Gee, That Smells Nice

Decades ago, when I was a newlywed and still in college, we lived on East 90th Street in New York City. The neighborhood was old; the building was old. It was old enough to have that odor, the one New Yorkers are still arguing about. One group says it’s dead rats in the walls; the other says it’s feline urine that’s built up over the years. It was pretty rank.

At that time, I was a wannabe hippie, so I did what all the wannabe hippies did. I lit incense. It was powerful and it smelled nice. Opening the windows wasn’t a helpful option since this was a dumb belle apartment and people had been throwing garbage out the windows and down into the little airspace the shape of the apartment created for over a hundred years.

They’d been throwing it out the back windows, too. Nobody wanted to walk their garbage down the five flights from where I lived. What about the front windows, you ask. If you didn’t mind car exhaust smoke or the shrills of children playing in the street, that would have been okay. I liked the sound of the children, but it didn’t help me study.

We finally figured out this was not the best place for us to live, so we moved to an apartment in Forest Hills, a neighborhood in Queens. It smelled nice there. Our three windows opened on to a courtyard belonging to the apartment building behind us. There were trees and bushes galore. But we still lit incense. By this time, my then husband was a wannabe hippie right along with me.

I moved a lot in those years: New Rochelle in Westchester, Park Slope in Brooklyn, and Stapleton Heights in Staten Island. In each new home, I lit incense more from habit than anything else.

Finally, I moved to Arizona and kept all ten windows in my home open throughout the fall, winter, and spring. But in the summer with its extreme heat, they had to be closed…. So what did I do? That’s right; I burned incense. Never once did I consider this might be some sort of health hazard.

Now I have pancreatic cancer which I know is caused by the ATM gene and, in my case, is hereditary (Stop laughing, please. That really is the name of the gene.) But I also have Chronic Kidney Disease. I got to wondering if there’s any connection between the incense burning and the fact that I have CKD. So, I decided to explore that possibility.

But first, let me tell those who may not know just what incense is. Dictionary.com at https://www.dictionary.com/browse/incense has a nice, easy definition:

  1. “an aromatic gum or other substance producing a sweet odor when burned, used in religious ceremonies, to enhance a mood, etc.
  2. the perfume or smoke arising from such a substance when burned.
  3. any pleasant perfume or fragrance.”

I popped over to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is part of the
US National Library of Medicine
, which in turn is part of the National Institutes of Health, which is connected to PubMed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6325774/. Why? Because I remembered reading something about incense on this site. I know, I know. I freely admit I have weird reading habits, but remember: I’m retired. I can indulge in anything that catches my fancy now… including reading weird, seemingly random articles. Anyway, this is what I learned from this study of daily incense burning by Chinese CKD patients in Singapore.

“Our study provides epidemiological evidence that long-term exposure to domestic incense smoke may contribute to the risk of ESRD in the general populations. We acknowledge the lack of information on kidney function at baseline as a limitation in our study, and recommend that the findings be corroborated by future studies that can demonstrate the deterioration in kidney function with time in incense users. Given the worldwide prevalence of incense burning, our finding has substantial public health implications. We advocate implementing strategies to reduce exposure to the emissions from domestic incense and educating the public about the importance of improving ventilation with the use of incense.”

This is no surprise if you’re thinking logically, but then again, who thinks about incense? Although I’ll bet you’ll be doing a little bit more thinking about it now. There are some problems here, though.

  1. I’m not Chinese.
  2. I don’t live in Singapore.
  3. I don’t burn incense on a daily basis.

Hmmm, let’s see if I can find anything else. While not specific to CKD, Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/health/is-incense-bad-for-you#bottom-line did have concerns.

“Incense has been used for thousands of years with many benefits. However, studies are showing incense can possibly pose dangers to health.

Incense isn’t officially deemed a major public health risk comparable to smoking tobacco. Correct use to minimize risks hasn’t yet been explored. Neither has the extent of its dangers been explored, since studies thus far are limited.

Reducing or limiting incense use and your exposure to the smoke may help lower your risk. Opening windows during or after use is one way to reduce exposure.

Otherwise, you can explore alternatives to incense if you’re concerned about the risks.”

I intend to open the windows the next time I use incense to cover that darned chemo smell I’m still emitting. Consider opening the windows the next time you choose to use incense, if you do.

Time for a little gratitude here. You know I’ve been dealing with pancreatic cancer since last March. During this time period, I’ve been invited to present at a conference in Tokyo, participate in both a radio show and a newspaper article, and be a member of a think tank in New Jersey. To be honest, I hadn’t realized how much physical energy I put into my CKD awareness outreach. While I had to answer, “Not this year. Please keep me in mind for next year,” I am thankful for these opportunities.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yikes! I started burning incense again this past year after a long hiatus. Guess I better open up the window instead.

    So glad you’re dong well.

    • Me, too. I get to sleep and rest as much as I want until I have that last round of chemo that’s coming up.

      I’ve got to admit I was disappointed in the research I found. My husband had just bought me some delicious incense since I couldn’t seem to rid myself of the smell of chemo. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

  2. Who would have thought? Th al you for thos, love your research, Gail. Glad that you’ve gotten the all clear from the doc.

    • Awww, Janice I appreciate your appreciation of my work. So glad you’re a reader.


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