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“Cleaning” My Colon: A Master Cleanse Diary PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Carrie Poppy   

At the James Randi Educational Foundation, we hear all sorts of interesting health claims: “These special candles can remove excess ear wax,” “these colored lights will align your chakras,” or “apricots cure cancer.” One of the most popular claims is that “cleansing” your colon will eliminate “toxins”: substances that build up in our bodies, causing harmful side effects like weight gain, fatigue, and a host of diseases. So the story goes, a special fast or diet can help eliminate these poisons and promote better overall health. Never one to turn up a good experiment, I decided to try one of the most popular alternative colon therapies: the so-called “Master Cleanse.” The test: try to survive five days of consuming nothing but lemon juice, maple syrup, water, cayenne pepper, and two daily doses of laxatives. Guest blogger Ross Blocher joined me in this investigation by trying out a similar alternative medicine practice, colonic hydrotherapy, which he will share in a future post.

What follows is my daily diary of what happened when I stopped eating food, and started drinking non-stop lemonade and laxatives. Warning: stool photo within.

Day One

Today is my “ease-in” day. According to the rules, a Master Cleanser can choose to ease in to their fast by first eating a “regular diet” for a day, relying heavily on “live” foods (I’m not sure what that means, but vegetables and grains are offered as examples), eating only fruits and vegetables for day two, fruit and veggie juice for day three, nothing but orange juice for day four, and then start the lemon juice medley on day 5. Since the lemon juice fast is supposed to go on for ten days (and I am only attempting five total), I thought I ought to get this truck rolling, and sprint right to the orange juice phase. I allowed myself one large glass of orange juice, followed by nothing but “lemonade” and laxatives.

So far, it’s been about 19 hours since I ate solid food, and I’m feeling fine. The orange juice is keeping me relatively satisfied, even if I am tempted by the faux ham and fancy bread I have in the fridge here at the JREF office. The instructions advise me to drink my lemon juice mixture every time I get hungry, followed by water or tea. Needless to say, I am taking frequent bathroom breaks. Tonight I take my first laxative; the Master Cleanse site I’ve been studying tells me that because I am not eating, I won’t have bowel movements (sure) and therefore can’t remove toxins from my body (oh!), so the laxatives will help me do that. Sounds not at all shady-- let’s give it a whirl.

 

Day Two

It’s the second day of my fast and I already hate fruit. Lemons, oranges, limes: I hate them all and vow never to consume them again, even if it means James Lind is going to make an example of me. Last night, I took the first laxative of this cleanse (and of my life), and another this morning. Shockingly, my body had nothing to expel, so now I just have two laxatives in my stomach. That doesn’t seem like healthy living, but what do I know?

JREF outreach coordinator Brian Thompson is sitting across from me, chomping away on a piece of coffee cake from Starbucks. I would think this sort of food exhibitionism would make me jealous at best and promote workplace aggression at worst, but since everything I am allowed to consume is basically made of sugar, nothing could look worse. I’ve never wanted a pretzel to this degree, before.

A note on the “lemonade” part of this diet: it’s not lemonade. I don’t claim to be some sort of lemonade chef, but lemon juice, maple syrup and water is definitely not the magic recipe. The maple syrup all falls to the bottom, no matter how much I stir it, making the upper half unbearably tart and the bottom like drinking a liquified pancake. Sprinkling cayenne on top is the last possible way to make this drink worse, so I am leaving out the pepper entirely and eating that on its own (off my hand-- the perfect way to maintain personal dignity).

557184_336811156395235_1048577031_n

     Eating cayenne pepper off my hand... for science.

 

Day Three

Things I found myself saying to my coworkers today:

“I’m hungry, but I’m out of lemons.”
“The efficient machine that is my body is broken.”
“I have gotten to the point where I don’t want to tell you what’s going on in my person.”
“I just lick the cayenne off my hand. It’s easier.”
“No, you can eat lunch in front of me. I have some syrup left.”

The worst part is definitely the stomach pain. The morning laxatives start twisting my stomach up around noon, and since there is nothing for me to expel, this results in a bathroom visit too horrible to detail here. I do feel hungry, but it’s a vague sense of something I once got to experience (food), kind of like missing an aunt who died years ago. I’ve given up on knowing the feeling of a full belly, and all my favorite foods sound good but not great.

Coworker Brian suggests that soon I will feel the euphoria that sets in as a person slowly starves. I can’t wait!

