Washington, May 21 : They're good for the soul, are frequently used to scent rooms and are an integral part of religious ceremonies, but if you think incense's plus points are just confined to this, here's something you should know - according to biologists, the burning sticks can alleviate anxiety and depression.
According to a new research, burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression.
This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.
"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study's co-authors.
"We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning." Mechoulam added.
To determine incense's psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.
Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.
The study will be appearing online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org).