Incense Use Linked To Cardiovascular Disease

Study shows that daily incense use is associated with a higher mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease.

AsianScientist (Aug. 20, 2014) – A study of over 63,000 Singaporean Chinese has come to the conclusion that chronic exposure to incense is associated with an increased risk of death due to cardiovascular causes. This research has been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The practice of burning incense as part of religious rituals is widespread throughout Asia. However, few studies have investigated the impact of incense burning on indoor air quality and its subsequent effects on health.

A team of researchers led by associate professor Koh Woon-Puay from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School previously found that daily incense use was linked to an increased risk of upper respiratory tract cancer. In the present study, the team turned their attention to the effects of incense burning on cardiovascular disease.

They found that the majority of the population they studied (77 percent) were current incense users, with most using incense daily for more than 20 years. The population they studied, 63,257 Singaporean Chinese aged 45-74, was ideal to study the effects of incense burning as confounding factors such as outdoor air pollution and indoor solid fuel use is low.

By tracking the number of cardiovascular deaths in their study population through the national death registry, the team predicted that eight percent of the deaths due to coronary heart disease and 12 percent of the deaths due to stroke could be attributed to chronic exposure to incense smoke. However, the association between incense smoke and cardiovascular disease was weaker in cigarette smokers, possibly due to the overriding impact of smoking.

Incense burning releases volatile organic compounds and particulate matter that could be harmful to health. The authors of the study say that although their intention is not to discourage the burning of incense for religious reasons, they hope to educate users on the possible effects on their health and encourage ways of reducing exposure to incense smoke.

The article can be found at: Pan et al. (2014) Incense Use and Cardiovascular Mortality among Chinese in Singapore: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.


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Rebecca did her PhD at the National University of Singapore where she studied how macrophages integrate multiple signals from the toll-like receptor system. She was formerly the editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine.

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