For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Master Cleanse is a popular detox diet, touted to have all kinds of health benefits. But does it really work? Supposedly, if you follow the Master Cleanse for 10 days, it will purify your body from toxins, eliminate intestinal parasites, and “dissolve” fat. While I’m not a doctor, I don’t remember anything from my science class about lemon juice dissolving fat when ingested.
At any rate, many have reported great results from following the Master Cleanse program and torturing themselves with its strange concoctions: First, drink a salt solution so that you dehydrate your body and induce the runs. Then, don’t eat or drink anything for ten days except for a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper powder. The sickness and strange feelings experienced during the diet are supposed to be a result of the detoxification process. Hmm, I think drinking cayenne pepper lemon aid and being half-starved for over a week might have something to do with it.
People usually report weight-loss, but that’s not a surprise considering the program entails consuming only 100-600 calories per day for 10 days. Yet, is the weight-loss accrued sustainable? Most likely not. Loosing weight with a drastic fast is usually followed by an immediate return of the weight after the fast is over. According to Harvard University, prolonged fasts, such as the Master Cleanse, are more detrimental to the body than helpful. The calorie quality consumed during the Master Cleanse is also less the optimal, consisting primarily of sugar (which is toxic in high doses). People who repeatedly complete the Master Cleans also run the risk of disrupting the body’s acid-base, which can cause severe health problems.
The Master Cleanse can be appealing because of all the wonderful things it promises, including a quick fix. Unfortunately, in life there are few quick fixes. Toxins accrued over a lifetime of environmental exposure and poor eating habits can’t be eliminated over night. The best way to detoxify is to start living a nature-based lifestyle. A whole food diet prevents consumption of toxins and is high in foods that contain blood cleansing and detoxifying phytonutrients. Many toxins, however, are stored in adipose tissue (stored fat), which means weight-loss is indeed an important aspect of detoxification. Weight-loss, however, must be accomplished by sustainable means.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an effective and healthy (unlike the method of fasting used in the Master Cleanse) method of losing weight. A lot of promising research is being done with IF, and it holds the possibility of many health benefits beyond weight-loss. IF is different than sustained fasting in that it involves fasting every other day, reducing calories every other day, or fasting once or twice per week, rather than fasting for long periods of time. Intermittent fasting’s health benefits are attributed to a biological attribute known as hormesis.
Basically, hormesis is the body’s response to mild stressors. Exercise is a perfect example of how hormesis works. During exercise, physical stress tears down muscle cells, but the body responds by releasing healthy hormones, antioxidant chemicals, and initiating positive gene expression. Apparently the same type of reactions occur when the body faces short-term calorie restriction on a repeated basis. Some of the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting include long-term weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cardiovascular health, and inhibition of cancer. Another great thing about intermittent fasting is that it isn’t necessarily tied to overall calorie reduction, as much as to the limited stress it places on the body. Thus, it’s OK to replace the calories missed during intermittent fasting by consuming as much healthy food as desired the day after fasting. 
So, if you want to lose weight and detoxify the body, I think it’s better to chuck the Master Cleanse out with the cayenne pepper juice. Instead, eat a whole-food diet; live a healthy lifestyle, and perhaps start practicing intermittent fasting. Healthy living promises sustainable health and weight loss rather than cyclical weight-loss/weight-gain accompanied by the forced consumption of strange concoctions. Spare yourself the torture; enjoy life and its reasonable stressors, but eliminate the things that are overly taxing.
A great analogy for hormesis can be found in scripture. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He didn’t say he would get rid of burdens completely, but he did say they would be easy! Stressors produce growth and strength. Too much stress, however, harms the body. In my opinion, the Master Cleanse produces stressors that are beyond helpful limits.
Originally posted 2011-09-20 18:44:00.