet. The following suggestions are intended to “ease” your body into the fast.

Day 1: Eliminate Unhealthy Foods

On the first day of easing in, begin to develop more awareness about the foods you choose and notice which are fresh and raw. Begin to focus on these types of food and eliminate all processed foods, meat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Choose organic whole foods.

Day 2: Fruits and Vegetables

On Day 2, completely eliminate all processed foods, meat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and processed sugars from your meals. Instead, opt for fresh, organic fruits and fresh, organic vegetables. Eat as much of your food raw as possible. Continue reading The Master Cleanser.

Day 3: Liquids Only

Switch to a liquid diet to prepare your body and mind for the days ahead. If you have a juicer or blender, then make fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies and juices from organic produce. You can also make light vegetable soups and broths for this day.

Day 4: Orange Juice Only

In The Master Cleanser, author Stanley Burroughs cautions readers to break their fast with a day of consuming only orange juice. Use this same strategy for the last day of the easing period. Drink several glasses of fresh-squeezed, organic orange juice during the day. If you feel hungry, you can add a tablespoon or two of maple syrup to the juice.

Also, drink plenty of water. At night, in preparation for starting the lemonade diet, take the laxative tea.

Day 5: Start the Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet

Now your body is more prepared for the cleanse!

How to do the Master Cleanse? 

Following this daily regimen strictly for a minimum of 10 days will give the best results.

1. Start Every Morning with a Salt Water Flush

Experts emphasize that the master cleanse eliminates toxins from the body and suggest helping the body along with herbal elimination teas and salt-water cleansing.

How to do a salt water flush?

Add 2 level teaspoons of non-iodized sea salt to a full quart of lukewarm water. Drink the entire quart of salt and water first thing in the morning. This must be taken on an empty stomach!

Several eliminations will likely occur during the next hour. If elimination does not occur, increase the amount of salt slightly; if it is too forceful, reduce the salt-to-water ratio until the proper balance is found.

2. Drink 6 or More Glasses of the Master Cleanse Mixture Throughout the Day


  • 2 TBSP of Organic Lemon or Lime Juice
  • 2 TBSP Organic Maple Syrup
  • 1/10 TBSP Cayenne Pepper
  • 8 OZ Purified or Spring Water

If your goal is detoxification, follow the above recipe. If you are underweight and are worried about losing weight while detoxifying, increase the amount of syrup in the mixture.

If your goal is weight loss, previously, it was recommended to use less maple syrup, as little as 1 TBSP per 10 oz glass to maximize weight loss on the lemonade cleanse. However, using more maple syrup provides sustaining energy that allows many individuals to maintain the cleanse. Thus, one may be more likely to meet weight loss goals using the same lemonade recipe that is recommended for detoxification, including 2 TBSP of maple syrup per glass.

3. OPTIONAL: Drink An Occasional Cup of Organic Peppermint Tea

4. End Each Day with A Cup of A Senna-Based Tea

How to Ease Off the Master Cleanse Diet? 

When you break a fast like the Master Cleanse, it is very important to slowly ease yourself back into your normal diet in order to avoid serious digestive problems. In The Master Cleanser expert recommends the following regimen at the end of your fast:

Day 1: Orange Juice Only

Drink several 8oz glasses of fresh-squeezed organic orange juice as desired during the day. Drink it slowly.

The orange juice prepares the digestive system to properly digest and assimilate regular food. If there has been any digestive difficulty prior to and during the change over, extra water may be taken with the orange juice.

Day 2: Orange Juice and Vegetable Soup

Drink several 8-ounce glasses of fresh-squeezed organic orange juice during the day with extra water if needed. Some time during the afternoon, prepare an organic vegetable soup. Make enough for 2 meals. Have the soup for the evening meal using the broth mostly, although some of the vegetables may be eaten. Organic whole grain rye wafers may be eaten sparingly with the soup, but no bread or crackers. Store the remaining soup in the refrigerator.

Days 2 & 3: Vegetable Soup for Post-Cleanse

Use several kinds of organic vegetables including potato, celery, carrot, greens, onion, okra, tomato, squash, zucchini, and green peppers. Use one or two kinds of organic legumes such as beans, split peas, and lentils. Organic dehydrated vegetables or organic vegetable powder may be added for extra flavor. Organic brown rice may be added. Do not add any meat or meat stock. Use sea salt delicately as a limited amount of salt is necessary. The less cooking the better. Learn to enjoy the natural flavor of the vegetables.

