Detoxification: a miracle cure to all your weight-related health problems? In recent years, countless smoothie cocktails and liquid concoctions have taken the wellness industry by storm with their purported (and generally unfounded) benefits.
An example that has stood the test of time is Stanley Burroughs’ Master Cleanse Diet.
Also known as the Lemonade Diet, the Master Cleaner owes much of its popularity to celebrities like Beyoncé, Demi Moore, Jared Leto, Denzel Washington, and Angelina Jolie — all of whom have touted its benefits in the media.
The goal of the Master Cleanse is quite simple: the reality of our foods today is that they’re filled with chemicals, preservatives and toxins that ultimately build up in the body. Over time, this build-up can cause a loss of energy, poor health and a host of chronic illnesses. The Master Cleanse aims to flush out this build-up and improve overall health while shedding a few pounds of fat.
Stanley Burroughs, the Master Cleanse’s master
The true master of the Master Cleanse is American dietitian Stanley Burroughs, who also went by the name of Aaron Hayes. Burroughs was born in New York in 1903, but spent most of his childhood in Detroit, Michigan.
In the 1930s Burroughs left Michigan for Portland, where he married and had three daughters. That marriage didn’t last — after the divorce, he ended up moving to California (which is where many of the most dubious health trends we’ve ever been subjected to were born, incidentally). There he remarried and eventually ended up cutting ties with his children and previous life.
Despite a strong interest in the lumber industry, Stanley was drawn to alternative health theories. His pursuit of these theories took him across the country to test his diet in California, Hawaii and Oregon.
Among the alternative health theories that he studied and enacted, he showed a special interest for deep tissue massage, light therapy, veganism, and reflexology. Interestingly enough, he also indulged in the practice of nudism.
The Master Cleanse, cancer… and controversy
Perhaps most famously, Burroughs eventually came up with the Master Cleanse. In essence it’s a juice diet, as participants are not allowed to consume food. Instead, they drink tea or lemonade that contains maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
Initially, Burroughs wrote about the Master Cleanse in his book The Master Cleanser published in the 1940s, but it was the revised version published in the 1970s that put the cleanse in the spotlight.
Burroughs died in 1991, but his cleanse remains immensely popular to this day. The cause of his death was acute pneumonia. Although an autopsy was not performed on him, he was also found to have leg fractures suffered from a fall he had endured earlier, as well as a urinary tract infection.
A great deal of controversy and legal issues plagued Burroughs throughout his life. In one particular instance, he told a man who had been suffering from cancer that a cleanse could help cure his cancer. Burroughs claimed that he had helped heal thousands before. The patient, Lee Swatsenbarg, therefore agreed to undergo the plan.
Burroughs ordered Swatsenbarg to drink herbal tea, salt water, the special lemonade, and nothing else. He also had Swatsenbarg procure a lamp that had several colored sheets for light therapy. Burroughs also massaged Swatsenbarg for an added fee.
Unsurprisingly, Swatsenbarg did not get better — in fact his condition worsened steadily over time — but Burroughs instructed him to remain on the plan and not contact his physician. After about three weeks, Swatsenbarg complained about severe pain in his abdomen, to which Burroughs responded by giving him “deep abdominal massages.”
Unfortunately, Swatsenbarg had a hemorrhage in his abdomen and passed away. Doctors found that the hemorrhage had been a result of the deep abdominal massages that Burroughs had been administering.
After convicting Burroughs of second-degree murder, the California Supreme Court ended up reversing the charges and instead determined that it was involuntary manslaughter. In the end, the court convicted him of the unlawful sale of cancer treatments as well as a felony charge for practicing medicine without a license.
Be smart with your body
Obviously, you’re free to do what you like… but personally I don’t feel especially compelled to undergo the Lemonade Diet. No scientific evidence has been produced to back the claims made by Burroughs and his consorts. If you do try it, remember that while it does contain detoxifying ingredients, the Master Cleanse could be harmful on a long-term basis.
Furthermore, you should always consult with your doctor before trying a new diet, especially one that is as radical as the Master Cleanse — even if celebrities have tried it and promote its benefits. Be smart about what you eat, and always do your research.
Updated, January 2020. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.