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Incense and it's true effect on the mind and body

Incense is frequently reputed to have calming effects on the mind and body – but the effects are not all benign.

How clean is the air we breathe?

Governments around the world diligently monitor outdoor air pollution which provides clues as to what we breath when we're outside - but what about the places the government can’t monitor? What about the indoor spaces where we spend 80-90% of our time?

Imagine this - you come home from work, take a seat in the living room, and light up your favorite incense hoping to have some time to unwind after a stressful day. Sounds pleasant, right?

Maybe not. According to a recent study conducted by Cohen (2013), incense could be causing unwanted inflammation of your lungs. Not exactly the relief you were looking for.

It seems not only are we unaware of the pollutants we are creating, we may be inadvertently causing an array of health issues for our families. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 4.3 million deaths annually can be attributed to various ailments associated with indoor air pollution. Perhaps we too frequently associate pollution with the outdoors, when we should be taking a closer look at our own homes.

Incense burning is the most popular ceremonial custom used in religious ceremonies worldwide. It is this fact that makes Pan et al (2014) findings worrying. The recent study found that there is an association between long-term incense use and cardiovascular mortality.

To many, this finding is hardly surprising. Previous studies have revealed that the smoke produced by incense has similar concentration levels of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter found in cigarette smoke (Chuang et al. 2013)(Cohen et al. 2013). Whilst studies done in vitro (in a glass/tube) have shown that exposure to incense smoke can have adverse impacts to the human coronary and lung cells (Lin L-Y et al. 2012) .

Even though these findings are troublesome we cannot expect incense users to stop; therefore here are a few tips for healthier incense use:

  1. Buy High quality, low smoke incense

  2. Keep the windows open, or at least keep ventilation in the room
  3. Don’t burn too much, moderation is key

     

Reference:

Cohen, R., Sexton, K. G., & Yeatts, K. B. (2013). Hazard assessment of United Arab Emirates (UAE) incense smoke. Science of the total environment, 458, 176-186.

Pan A, et al. Incense use and cardiovascular mortality among Chinese in Singapore: the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Environ Health Perspect 122(12):1279–1284 (2014); doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307662.

3. Chuang H-C, et al. Investigation into the oxidative potential generated by the formation of particulate matter from incense combustion. J Hazard Mater 244–245:142–150 (2013); doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2012.11.034.

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