As we spend more and more time home during the COVID-19 pandemic, burning incense has become more and more popular as a type of home fragrance to support relaxation. Incense is made of aromatic materials such as sage, oils, barks, flowers, and resins. When burnt, it creates a light and fragrant incense smoke. If you place a burning incense inside a tastefully designed burner, simply watching the flowing plumes can be a mesmerizing experience.
During ancient times, people originally burned incense during religious rituals or special ceremonies. Now, most people burn incense casually to relax, meditate or simply freshen up their rooms. Because incense produces smoke, you may be concerned about the health consequences associated with the burning process. Here, we will take a closer look at the benefits and risks related to burning incense.
What are the potential benefits of burning incense?
The most notable health benefit of burning incense is related to mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that one in five American adults experience a mental illness. Severe mental illness can be extremely debilitating and even result in suicide. Therefore, healthcare professionals and scientists have been working together to develop different strategies for patients who are struggling with mental health issues. Fortunately, according to published scientific studies, incense can help people who are struggling with depression and anxiety.
In 2008, Aerieh Moussaieff led a team of scientists to investigate how frankincense, a resin from the Boswellia plant, activates ion channels in mammal brains to decrease anxiety and depression. The experiment was performed on mice. They found that the resin influenced brain areas that control emotions. The nerve circuits affected by the compound were also associated with the therapeutic pathways of antidepressants. The resin was able to activate a protein called TRPV3, which is a protein known to play a role in the perception of warmth. Clearly, there is biological evidence to support the belief that burning incense can make you feel warm and calm.
Meditation is often coupled with burning incense. Practicing meditation and mindfulness is already a well-known non-pharmacological method of managing mental health issues. In the systematic review led by Madhav Goyal in 2014, scientists evaluated over 18,000 studies looking at the relationship between mediation and depression and/or anxiety. They concluded that meditation programs produced significant positive results in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Burning incense before meditation can release calming aromas to help you get into the right mindset before you begin. Inhaling its fragrant fumes can maintain a tranquil state of mind. This is why burning incense can be an excellent aid for quality meditation sessions.
What are the potential risks of burning incense?
Incense needs to be lit up to produce fragrance. The production of smoke is unavoidable. However, the smoke may contain irritants that may affect people with underlying respiratory diseases. Based on the study Incense burning and asthma in children conducted in 2010, there is a possible connection between burning incense and asthma symptoms in schoolchildren. Specifically, exposure to incense smoke caused increased wheezing and subsequent asthma medication use. This result is consistent with other studies that suggest incense smoke may cause increased inflammation in your lungs.
Another health risk when burning incense is the increase of allergies. Incense is often made of various plant materials that are known to trigger allergic reactions in many people. If you happen to be allergic to one component in the incense, you may experience an attack when you inhale the smoke. Symptoms of allergy can include sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, hives, and even trouble breathing. Therefore, it is always important to monitor for signs and symptoms of allergies when burning a new incense.
Heat and fire can also pose health risks. Incense needs to continuously burn down to give off aromas, so the incense burner will be very hot. If not managed with care, incense may cause fires or burns. The severity of burns can range from mild skin redness to life-threatening skin damage. You should always take measures to prevent these events before burning incense.
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Should I burn incense?
When making any decision, you should always think about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. As discussed above, the most widely recognized benefit of burning incense is its positive effects on mental health. This is key to our happiness and wellbeing, especially during the pandemic. Although incense smoke may increase the chance of developing respiratory diseases and allergies, the risk can be managed by the following strategies:
· Ensure that all rooms are well ventilated when burning incense
· Do not burn incense if you are coughing or sneezing because smoke can worsen your symptoms
· Avoid burning incense when there are patients with chronic respiratory diseases nearby
It is possible to burn incense safely if you take appropriate precautions to control fire hazards. Here are some suggestions of what you can do to minimize the risk of fires and accidental burns:
· Handle incense burners carefully at all times
· Always allow incense burners to cool off for some time before touching them
· Dispose of incense ash properly
· Keep flammable items away from the burner
· Only place incense burners on flat, non-flammable surfaces
· Keep pets and children away from incense burners
· Never leave an incense burner unattended
If you follow the recommendations above, major risks associated with burning incense can be brought under control. Given all the benefits described above, if you are considering burning incense for relaxation, do not hesitate to give it a go!