Incense is a widely-used spiritual tool as well as a mental health and sleep aid. There are many benefits associated with burning incense, but recently, scientific studies have highlighted some health concerns.
Here’s what you need to know about whether incense can really be bad for your health, and how you can adjust your use of incense to protect you from negative effects.
What Is Incense?
Incense is a substance, ideally formed of naturally occurring materials, which releases a smoke with a potent scent when burned.
Different types of incense release different scents depending on the materials used to make them. For example, incense may contain sage, oils, types of wood, various resins, and a whole host of other materials.
People use incense for various reasons, from empowering their spiritual practices to improving their mental health or creating a relaxing environment for sleep.
The Benefits Of Burning Incense
There are plenty of online sources that will tell you about the various benefits of burning incense.
This is not the focus of this article, but before we discuss how incense can potentially impact your health negatively, it’s worth highlighting the benefits.
Some incense formulas can help you to calm down and relax, so they may be effective for alleviating stress and anxiety as well as helping you to fall asleep
Focus and creativity can also be heightened by certain aromas, including those released by burning incense. This can be helpful for a variety of tasks, from studying, to making art, to practicing yoga or meditation.
Spiritually, incense can help you to cleanse and purify the space around you, purging negative energy and bringing positive vibrations into the area.
A lot of people simply burn incense because they enjoy the scent and find that it makes their home feel like a more pleasant space.
Why Burning Incense Can Be Bad For Your Health
All of the reasons above are valid reasons to burn incense, and if you find that incense improves your quality of life in any way, that’s great!
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind how incense can impact your health so that you can take preventative measures and make sure you’re burning incense as safely as possible.
Here is what scientific research currently has to say about burning incense and its impact on health:
If you have existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, research has shown that burning a lot of incense can make the symptoms worse.
Not only that, but some research suggests that exposure to burning incense is correlated with asthma symptoms, implying that incense could actually lead to the development of respiratory conditions.
These findings are based on a study where 3,000 children were screened for symptoms of asthma alongside a self-report questionnaire.
Symptoms like wheezing, which is common in asthmatic patients, were reported more often alongside incense use.
It’s not just your lungs incense can impact, but also your heart. Studies have shown that exposure to incense smoke is correlated with an increased risk of developing heart disease.
The study that suggested this had a large sample size of 60,000 participants from Singapore, and it aimed to measure the impact of incense smoke on cardiovascular health.
The study concluded that there is a link between use of incense in confined spaces and deaths from cardiovascular causes.
Chronic inflammation throughout the body is another potential side effect of exposure to too much incense.
In a study conducted on various animals, it was found that both the lungs and liver could become inflamed as a result of incense exposure.
This is thought to be caused as the body tries to process particulate matter, resulting in widespread oxidative stress.
With that being said, this study is yet to be conducted on human subjects, so it’s unclear whether its findings will translate to humans.
Unfortunately, studies have also found some links between burning incense and the development of certain cancers.
Some of the particulate matter in the unnatural ingredients sometimes used alongside the natural ingredients in incense has been found to be carcinogenic, meaning it could cause or speed up cancer growth.
For the most part, the types of cancer associated with incense are found in the upper respiratory tract. Specifically, they tend to occur in the lungs.
It should be noted, however, that a lot of the studies looking into the potential link between incense and cancer have only been conducted on animals, or on animal cells in vitro.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that people who use incense also happen to be more likely to smoke cigarettes, which confuses the results somewhat because smoking cigarettes has been proven to cause lung cancer and other cancers of the respiratory tract.
There has been a study conducted on rats that showed that exposure to incense smoke sped up metabolism, resulting in undesirable weight loss and a reduction in overall levels of good cholesterol.
However, it’s not possible to say whether this would also happen in humans because the study has yet to be performed on human subjects.
How To Burn Incense Safely
Ultimately, there are a lot of theories regarding how incense could negatively impact your health, and some of these are based on human studies.
However, a lot of the information we have currently is based on animal studies or research that did not control for other potential causes of health issues, such as smoking cigarettes.
Regardless, if you’re worried about the potential negative health effects of burning incense, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
Check The Ingredients
As we mentioned earlier, incense is traditionally made from all natural ingredients, but these days, you will often find that these natural ingredients are mixed with synthetic ones.
Check the ingredients before you purchase an incense product to make sure it contains only or mostly natural, safe ingredients.
Ventilate The Area
Always use incense in a well-ventilated area.
It can be tempting to close doors and windows when using incense so that the smell doesn’t escape, but this increases your exposure to the smoke, so you should always make sure at least one window is open so that excess smoke can escape.
Don’t Combine Incense With Smoking
If you’re worried about the potential cancer risk associated with incense, but are currently a smoker, we recommend quitting smoking since this massively reduces your risk of cancer in the respiratory tract.
Consider Existing Conditions
If you already have asthma, heart disease, or health problems affecting your metabolism, you may wish to limit your use of incense to avoid making any of these conditions worse.
If you find that your current incense burning routine is exacerbating existing symptoms, try cutting back and seeing if the symptoms are alleviated.
Although a lot of the current research is not yet conclusive, it’s possible that burning incense could make conditions like asthma worse in addition to increasing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, inflammation, and metabolic issues.
To circumvent these issues, use only natural incense in a ventilated area, stop smoking if you can, and reduce your use of incense if it’s triggering symptoms of existing conditions.
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