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Detoxifying with the Lemon Diet

by Janine Leach(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 73 - February 2002

What is the Lemon Diet?

The Lemon Diet is one of the easiest fasts I have used in my career as a naturopath. It is a liquid diet regime based on a totally natural drink made from a special organic tree syrup, mixed with fresh lemon juice, spring water and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

The tree syrup is a blend of maple and palm tree syrups designed to provide a balance of minerals and trace elements. The fresh lemon juice provides vitamin C and potassium, and helps to dissolve mucus and waste. The cayenne pepper adds a zing to the flavour, as well as a stimulatory heating effect, which speeds cleansing and elimination.

Natural Tree Syrup (Pan)
Natural Tree Syrup (Pan)

Origin of the Regime

Fasting has long been an important part of the naturopathic approach to helping the body heal itself.[1] Fasting rests the digestive tract, permits detoxification, and stimulates the immune system to speed recovery. Naturopaths use fasting both for treating acute infections, and also for chronic conditions where congestion is a feature, to stimulate elimination, such as asthma, sinusitis, cholecystitis, skin conditions and colitis. There are many types of fast, such as purely water, or a mono-diet of grapes. Many naturopaths may remember the Stanley Borroughs 'Lemonade Diet'.

Stanley Borroughs was a naturopath who developed the Lemonade Diet in the 1950s for a patient with a stomach ulcer. His booklet called The Master Cleanser[2] described the drink, which originally used organic maple syrup with lemon juice. He describes the fast and its varied uses. Then in the 1980s Burroughs went to Switzerland to work with a team of practitioners including a naturopath, a homeopath and an Ayurvedic and orthodox doctor to develop an improved version. They developed a mix of syrups that would give a better balance of minerals to support the body during the fast and improve the patient's nutritional status. This unique syrup blend is the basis of the Lemon Diet.

The product was first marketed in Switzerland in the mid-1980s. The present company director was one of the original team who developed the syrup blend. The booklet The Lemon Diet[3] quickly became a bestseller in Denmark. It was translated into Spanish in 1992 and is now in its 28th edition. Currently, over one-and-a-half million litres of the tree syrup are consumed each year in 33 countries, mainly prescribed by naturopaths, homeopaths and Ayurvedic doctors.

What does it Contain?

The syrup comes from the sap of five types of tree – the maple and four rare Asian palm trees – all growing naturally and organically. The maple sap comes from Bird's Eye maple trees of North America. Trees need to be over 40 years old to extract sap without harming the tree, and the sap can only be extracted during a few months of the year. This pure syrup is very different from most maple syrup sold in shops, which can be over 90% artificially synthesized from sugar and corn syrup.

Collecting the Palm Tree Syrup
Collecting the Palm Tree Syrup

The palm syrup comes from the sap of the Arenga, Kita, Nipah and Palmyra palm trees, which grow in forests in different areas of South East Asia. The sap from each type of tree is extracted using techniques introduced and monitored by Swiss aid workers. The sap is carefully turned into syrup, and then the syrups are blended and canned. No sugar, preservatives or chemical processes are used.

Nutritional Content

The syrup is high in natural plant sugars, which provide the body with energy during the fast and satisfy hunger pangs. The calorie content is about 300 calories per 100g. A typical daily intake of ten glasses therefore provides about 600 calories.[4]

Table 1. Mineral Content of the Syrup
Mineral Content
mg per 100g
Iron
2.88
Manganese
1.20
Zinc
2.69
Magnesium
20.3
Calcium
86.8
Sodium
45.7
Copper
0.15
Potassium
395.0

The mineral content is rich in potassium, manganese and zinc. The ratios of calcium to magnesium and sodium to potassium are almost ideal for the human body's needs.

Table 2. Syrup Composition
Composition
g per 100g
Water
23.3
Protein
0.56
Fats
0.30
Carbohydrate (fruit sugars)
74.6

Ayurvedic Principles

The diet is in harmony with Ayurvedic principles. The Madal Bal tree syrup removes Ama and restores well-being, strength and youth to body and mind. It keeps Doshas in balance and is suitable for all types of constitution. Losing weight becomes easier because the body is not weakened, the body releases water, and catabolic processes are not hampered once Ama is removed.

Madal Bal Natural Tree Syrup
Madal Bal Natural Tree Syrup

The Diet Regime

The diet originated as a ten-day regime (five days for those not used to fasting) under the supervision of a practitioner. The ten-day fast should not be carried out too frequently. Even for weight loss, the maximum frequency is repeated ten-day fasts with four weeks or more between each one.

Most adults benefit from a fast once or twice a year. However, because of the high xenobiotic load most of us carry due to chemical pollution in the environment, many toxins are released into the bloodstream during a fast. These are more toxic to the brain than in the past, and naturopaths now may recommend more frequent, shorter fasts, such as three days per month.

