What Is the Master Cleanse?

master cleanse

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Master Cleanse, also called the Master Cleanser or the lemonade diet, is a short-term liquid fast that promises quick weight loss and claims to hit the "reset button" on healthier eating.

Developed by self-taught alternative health practitioner Stanley Burroughs in the 1940s, this cleanse was originally called the Master Cleanser, which was also the name of the book he published in 1976.

According to "The Master Cleanser" book, a cleansing diet is a necessary component for treating any health ailment. The Master Cleanse became wildly popular among those seeking to quickly lose weight and "detoxify" their bodies from chemicals and toxins in the process. However, while certain nutrients can help support the body's natural detoxifying methods, there is no scientific evidence to support detox diets as an effective long term strategy for weight management.

The cleanse involves drinking a lemon beverage with maple syrup and cayenne pepper for at least 10 days. In addition to the spicy lemonade drink, a saltwater solution and herbal laxative teas are part of the daily regimen. The Master Cleanse is really more of a fast than a diet.

What Experts Say

"Anything that uses the term 'cleanse' is likely not the healthiest choice. The Master Cleanse is a gimmicky diet, and while you’ll likely lose weight, a lot of it will be water weight and you’ll lose muscle, too. Plus, it’s just not enjoyable to eat this way and definitely should not be sustained."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The Master Cleanse is an all-liquid fast. The main focus of the diet is a homemade spicy lemonade drink that contains lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and a little cayenne pepper.

The diet is suggested for a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 40 days. According to the book, people can repeat the Master Cleanse three to four times a year.

What You Need to Know

"The Master Cleanser" explains that lemons are the central focus of the cleanse because they are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Lemons are also considered a cleansing, healing food in alternative medicine. While lemon juice and maple syrup do contain some vitamins and minerals, many other foods have the same amount (or more) and are considered part of a healthy, balanced diet.

For example, the book touts the benefits of lemons for their potassium. However, one banana contains about the same amount of potassium as all of the lemon juice consumed each day on the Master Cleanse. Also, maple syrup is a sweetener that contains about 24 grams of sugar per two-teaspoon serving, which is about half of the recommended daily intake.

Once the cleanse is over, a breaking fast protocol is recommended. On the first day after the cleanse, proponents suggest drinking orange juice. The second day involves more orange juice and possibly vegetable soup. On day three, vegetables, salads, and fruits are allowed. Normal eating is usually resumed on the fourth day.

What to Eat
  • Special-recipe "lemonade"

  • Saltwater

  • Senna-based herbal laxative tea

What Not to Eat
  • All other foods

The Master Cleanse recommends starting each day with a saltwater flush, then drinking 6 to 12 cups of the spicy lemonade mixture throughout the day, and ending the day by drinking a cup of a laxative, senna-based herbal tea.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Quick weight loss

Cons
  • Does not provide adequate nutrition

  • No food allowed

  • Weight-loss is not sustained

  • May cause gallstones

  • No scientific evidence to support detox claims

Like most fad diets, the Master Cleanse has a mix of positives and negatives. Since the diet consists only of drinking a specially blended lemonade and saltwater, it promises fast weight loss. According to "The Master Cleanser," weight loss of 2 pounds per day is typical.

However, since no other food is allowed on the plan, it will likely require a great deal of willpower to fight through hunger. It also doesn't allow a person to listen to their internal hunger cues and can even encourage disordered eating habits especially in those people that are at increased risk. And, while you may quickly lose weight, you might just as quickly gain it back once the fast ends and regular eating habits are resumed.

Six glasses of the spicy lemonade drink provide around 650 calories a day, resulting in a substantial, unsustainable, and unhealthy calorie deficit.

Is the Master Cleanse a Healthy Choice for You?

The 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines include recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet, which should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and nutritious oils.

As a short-term fast, the Master Cleanse can be an effective diet for quick weight loss. However, it is neither a sustainable weight loss solution nor does it promote a healthy eating lifestyle. The restrictive nature of this diet emphasizes deprivation instead of cultivating important skills such as healthy meal planning and preparation, which can lead to successful long-term weight loss.

The Master Cleanse does not adhere to USDA guidelines and it is therefore not considered a healthy eating plan.

Use the following tool to calculate how many calories you should consume each day to hit your weight loss goals.

Health Benefits

Like most liquid fasts, the Master Cleanse program is not supported by the mainstream medical or nutrition community.

The total daily caloric intake from the lemonade concoction is roughly equivalent to the juice of three to six lemons per day, which includes some essential nutrients. It also contains three fourth to one and a half cups of maple syrup per day, which, despite the high sugar content, offers some nutritional value.

Frequent bowel movements will likely result from this diet since they are believed to aid in the detoxification process. However, evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of natural detoxification therapies and the use of herbal laxatives is limited.

Health Risks

Most nutritionists and health professionals advise against prolonged fasting (more than several days), particularly as a way to lose weight, due to the possible health risks. One of the most common concerns is the lack of nutrients, protein, and calories in the diet. And a dangerous side effect of rapid weight loss is the formation of gallstones.

In addition, people on the Master Cleanse may experience lightheadedness, dizziness, and extreme hunger since they're not getting enough daily calories. Loose stools and diarrhea are likely to result from the herbal laxative and daily saltwater flush. Colonics and enemas should be avoided while on the Master Cleanse since they may pose certain health risks on their own.

A Word From Verywell

Although "The Master Cleanser" states that 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.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

Was this page helpful?
11 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Burroughs S. The Master Cleanser. Lulu Press, Inc.; 2014.

  2. Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: A critical review of the evidenceJ Hum Nutr Diet. 2015;28(6):675-686. doi:10.1111/jhn.12286

  3. Hedge R. Organic Facts. 15 Health Benefits of Lemon Juice, Back by Science. Updated July 3, 2020.

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Banana, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  6. Lemon, raw. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.

  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Maple Syrup. Updated April 1, 2019.

  8. Allen J, Montalto M, Lovejoy J, Weber W. Detoxification in naturopathic medicine: a surveyJ Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(12):1175-1180. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0572

  9. Gordon B. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What Is Intermittent Fasting? May 7, 2019.

  10. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. How does weight affect gallstones?. Updated November 2017.

  11. Eykelbosh A, Wiens M. National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. January 2018.