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Body Burden and Chronic Disease: A Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Perspective

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on August 18, 2023

Our bodies are continually exposed to a myriad of chemicals, pollutants, and toxins. From the air we breathe to the food we eat and even the products we use daily, these environmental exposures accumulate within us. This accumulation, known as the "body burden," has profound implications for our overall health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to chronic diseases and infections. Let's delve into the connection from a naturopathic and functional medicine viewpoint.

What is Body Burden?

Body burden refers to the total amount of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and pollutants present in the human body at any given time. Over time, as we are exposed to these toxins, they accumulate in our tissues, leading to an increased body burden. (1)

Body Burden and Chronic Disease: The Evidence

Research has linked increased body burden with a variety of chronic diseases.

Endocrine Disruption

Chemicals like BPA, found in many plastics, and phthalates, found in personal care products, can act as endocrine disruptors. These chemicals interfere with our hormonal systems, leading to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and reproductive issues. (2)

Neurological Impacts

Heavy metals such as lead and mercury are neurotoxic. Chronic exposure can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, as well as developmental disorders in children. (3)


Certain pollutants and chemicals have been identified as carcinogens. Persistent exposure, and subsequently a higher body burden, can elevate the risk of various cancers.

Increased Susceptibility to Infections

A high body burden can weaken the immune system, making it less effective at warding off infections. Toxins can reduce the body's ability to produce white blood cells effectively and impair their function. This leaves the body more vulnerable to chronic infections and reduces its ability to recover quickly. (4)

The Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Approach

Both naturopathic and functional medicine emphasize the importance of reducing body burden to enhance health:


Periodic detox programs can help cleanse the body of accumulated toxins. This could involve dietary changes, supplements, and practices like sauna therapy.

Dietary Support

Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and clean, whole foods can support the body's natural detoxification pathways.

Reduced Exposure

A vital step is to reduce exposure to known toxins. This might mean choosing organic produce, using natural personal care products, or investing in a high-quality air purifier.

Understanding the Concept of Body Burden is Crucial in the Modern World

Our daily exposures, though often minute, accumulate over time, potentially leading to chronic diseases and increased susceptibility to infections. Through awareness, detoxification strategies, and lifestyle changes, we can support our body's natural ability to cope with these challenges and pave the way for optimal health.


  1. Gennings C, Ellis R, Ritter JK. Linking empirical estimates of body burden of environmental chemicals and wellness using NHANES data. Environ Int. 2012 Feb;39(1):56-65. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.09.002. Epub 2011 Nov 1. PMID: 22208743; PMCID: PMC3249606.
  2. Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, Hauser R, Prins GS, Soto AM, Zoeller RT, Gore AC. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocr Rev. 2009 Jun;30(4):293-342. doi: 10.1210/er.2009-0002. PMID: 19502515; PMCID: PMC2726844.
  3. Geier DA, Pretorius HT, Richards NM, Geier MR. A quantitative evaluation of brain dysfunction and body-burden of toxic metals. Med Sci Monit. 2012 Jul;18(7):CR425-31. doi: 10.12659/msm.883210. PMID: 22739732; PMCID: PMC3560777.
  4. Au WW. Life style factors and acquired susceptibility to environmental disease. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2001 Oct;204(1):17-22. doi: 10.1078/1438-4639-00067. PMID: 11725340.

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