Day 3: OJ, Soup, Veggies, Salad, and Fruit

Drink fresh-squeezed organic orange juice in the morning. At noon have some more of the organic vegetable soup.

For the evening meal have whatever is desired in the form of organic vegetables, salads or fruit only. Do not eat meat, fish, eggs, bread, pastries, caffeinated tea or coffee, alcohol, sugar or milk.

Day 4: Normal, Healthy Eating

Normal eating may be resumed. However, if, after eating is resumed, digestive distress or gas occurs, it is suggested that the lemonade diet be continued for several more days until the system is ready for food.

Are There Any Risks Involved? 

While you may shed a few pounds and feel less bloated after 10 days on the Master Cleanse, there are some health risks you should know about before you decide to take the plunge:

1. It Can Cause Several Side Effects

Experts say that an extremely low calorie diet can cause or exacerbate dizziness, shakiness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and lack of mental clarity. Not to mention, you may experience extreme hunger from the lack of sufficient calories.

2. It is Dangerous for People with Certain Health Conditions

People managing diabetes or those who have blood sugar regulation issues need to be especially careful with fasting-mimicking diets. Also, anyone with anemia, cancer, and other serious medical conditions needs to be very mindful when considering a low-calorie cleanse. Additionally, pregnant women or women that are breastfeeding should avoid the Master Cleanse.

The cleanse can also cause dehydration or electrolyte disturbances, due to the intense calorie restriction, as well as if you’re “purging” toxins without rebalancing them back. Remember, optimal health is truly all about balance.

3. It Triggers Disordered Eating Patterns

Anyone with a history of disordered eating or eating disorders should avoid this diet, especially since low-calorie diets, as well as laxative tea use, increase the risk for relapse. 

4. It May Cause Muscle Loss

For many people, losing weight is just part of the equation. Gaining or preserving lean muscle mass and feeling fit is equally important. Unfortunately, a program like the Master Cleanse, which requires very few calories and causes rapid weight loss, has the potential to work against that goal and, consequently, cause a loss in muscle mass (6).

5. It Is Hard to Sustain 

Experts point out that essentially, all weight lost is water weight. With severe calorie and carbohydrate restriction, sugar that is stored in the muscle is used for energy, and every molecule of stored sugar binds to three molecules of water, so the scale can drop dramatically in a short period, but that doesn’t indicate fat loss.

As soon as the diet is over and you go back to eating food, the weight has the potential to come right back on.

Exploring Other Options

Fortunately, not all cleanse diets are as extreme as the Master Cleanse. The Elimination Diet, for example, focuses on cutting out certain foods from your diet such as dairy, egg products, most red meats, peanuts, foods with gluten, citrus fruits, corn and corn-containing products, all processed foods, and caffeine while encouraging five small meals a day that include protein, unlimited vegetables, and one to two servings each of gluten-free grain and fruit.

Another type of cleanse diet, the three- to 10-day juice and soup fast, consists of a fruit smoothie blended and drunk through the morning and into the early afternoon. The rest of the day’s nutrition comes from any combination of cooked vegetables, no oil or salt, blended up into 1 to 2 cups of soup.

A sample smoothie recipe includes 3 romaine lettuce leaves, 2 stalks of celery, 1 cup of water, and 4 cups of a fruit of your choice. 

Juice fasting is an effective method of ridding your body of impurities. You’ll cleanse your digestive system and circulatory system and also give your liver, kidneys, pancreas, and digestive system a rest.

Key Takeaway

Although the book says anyone with an acute or chronic condition can use the Master Cleanse, most medical experts disagree. People with diabetes, cancer, anemia, intestinal obstruction, gallstones, or people who are underweight or who have a history of eating disorders are just some of the people for whom this diet isn’t appropriate.

If you’re considering using the diet to treat a health condition, make sure to consult your physician first. Self-treating a health condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.


(1) https://www.organicfacts.net/lemon-juice.html

(2) https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/341529/nutrients

(3) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0209353

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4910284/

(5) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25522674/

(6) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/57/2/127/4715228?redirectedFrom=fulltext



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