Master Cleanse Garners Praise, Criticism

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 2, 2007; 4:22 PM

NEW YORK -- At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Scott Campbell doesn't need to lose weight. But there he was, squeezing lemon juice and mixing it with maple syrup, bottled water and cayenne pepper. It is part of an extreme "detoxifying" diet called the Master Cleanse, whose adherents swallow nothing but the lemon concoction, saltwater and laxative tea.

Also known as the lemonade diet, the Master Cleanse has gained in popularity recently, thanks to celebrities like Beyonce Knowles who swear by the regimen, as bad as it may taste.

"I'm never hungry," said Campbell, a 35-year-old freelance TV producer from New York City who was cleansing not to lose weight, but because he usually eats "a lot of bad stuff" like burgers, fries and Philly cheesesteaks.

Devotees of the diet eat no solid food but drink up to 10 daily glasses of the lemon juice cocktail and round it off with saltwater in the morning and laxative tea at night. They are supposed to stay on the cleanse for at least 10 days, then ease back into normal eating with orange juice and vegetable soup.

The main drawback: You never want to be too far from a toilet. The cleanse produces very liquid and copious bowel movements. As for other side effects, some say they are always hungry.

Medical authorities say they have yet to see any evidence of harm from the Master Cleanse, though experts generally caution against extended fasting and other extreme diets.

They say those who try the Master Cleanse to lose weight will just gain it back. And they dispute the claim that the Master Cleanse or any other diet can "detoxify" the body from the effects of red meat, sugar, fried foods or alcohol _ or that the body needs to be detoxified at all.

"We have organ systems such as the liver, spleen, lungs, skin and digestive system that we have all been given that do that," said David Grotto, a dietitian in Chicago and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

Dr. Ed Zimney, the medical director of HealthTalk, a Seattle-based Web site where a lively debate about the cleanse has flourished, said: "Your gastrointestinal tract does not need to be cleaned out because it is constantly in motion. This whole idea of cleaning out toxins from the colon is a complete myth and unnecessary."

The Master Cleanse was invented 60 years ago by nutrition guru Stanley Burroughs, who wrote the book "The Master Cleanser" in 1976. The formula is purified water, organic lemon juice, cayenne pepper and organic grade B maple syrup, which is less refined than the more commonly used grade A.

It is impossible to know how many people have tried the cleanse. There are enough devotees in the upscale neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights that Perelandra, a health food store, sells more copies of "The Master Cleanser" than any other book and does a brisk business in lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, general manager Allison Nichols said.

According to one Web site that promotes the cleanse, the purpose is "to dissolve and eliminate toxins and congestion; to cleanse the kidneys and digestive system; to purify glands; to eliminate waste and hardened materials in the joints and muscles; to build a healthy bloodstream; to maintain optimal blood pressure; and to what you all are waiting to hear ... to lose weight."

Weight loss was Beyonce's motivation; she told Oprah Winfrey that she dropped 20 pounds on the cleanse to prepare for "Dreamgirls."

Howard Stern's sidekick Robin Quivers told People magazine that she went from 218 to 145 pounds on the cleanse. She said the diet also helped ease joint pain and fatigue.

The diet has fans beyond celebrities and the hip neighborhoods of New York City.

Zoe Cochran, a 52-year-old in Navasota, Texas, is a hard-core master cleanser. She does an annual 30-day cleanse plus periodic shorter ones.

"After the cleanse I have great digestion and great elimination," she said. "People are chronically constipated."

Cochran said the cleanse also cured an injured knee that was so painful she couldn't get up from a sitting position.

Ted Damiecki, 55, of Bridgehampton, said he has gone on the cleanse twice and it has helped his chronic fatigue syndrome.

"I've been all over the East Coast trying to find cures for chronic fatigue syndrome," he said. "I went on the cleanse and I felt better within four or five days."

Campbell first tried the cleanse because a friend was doing it; he was pleasantly surprised. "I felt like I had a lot more energy, which I didn't expect," he said. "I was thinking I was going to be tired."

Neil Paz, 30, of Arlington, Va., considered the cleanse after actor-singer Jared Leto touted it. But in the end, he decided that "the whole detoxification aspect seemed very New Age-pet rock" and decided to eat more vegetables and drink more water instead.

"Doing that and exercising more is not going to be as fast but is the healthy way to go," he said.

© 2007 The Associated Press