Day Four

Well, last night was eventful. After I went home from work, I was overwhelmed with a stabbing stomach pain so bad, I called poison control to tell them how many laxatives I had taken (the minimum required for the cleanse) on an empty stomach. The doctor there advised me to go to a doctor right away for the horrible pain and the laxative overuse. I took this as a sign to stop taking the laxatives, and... eat something.

I know, I know. I have failed all of you and eaten something on only day four of my fast, but my capability to do future investigations will be much reduced if I am dead. So, I ate some curry. Then I threw 75% of it up. Then I went to bed.

This morning, I returned to fasting, drinking tea and lemonade like a champ, but foregoing the laxatives. The crippling stomach pain is gone, but the hunger remains, and for the first time during this process, I feel lightheaded. Getting up to go to the bathroom (something I must do frequently, since I am drinking an absurd amount of fluids) makes me feel like I am going to faint. The good news, however, is that my colon has been empty since day one. If it was ever full of excess waste, as the cleansers claim, I haven’t seen it, despite having taken seven laxatives now.

I want to eat something.

TabouretAFDB

 

Obligatory stool photo.

 

Day Five

Well, friends, after four days of not eating and three days of laxative misuse, my body called it quits. I found myself lightheaded, distracted, and in pain (though less pain) even after I stopped using the horrible blue pills I have come to hate. I now harbor suspicions of those who claim they have done this “cleanse” for five or ten or forty days, especially if they are taking the laxatives as they go. One woman on youtube tells us she did the Master Cleanse for 40 days and lost 32 pounds. Her magic formula? 1200 calories a day of the patented “lemonade.” Never mind that eating only 1200 calories a day of Twix bars would do the same thing.

Cleansed?

If the Master Cleansers are right, my colon should be in tip-top condition at this point, free of the “toxins” and excess waste bogging it down these twenty-eight years of negligence. Somehow, though, I feel much worse. Maybe it’s the toxins escaping for the first time, wearing me out. Maybe it’s exhaustion from pumping out the (invisible) lining of my large intestine. Or maybe I need to go eat a salad.

Testing last hypothesis... now!

Carrie is the communications director for the James Randi Educational Foundation, and co-host of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!. You can hear more about her Master Cleanse experience here .

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Interesting account
written by Careyp74, July 03, 2012
Ah, the things one does in the name of science! I love reading these accounts, especially in diary form. There should be excerpts thrown in here and there like "there doesn't seem to be an end in sight" and "Day four, no sign of a rescue party, if this keeps up I will have to resort to eating my shoes."

Just curious, what is it supposed to clear out? I have seen video of a colonoscopy, not sure what a toxin looks like, but I didn't see anything that looked toxiny.

Gotta go flush out my garden hose now, been putting it off for too long. Who knows how much is built up in it.
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written by Peebs, July 03, 2012
I truly admire, after the days of fasting and laxatives, the first thing you eat is a curry!

I can only assume the curries your side of the pond are a lot milder than this side.



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Well no Wonder...
written by mariamyrback, July 03, 2012
It's no wonder the curry found the inside of the porcelain receptacle. Back when I was still in my Woo Woo Fluffy Bunny stage, we tried that cleanse and made it a grand total of three days but instead of going right back to solid foods, we did soft, mushy stuff like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast on the fourth day. You can't go straight back to food when you've been basically starving yourself. Silly woman. See? This is what happens when you dabble in Woo even if it IS for a good cause ;-)
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@Careyp74
written by sibtrag, July 03, 2012
A GI endoscopy is preceded by a similar sort of cleansing regimen (laxatives, liquid diet) so under either hypothesis one would expect to see no toxins during a colonoscopy.

I would hope that Ms Poppy spoke with a competent physician before undertaking this experiment and that said doctor suggested having an endoscopic exam. The preparation is the worst part of the exam and since you were already doing that voluntarily, why not take a look.
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I'm not sure there's enough Thorazine in the world to cure all the colon-cleansing freaks
written by GeorgeButel, July 03, 2012
You could not pay me to become a victim of either "Master cleanse" or any other form of colonic hydro-so-called-therapy. One evening every five or ten years as preparation for a colonoscopy is more than enough for me. The hallucination that it would be beneficial to "clean" a normal gut belies an understanding of the importance of gut microflora, and its co-evolution with human biological systems. Why would one want to create a state of dysbiosis? The irony is that scientific medicine has itself, via a totally different process (the administration of antibiotics), been performing the same (if not worse) destruction on the gut microbiome for more than half a century. Cleanliness is not next to godliness when it comes to the normal colon. The informercials and ads that warn you about death beginning in the colon may have a grain of truth to them: if you take their advice and start cleaning out the inside of your colon all the time, you will be closer to disease, and, therefore, death.

