The term incense indicates the oleoresins produced by the plants of the genus Boswellia. These oleoresins, once collected and crystallized, can be marketed in the form of grains or sticks to be burnt at home or during ceremonies. In fact, it is believed that, by burning incense, it is possible not only to release a very pleasant scent but also to purify the home. But is this an unhealthy habit? Let's try to understand better by reading, as always, what has been stated by scientific research.
Burning incense, why
In Buddhist and Taoist religions burning incense is a daily practice. Nowadays, this habit is spreading almost everywhere in the world, not only in places of worship but also at home or in other closed environments. Burning incense is intended to drive away bad smells but also, it is believed, to purify the house, to relax body and mind, to thank the gods and to drive out demons.
Does burning incense hurt?
Burning incense is a combustion process and therefore it releases smoke containing particulate matter, generally less than 2.5 micrometers in size and therefore dangerous. In fact, so small particles may reach directly the alveoli. In addition to this, burning incense may also release in air gas such as carbon monoxide, which binds to hemoglobin by reducing the ability of the blood to carry oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which cause diseases of the respiratory tract, irritation of the lungs and changes in their immune system. Not only that, burning incense may release also compounds such as benzene, toluene and xylene that, in the long run, can be carcinogenic. And in fact in the long run the smoke from incense can cause tumors of the respiratory tract and may cause damages to the liver, to the kidneys and to the central nervous system (Lin et al, Clin Mol Allergy, 2008 - Friborg et al, Cancer, 2008). So the problem is right here. It is not possible to define a beneficial action attributable to specific compounds of this combustion since, when we inhale the incense smoke, we also inhale all these substances that are harmful to health. Burning incense therefore increases pollution in homes making them less healthy places and the problem affects the whole house. In fact, as has been shown, the incense fumes also arrive in rooms far from where the incense is burning, even if placed on another floor, or which have closed doors (Ji et al, Indoor Air, 2010). It should also be considered that exposure to incense fumes causes a decline in lung function in adolescents and increases the risk of asthma (Chen et al, Indoor Air, 2017). But changes in metabolism have also been observed with a decrease in good HDL cholesterol and an increase in triglycerides with possible damage to the cardiovascular system (Alokail et al, Cell Biochemistry and function, 2011).
Burning incense, conclusions
What emerges from scientific studies therefore makes it clear that burning incense can be, especially in the long term, a health problem as it would increase pollution in closed environments. Certainly airing the rooms and ensuring good ventilation reduces this risk, if you cannot give up incense. Alternatively, you can perfume the house using, for example, essential oils, which also bring valuable properties based on the plant from which they are obtained.