Oct 12, 2012 by EDITOR
Burning Incense: Not Worth The Pleasant Scent If It Causes Cancer
Just about any smoke is harmful to our lungs if it's inhaled. Incense burns four times more particulate matter than cigarette smoke. Regular inhalation of incense smoke could increase the risk of a variety of respiratory cancers, according to a a group of studies conducting the researcher on carcinogens.
Incense is popular in Asian countries. It is common for the Buddhism and Taoism religions to burn incense daily. But it's also popular in America. In the United States, incense is often sold in health food stores and used for religious purposes or scenting a room. However, incense is dangerous to health according to scientists.
A study published in the September 2001 issue of the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology indicates that burning incense can expose people to dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
Lin and colleagues, the researchers who studies incense, state that "a typical composition of stick incense consists of 21% (by weight) of herbal and wood powder, 35% of fragrance material, 11% of adhesive powder, and 33% of bamboo stick."
Lin advises people to reduce exposure time to incense and ventilated areas where it is burned, citing that "The air pollution in and around various temples has been documented to be harmful effects on health."
Like any cigarette smoke and wood smoke, incense smoke contains particulate matter, gas products (carbon monoxide, cardiodioxide, and sulfur dioxide) and other organic compounds (benzene, toluene, xylenes, aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) shown to harm human health.
Researchers collected air samples from inside and outside of a temple in Taiwan, and found that the air inside the temple was highly concentrated with a group of cancer-causing chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
One PAH called benzopyrene, which is linked to lung cancer in smokers, was found to be 45 times more concentrated in the temple than in homes where people smoked cigarettes.
The researchers also looked at total suspended particles (TSPs), a measurement that reflects the total weight of small and potentially harmful airborne pollutants that all of us are exposed to on an ongoing basis.
In a study of more than 61,000 ethnic Chinese living in Singapore who were followed for up to 12 years, the investigators found a link between heavy incense use and various respiratory cancers.
They found that TSPs inside the temple was three times higher than it was at a local traffic intersection, and eleven times higher than just outside the temple. Put another way, they found that a steady volume of incense burning can create more harmful air pollution than that found at a typical traffic intersection.
The researchers found that incense use was associated with a statistically significant higher risk of cancers of the upper respiratory tract, with the exception of nasopharyngeal cancer. However, they observed no overall effect on lung cancer risk.
Those who used incense heavily also had higher rates of a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which refers to tumors that arise in the cells lining the internal and external surfaces of the body. The risk was seen in smokers and nonsmokers.
Study participants who used incense in their homes all day or throughout the day and night were 80 percent more likely than non-users to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the entire respiratory tract.
The link between incense use and increased cancer risk held when the researchers weighed other factors, including cigarette smoking, diet and drinking habits.
"This association is consistent with a large number of studies identifying carcinogens in incense smoke," Friborg's team writes, "and given the widespread and sometimes involuntary exposure to smoke from burning incense, these findings carry significant public health implications."