Radiation Toxicity: What You Need to Know about the use of Potassium Iodide

March 15, 2011

The following excerpt is from my colleague,  Dr. Suzann Wang, in Monterrey, CA (with a few additions by us).

Iodine In the wake of the Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and resulting nuclear reactor explosions many of us on the West Coast are wondering how to protect ourselves from any future radiation exposure. Our exposure can come by way of Japan’s nuclear problem and its fallout brought to us via the jetstream and winds.  The biggest concern that you need to be aware of is the possible risk of cancers, especially thyroid cancer from nuclear fall-out. So far, the risk to Americans and Canadians is very little since the nuclear reactors have mostly been contained by the heroic nuclear experts in Japan.  However, in the interest of emergency preparedness I thought I would address the use of Potassium Iodide tablets and why it would help protect your thyroid from cancer.

Many of us know that iodine is the main mineral that is used by the thyoid to integrate into the formation of thyroid hormone. The lower your iodine levels are in your body, the more likely that your body will absorb and utilize radioactive iodine from nuclear fall-out.  The use of iodized salt has helped minimize the formation of goiters or enlarged thyroid as a result of low iodine levels historically but this alone is not sufficient to protect your body from absorbing radioactive iodine.

Enter potassium iodide or its scientific abbreviation KI.  Potassium iodide has long since been given as a preventative measure for protecting people from thyroid cancer after nuclear accidents. It’s usefulness has been especially noted after the Chernobyl nuclear accident where the risk of thyroid cancer has become an epidemic since the 1986 disaster.  In adjacent Poland where KI emergency therapy was instituted there seems to have been no increase in thyroid cancer incidence.  Potassium Iodide has an immediate protective effect for people who are at risk for inhaling radioactive iodine. Too, it is helpful in the longer term during exposure from foods that have had radioactive iodine and strontium contamination. Dr. David Brenner of the Center for Radiological research at Columbia University believes that had people exposed to Chernobyl’s fall-out been told to stop consuming dairy products, this would have significantly reduced the incidence of thyroid cancers and leukemia caused by radiation exposure they are now experiencing.  Dr. Brenner explains that KI prevents the thyroid from absorbing the toxic radioactive iodine but that in the long run 98% of radiation exposure is from the settling of radioactive particles onto the food our food sources consume. Our exposure to radioactive iodine is mostly indirect primarily due to consumption of dairy products which are derived from radioactively contaminated grass and is concentrated in the milk of cows and other milk producing animals. Also fruits and vegetables sourced near a nuclear accident location is also important to avoid due to radioactive contamination.

The American Thyroid Association recommends taking KI 12-24 hours prior to radioactive exposure at a full dose of 130 mg per adult and 65 mg for children between ages 3 and 18 and 32 mg for children between ages 1 and 3.  This dose should then be repeated every 24 hours as long as radiation is in the environment.  In truth, the FDA has published a statement saying that children as young as 1 month can be given the full adult dose of 130 mg.  Absolute precision in dosing of KI is not necessary except for the very young (under 1 month of age).  Please note that the CDC states that pregnant and breastfeeding women of infants and newborns should not repeat dosing and should instead be evacuated from the area.

Check your news channels for potential radiation exposure for your area and take your iodine tablets if your area is at risk for high radiation levels. Start taking your doses of iodine/iodide about 24-48 hours before fallout arrives to your area, and repeat dosing every 24 hours. Remember, that kids are much more susceptible than adults over 40, when the development of thyroid cancer diminishes.


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