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The Hidden Dangers of Incense Smoke

By Dr. Kristie

It smells so rejuvenating when it feels the room with its sweet scent, but incense smoke may have a darker side. Incense smoke is increasingly being scrutinized as a causative factor in respiratory disease, particularly cancer of the respiratory tract.

This is particularly true when incense is burned in a small or poorly ventilated space such as an apartment. There’s even some thought that incense fumes may be as hazardous to health as second hand cigarette smoke.

What is it about incense smoke that could potentially make it so toxic? When incense is burned, the smoke given off contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, otherwise know as PAH’s. These are the same unhealthy substances that have been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in coal miners.

PAH’s are also released from atmospheric emissions. Other toxic and carcinogenic substances found in burning incense smoke include benzene and carbonyls. Obviously, these are not substances you want to be exposed to if you’re concerned about your health.

A study published in the online journal Cancer, looked at the association between incense smoke and risk of cancer of the respiratory tract. It showed that people who used incense on a daily basis for more than forty years had a seventy percent increased risk of developing respiratory tract cancer when compared to those who didn’t use incense.

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The relationship between incense smoke exposure and cancer risk appeared to be dose dependent in this study which adds additional credibility to the findings. Previous studies have also shown an association between incense smoke and brain tumors and leukemia in children.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church of Ireland addressed the issue of the health dangers of incense burned during church services after receiving health warnings from the minister of state in Ireland’s Ministry of Transport.

The minister was concerned that the use of incense in the church might increase the cancer risk of the members, particularly children who might be more susceptible to the unhealthy effects of incense smoke than adults. Incense is increasingly being recognized as an indoor air pollutant and a potential cancer causing agent.

If you’re concerned about the toxicity of incense smoke but still want to add a pleasant smell to your home, a safer choice might be to purchase an essential oil nebulizing infuser which can disperse natural scent throughout your home.

The smell from these infusers smells cleaner than that which comes from burning incense. These diffusers can be purchased online and a variety of essential oils can be found at your local health food store or natural food market.

Before you light up your next piece of incense, consider the potential health consequences of incense smoke to you and your family. Then, get smart and choose a diffuser instead.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.

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