Damaged nuclear reactors in Japan have set off worldwide concerns over radiation exposure, especially if you live downwind from surrounding areas or near nuclear plants. Potassium iodide, known to protect against thyroid cancer is now in short supply. Thyroid cancer rates have been reported to increase by as much as 100 fold in populations exposed to high levels of radiation and cancer begins approximately
four years after exposure. Adult treatment is only recommended at high levels of exposure; however children have very active thyroid glands and are particularly sensitive to even low levels of exposure.
Living downwind from sites of radiation leaks is particularly hazardous because particles can be inhaled. It can contaminate soil and water making crops grown on the land and animals and animal products such as milk and dairy contaminated. So exposure can be indirect.
Did you know that in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) offers potassium iodide (KI) tablets at no cost to States that request it for people within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. The stockpiles and distribution channels are the responsibility of various regulatory organizations depending on the radius from the plants.
Potassium iodide (KI) and potassium iodate (KIO3) are equally effective forms of compounds that can deliver iodine to the body. They saturate the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine and block the uptake of radioactive iodine. It is most effective if taken a few hours prior to exposure but can be beneficial even if taken within three hours after exposure.
These products which are sold as over-the-counter medications or as dietary supplements are not routinely tested for quality prior to sale by any government agency. While OTC products are required to be manufactured under more strict guidelines and in FDA approved facilities check with watchdog agencies or the FDA to assure you are purchasing viable product. Only three products, Iosat®, ThyroSafe®, and ThyroShield® are currently registered with the FDA as over-the-counter medications, indicating that they are manufactured under stricter regulations than the other products sold as dietary
supplements. Currently, all but 2 brands are out of stock.
Since large doses of iodide are needed to protect against thyroid cancer measured in milligrams, other iodine preparations such as tincture of iodine, iodized salt or supplements to prevent iodine deficiency are either not stable or have too small a dose to be of any use as they contain only a few hundred micrograms (1mg = 1,000 mcg).
Unfortunately, these products only protect against thyroid cancer and do nothing for the other damaging effects of radiation and late forming cancers. In contaminated areas, the best solution is evacuation. I will be contributing to relief efforts in Japan as I do for any country that suffers such devastation. If you are considering donating, choose a responsible organization to send donations.