As with any fast it is extremely important to start with motivation! It is equally important to break the fast very slowly; to waken a sleeping digestive system with proteins and fats can cause serious illness such as kidney damage. First fruit juices are introduced, then fruits, followed by light foods over a few days.

During the fast, only the recommended liquids are taken, together with any prescribed medication as advised by the patient's doctor, or homeopathic medication prescribed by a practitioner. No solid foods are taken, or vitamins, non-prescription drugs or other supplements. Patients should be able to continue their normal activities because the drink contains a good balance of nutrients and provides 600-800 calories per day, though endurance may be somewhat reduced, and during the first 1-2 days they may experience headache or dizziness as the toxins enter the bloodstream.

Light exercise and breathing exercises are a great complement as they increase blood flow and elimination of toxins through the skin and mucous membranes. Similarly, saunas and steam baths are helpful. Colon cleansing is also important. Gentle laxative (detox) herb teas (Cascara, Dandelion, Golden Seal, Licorice root, or rhubarb root) or salt water are part of the daily regime for fasts of 5 days or longer to prevent constipation. A litre of water with two teaspoons of sea salt will flush the colon effectively within an hour. The salt ensures that the fluid is not absorbed from the gut.

Before the Fast

Patients need to stock up with lemons, spring water, cayenne pepper, detox herb tea, and any other herb teas such as peppermint, as well as a litre of Madal Bal tree syrup.

The night before starting, a laxative tea may be taken.

Daily Regime During the Fast

Make up 1-2 litres of lemon drink. For a 1-litre bottle, use 70ml Madal Bal tree syrup, 70ml fresh lemon juice (juice of about 2 lemons), topped up with spring water. This is the day's supply to be taken ad lib, warm or cool, with a dash of cayenne.

During the day, drink at least 1.5 litres of water and herb tea in addition. Mint tea complements the lemon drink well.

After the Fast

The first day after the fast, take only fruit juices.

The second day, take fruit juices and then some vegetable soup in the evening.

The third day after, eat healthy food!

Safety

Colon cleansing is optional and may not be necessary for shorter fasts. If required, first thing in the morning, cleanse the colon with salt water or laxative (detox) herb tea as described above. In the evening, take a laxative tea if required.

Fasting is NOT recommended for patients with chronic degenerative diseases, such as cancer, tuberculosis and neurological disorders, nor for hyperthyroid patients.1 Although useful for regulating underweight as well as overweight, it would not be advisable in true anorexia.

The Lemon Diet does provide balanced nutritional support to the body, but there is no formal evidence about adverse effects. Research into the benefits and risks is badly needed. The only known adverse effects are the dizziness and nausea typical of any fasting regime, as mentioned above. Its widespread use and continuing popularity are some indication of its acceptability.

The diet can be conducted unsupervised by a healthy person for short periods, but both practitioners and the supplier recommend having support, advice and supervision from a practitioner. Special caution is needed if the person is taking medical drugs of any kind. Patients with low blood pressure (hypotension) may need to take a cup of coffee daily when fasting.

Underweight patients can use proportionately more tree syrup (but not lemon juice) per litre of drink, in order to minimize weight loss. Any loss is rapidly regained after the fast is completed because of improvements in appetite, digestion, absorption and organ function.

The regime is not recommended for diabetics. Naturopaths may be interested to know that Stanley Borroughs used a modified form of his Lemonade Diet for insulin-dependent diabetic patients, but close supervision would be essential.

Alcoholics and smokers should aim to reduce their intake before the fast; the company claims that cravings are reduced or even eliminated by the fourth day, and do not return. I have not yet had the opportunity to put this to the test!

Evidence for Effectiveness

Fasting in various forms has been used for centuries in many cultures for its cleansing and health-promoting effects. Adults and children who are Hindu or Moslem regularly practise fasting (e.g. in Ramadan) in the East and the West. Fasting has not been extensively researched, but there is perhaps more formal evidence than you might imagine, especially in studies of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.[5]

In France, the fast is taught and used by the homeopathic training college set up by the late Dr Catherine Kousmine, and is used in her clinics as a basic preparatory treatment to retrain patients in healthier eating habits. Practitioners report that homeopathic medicines are outstandingly effective during the diet. A French medical doctor, Dr Tourasse, reported on a case series of 122 patients in the 1980s.[4] Of these, 96 sought weight reduction, and 49 had a wide variety of other disease conditions, from ulcerative colitis to depression. In the first group, he noted an average weight loss of 3-6 kilos following the fast. Only 14% of patients were not satisfied with their weight reduction. Unexpected improvements were found in psyche, joints, skin conditions, allergies and gynaecological function. In the second group, almost all the patients reported improvement in their conditions. Laboratory tests showed reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides in the majority of cases monitored.

