GUANGZHOU, China, Aug. 25 (UPI) — Researchers found that smoke from incense contains compounds which may be more potentially toxic to cells than cigarette smoke.
Incense is typically used in religious practices or because of the pleasant scent many types of incense give off when burned. Researchers said that few studies have been done on the effects of incense smoke, which contains ultrafine and fine particles that may be detrimental to health.
“Clearly, there needs to be greater awareness and management of the health risks associated with burning incense in indoor environments,” said Rong Zhou, a researcher South China University of Technology, in a press release.
The researchers started by comparing two types of incense, both containing agarwood and sandalwood, common incense ingredients. The smoke was found to be 99 percent ultrafine and fine particles, which is often indicative of something detrimental to health. Incense smoke contains 64 different compounds, they said. While some of the compounds are “slightly harmful,” some ingredients in the incense samples are highly toxic, they said.
The researchers then tested the effects of the smoke on Salmonella tester strains and on the ovary cells of Chinese hamsters. They found that the incense compounds were mutagenic, which means they can potentially change DNA and cause mutations. Compounds in the incense were also found to be more cytotoxic and genotoxic than the cigarette sample used for the study.
While there has not been much research into incense, some studies have linked burning the scented sticks to lung cancer, childhood leukemia, and brain tumors. Mutagenic, cytotoxic and genotoxic compounds also are linked to the development of cancer.
Zhou said the study is not a statement on incense burning because, in addition to the fact that people use it in different ways, it is also used in ways that are very different from cigarettes.
The study is published in Environmental Chemistry Letters.