17 quick facts about potassium iodide

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster, the hunt for potassium iodide is on worldwide. This supplement helps offset the devastating health effects of radiation exposure, which could include the developing of thyroid cancer.

Those companies who still have some of this product in stock have increased their prices by up to 500%, sparking an accusation of profiteering in the wake of a natural disaster.

Yet, people are still prepared to pay these prices. What is potassium iodide, how does it provide protection against radiation, and just why are people so keen to lay their hands on it?

  • Potassium iodide is generally used in treating victims of nuclear accidents, as it blocks the thyroid gland's uptake of radioactive iodine.
  • This supplement is usually available without prescription, but the pharmacist's instructions on taking this substance should be followed scrupulously.
  • Potassium iodide is a salt of stable iodine, which the body needs to make thyroid hormones. Following a nuclear accident, radio-active iodine may be released into the air and breathed in by people in close proximity to the disaster area.
  • It is also possible for radioactive iodine to get into the food and water and contaminate people in that way.
  • If this happens, the thyroid gland quickly absorbs the radioactive iodine, but it can injure the gland. Taking potassium iodide can protect the thyroid from being damaged in this way.
  • Potassium iodide cannot prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body, and it can only protect the thyroid gland, not other parts of the body.
  • This substance can also not reverse damage to the thyroid gland once it has occurred, hence the scramble to get hold of this substance before people are exposed to radiation.
  • Potassium iodide contains so much stable iodine, that once it has been taken, it blocks the absorption of radioactive iodine by the thyroid.
  • Table salt also contains iodine, but not enough to provide any protection to your thyroid in a nuclear emergency. Do not take large quantities of table salt as it can damage your health.
  • The sooner a person takes Potassium iodide, the more effective is the protection it provides against radioactive iodine.
  • The thyroid glands of a foetus and of an infant are most at risk of injury from radioactive iodine. Young children are also more at risk than are young adults. It is important to stick to the recommended dosage.
  • Pregnant women should not take more than one dose of potassium iodide following internal contamination by radioactive iodine. The same goes for breastfeeding women, who, if they are taking more than one dose of potassium iodide, should switch their infants to baby formula instead of breast milk.
  • Adults older than 40 years should not take KI unless public health or emergency management officials say that contamination with a very large dose of radioactive iodine is expected. They are least at risk of developing thyroid cancer.
  • After a nuclear incident, authorities will advise the people in the affected area whether they should evacuate, and what the recommended dosage is that should be taken of potassium iodide. It is important to follow these instructions and not to consume foodstuffs that may have been contaminated.
  • Tablets come in two strengths, 130 milligram (mg) and 65 mg. The tablets are scored so they may be cut into smaller pieces for lower doses. Each milliliter (mL) of the oral liquid solution contains 65 mg of KI. Click here to see the FDA recommended dosages for different age groups, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Potassium iodide could be harmful to people who have an iodine allergy, or who have certain skin disorders such as dermatitis or urticaria. People with thyroid disease can be treated with this supplement, but it needs to happen under the supervision of a doctor.
  • WARNING: taking a larger than recommended dose does not offer any extra protection, and could cause severe illness or death. Newborn infants who receive more than one dose, are at risk for developing hypothyroidism. Consult your doctor.

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mythyroid.com)

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, March 2011)

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