The importance of the microbiota is related to our other "old friends," micro- and macro-organisms from the environment: see Rook's description, at http://www.microbemagazine.org...hypothesis.
Two interesting reviews, one in 2010 by Sekirov, et al, in Physiological Reviews, at http://physrev.physiology.org/...3/859.full, and another in 2012 by Clemente, et al, published in Cell, at http://www.2ndchance.info/food...te2012.pdf, ought to be perused.

Another good description of the importance of maintaing microbial homeostasis is available in a recent article by Pimental, et al, in Nutrition Journal, at
http://www.nutritionj.com/cont...-11-22.pdf.

The importance of being unclean is finally grabbing the public's and the scientific community's attention: so let's give these colon cleansing freaks the attention they deserve, which I believe ought to consist of good, stout doses of Thorazine.
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All very silly
written by Zep, July 03, 2012
Your intestines and other organs like liver and kidneys have evolved over some tens (if not hundreds) of millions of years to efficiently remove "toxins" and waste from your body efficiently without too much assistance required at all. So why throw a spanner...or a hose for that matter...in the works? As always, it's for the money. You paid someone for the pills/book/video/download in order to do this, didn't you! There you go...
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written by Stanfr, July 03, 2012
Ha! I tried the Master Cleanse as an experiment a few years back--my goal was 10 days but by day 5 I thought "this is incredibly retarded, why am I doing this to myself?" and threw in the towel. I even used all organic ingredients (and herbal tea laxative) and actually i thought the drink was pretty tasty (although it started to get boring after 5 days...) In fairness to the cleansers (and there are legions who swear by it) they insist you have to go through hell first to get to the 'euphoric' energy stage--so 5 days is not fair test. I still suspect that latter stage is probably associated with starvation effects, but I'm not willing to test that theory out... Maybe i'll try an all beer diet next time--more likely to succeed! smilies/tongue.gif
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written by overlord624, July 04, 2012
@Zep
The same argument can be applied to pretty much any medical procedure. If evolution has designed your body to fight infection, then why apply disinfectant to open wounds?

No. The real issue with this so-called procedure is that it's simply magic woo peddled as a proper treatment without any evidence to back it. It's as simple as that.
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@sibtrag
written by JonK, July 04, 2012
Though broadly speaking an endoscopy can refer to any procedure in which a viewing device is used to observe the inside of the body through a natural portal, it most often refers to an examination of the upper gastrointestinal tract, e.g. the esophagus and stomach. Such procedures usually do not require anything more than abstaining from food and liquids for a 12 hour period. The regime of bowel cleansing with laxatives and fluids (like polyethylene glycol solutions)is usually reserved for colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy of the lower GI tract. I mention this distinction not to be picky, but to not frighten off those who need to get the upper GI endoscopy. The preperation is far more tolerable than that for a colonoscopy--or, it would seem--the Master Cleanse procedure.
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written by Caller X, July 04, 2012
I've done a similar experiment, but with no laxatives and substituting beer for the lemonade. I went for nine days.

Even if you're not eating, you should have been pooping. You might want to see a doctor about that. Where do you think all the dead cells in your body go?
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written by Careyp74, July 05, 2012
@overlord624

That is a strawman argument. Zep made the comment that the intestines have evolved to efficiently remove toxins. Whether this is true or not, your argument that it is like saying that the body has supposedly evolved sufficiently to not need any medical procedures is not the same.
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written by Caller X, July 05, 2012
Never one to turn up a good experiment


You might like to take another run at that passage and resubmit it. I know that Swift is parsimonious when it comes to editing. Communications says what?
.
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written by overlord624, July 06, 2012
@Careyp74
Zep's comment does imply that enhancing an already effective system by external intervention is unnecessary unless I'm misunderstanding something, which admittedly, is not impossible as I'm not a native English speaker and I'm not particularly adept at casual speech.

But if I am reading correctly, my comment is quite valid. The point of my analogy was not that the human body is perfect, but that already functional mechanisms within the body could be further enhanced for purposes beyond what the human body has evolved to accomplish (ie reproduction). I apologize if I wasn't clear enough about it.
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written by Carrie Poppy, July 07, 2012
Oh, saucy! I see how you play. I will fix it.
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written by jkvergeten, July 10, 2012

 

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written by BonnieS, July 10, 2012
People who belive this may think its new, but the starvation/purge stuff is old hat. Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen is good reading on the subject. "Dr" Linda Hazzard had a "cleansing" spa in the early 1900s - several patients died. If I remember right, Hazzard ended up beliving her own woo & starved herself to death.
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