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Body Burden and Its Link to Chronic Disease Susceptibility: A Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Insight

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on August 24, 2023

The term 'body burden' may sound like a weight we physically carry, but in the realm of naturopathic and functional medicine, it refers to the total accumulation of toxins in the body. These can range from heavy metals to chemicals present in the environment. Increasingly, research suggests a close link between our body burden and susceptibility to chronic diseases. Let's dive into the evidence and the holistic perspective that naturopathy and functional medicine offer on this critical issue.

Body Burden Explained

The concept of body burden stems from the notion that our bodies accumulate toxins over time. These toxins come from multiple sources: pollutants in the air we breathe, chemicals in the food we consume, heavy metals in water, or even substances in the products we use daily. (1)

Evidence Linking Body Burden to Chronic Diseases

Heavy Metals

The presence of metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium, often accumulated over long periods, has been linked to various chronic diseases. For instance, lead exposure is known to be linked with neurodevelopmental issues in children and cardiovascular diseases in adults. (2)

Endocrine Disruptors

Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) can mimic hormones in the body. Some studies elucidate how BPA could interfere with insulin release, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. (3)

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

These compounds, which include some pesticides and industrial chemicals, can linger in the environment and the human body for extended periods. (4)

The Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Perspective:

In naturopathy and functional medicine, the emphasis is on treating the body as a whole and identifying root causes rather than just symptoms. When examining chronic disease from this lens:

Detoxification is Paramount

A core principle in both naturopathy and functional medicine is the importance of detoxification. By supporting the body's natural detox processes, such as enhancing liver function and promoting excretion through sweat and urine, practitioners aim to reduce the body burden and thereby reduce disease risk.

Nutrition as a Shield

Nutritional approaches prioritize foods that support detoxification and reduce inflammation. For instance, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale support liver enzymes responsible for detoxification.

Holistic Approaches

Therapies like hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, and acupuncture are sometimes used alongside conventional treatments to boost the body's resilience and address the accumulated toxins.

The mounting evidence underscores the importance of addressing body burden when looking at chronic disease susceptibility. From a naturopathic and functional medicine standpoint, understanding and addressing this accumulation can be a pivotal step towards disease prevention and holistic well-being. As our environment continues to change, acknowledging and actively managing our body burden will be crucial for long-term health.


  1. DeVito MJ, Birnbaum LS, Farland WH, Gasiewicz TA. Comparisons of estimated human body burdens of dioxinlike chemicals and TCDD body burdens in experimentally exposed animals. Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Sep;103(9):820-31. doi: 10.1289/ehp.95103820. PMID: 7498094; PMCID: PMC1519223.
  2. Xu P, Chen Z, Chen Y, Feng L, Wu L, Xu D, Wang X, Lou X, Lou J. Body burdens of heavy metals associated with epigenetic damage in children living in the vicinity of a municipal waste incinerator. Chemosphere. 2019 Aug;229:160-168. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.05.016. Epub 2019 May 3. PMID: 31078030.
  3. Farrugia F, Aquilina A, Vassallo J, Pace NP. Bisphenol A and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Review of Epidemiologic, Functional, and Early Life Factors. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 15;18(2):716. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020716. PMID: 33467592; PMCID: PMC7830729.
  4. Carpenter DO. Health effects of persistent organic pollutants: the challenge for the Pacific Basin and for the world. Rev Environ Health. 2011;26(1):61-9. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2011.009. PMID: 21714383.

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