Incense smoke could harm your health, says study
Abu Dhabi - In the UAE, incense is burnt in at least 90 per cent of households.
Burning incense at home could be harming your health, potentially increasing your risks of oral infection and other diseases, a new study at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has revealed.
Though past research has shown how the practice circulates air pollutants, the lead author of the study, Barbados Yvonne Vallès, noted "a significant lack of awareness among the public".
Incense burning is an ancient practice often used as part of religious ceremonies or aromatising spaces. In the UAE, incense is burnt in at least 90 per cent of households, mainly to perfume homes and clothing, according to another probe cited in the study.
Previous analysis has established that incense smoke contains high concentrations of pollutants - such as carbon monoxide and nitric oxide, both of which are detected in tobacco smoke - and its use is related to increased risks of cardiovascular and lung disease.
Now, the NYUAD research has presented how incense burning is linked to oral health.
"For the first time, we are showing an association between incense use and changes in microorganism composition that inhabit the oral cavity. Although this is a preliminary analysis, it is nonetheless an important finding with potential health implications," said Vallès, lecturer of genetics at the University of the West Indies.
How it was conducted
The study gathered mouthwash samples from over 300 Emirati adults and looked into each of their 'oral microbiota', or the ecological community of microorganisms found in the mouth.
Then, the frequency of incense use by the participants was assessed by a questionnaire.
The survey of incense use ranged from never (6.6 per cent) to occasional (24.1 per cent), frequent (33.7 per cent) and daily (35.6 per cent), revealing that the diversity of oral microbiota was significantly increased in daily incense users when compared to those who never use it.
By comparing non-incense users to incense users, the study found that burning incense is associated with changes in the diversity, structure, and composition of the oral microbiota, even when the user gets exposed to low levels of incense, as is in the case of occasional users. This implies that even a low exposure can have adverse effects on health.
The microorganisms found in the mouth play an essential role in helping the body maintain a stable internal environment. Any disruption may lead to serious health consequences, the study noted.
An important step
Raghib Ali, director of NYUAD's Public Health Research Centre, said: "This is an important first step in understanding how incense may affect human health. (and) to really understand how it may contribute to common chronic diseases among Emiratis. We need to continue to study the UAE population over many years."
The study was co-authored by 28 researchers from different universities and organisations, including NYUAD, NYU in New York, Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, Zayed University, UAE University, Zayed Military Hospital, Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center, Seha, and The University of the West Indies in Barbados.