Table 3. Conditions that may Benefit from the Diet
Overweight – not only for weight loss, but also for retraining of appetite and taste, reducing cravings for sugars and junk foods
Digestive complaints – the diet's original purpose, resting and cleansing all levels of the digestive tract
Catarrh and sinus syndromes
Skin conditions
Circulatory disorders
Weakness and joint pain
Depression and anxiety
Childhood illnesses (suitable for children over the age of six years)
Viral infections, coughs and colds

In Britain, Dr Michel Odent uses it with couples preparing for conception. He is particularly concerned about the effect of the multiplicity of synthetic chemicals in today's environment.[6] Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are oestrogen mimickers, and our bodies have not evolved to eliminate them. PCBs get stored in fatty tissue as well as circulating in the bloodstream. The developing foetus is highly sensitive in the first six months in utero, so Odent uses a series of short fasts (the 'Accordian method') to detoxify prospective parents at least six months prior to conception.

The company that produces the tree syrup has a collection of testimonials by patients and practitioners reporting benefits such as weight loss, reduction in cholesterol, improved sports performance, immune system boost, clearing catarrh and sinuses, and cure of joint pains and headaches. Users frequently comment on the ease of the diet, the high energy levels during the fast, and benefits to mind and spirit. Patient satisfaction is high (82%), according to the company. It would be good to obtain independent verification of this. The Lemon Diet booklet describes a study of 250 people who wished to lose weight. Of these, 108 (43%) fasted for ten days, and lost an average of 11 lbs; 89 (36%) stopped before the ten days, but even those completing 1-5 days lost an average of 6 lbs.

Evaluating the Diet in Practice

This diet is very much in harmony with naturopathic principles. However, most of the evidence of effectiveness is based on individual testimonials or unpublished case series. In today's world of evidence-based medicine, we need to 'harden up' the evidence base about fasting. To quote Roger Newman Turner, "…the diversity of successful dietary therapies has made them difficult to evaluate and this is a field in which carefully planned research projects are urgently needed".[1] I am currently asking naturopaths who are interested to test this fast and to keep careful records of patient progress in order to create a publishable case series. Any practitioners who are interested in contributing should contact the author (see further information).

The protocol will be quite simple. Practitioners will select suitable patients in need of detoxification, in their judgement. Patients will be given details of the fast and its possible benefits and risks, and asked if they would like to undertake the fast, and those agreeing will be give a Diet Diary booklet. The practitioner will also keep a record of all patients who embark on the fast, even if they do not complete it.

The advice about fasting, the likely side effects such as dizziness and weakness in the first 1-2 days, and the importance of breaking the fast properly are contained in this article. The patient will need to record, with the assistance of their practitioner, their baseline (pre-fast) symptoms and identify the one or two symptoms they most want to improve.

The patient's Diet Diary will document progress and any adverse effects. A formal assessment of the symptoms before and after the fast is desirable, using a questionnaire such as MYMOP or a visual analogue Pain Scale. I would like to collate the results and produce independently and objectively analysed results on both benefits and risks.

Further Information

The tree syrup, called Madal Bal, is produced by Puris AG of Switzerland directed by Dr KA Beyer, one of the original group of practitioners who developed the blend.

Madal Bal syrup is distributed in the UK solely by Pure Natural Products Ltd (Tel: +44 01400 272 230; sales@purenaturalproducts.co.uk). It is available mainly through practitioners and selected retail outlets such as Planet Organic. The Puris policy is to encourage patients to use the product under expert supervision. American customers can order it via http://www.neeradetox.com/

References

1. Newman Turner R. Naturopathic Medicine: Treating the Whole Person. Health Advisory Lectures and Literature. Letchworth. 2000.
2. Burroughs S. The Master Cleanser. Burroughs Books. ISBN-0-9639262-0-9. 1993.
3. Beyer KA. The Lemon Diet. Edition MIVA. Neuheim. 1987.
4. Beyer KA. Personal communication.
5. Muller H, de Toledo FW and Resch KL. Fasting followed by vegetarian diet in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Scand J Rheumatol. 30(1): 1-10. 2001.
6. Odent M. Understanding Health: From Fetal Vulnerability to Adult Adaptability. Primal Health Research Centre. London. 2000.
(See website at: www.birthworks.org/primalhealth)

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About Janine Leach

Janine Leach ND, DO, PhD, Hon MFPHM, is a naturopath and osteopath with a private practice in Wallington, Surrey. She graduated from the College of Osteopaths in 1989, and has combined practice with a career in health services research in cancer. She is Research Director for the British Naturopathic Association, and lectures undergraduates in research at two osteopathic colleges. She is senior researcher at Thames Cancer Registry, monitoring implementation of guideline practice in breast and colorectal cancer care in hospitals in south-east England, and is an honorary member of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine. She can be reached at leach_janine@hotmail.com

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