Potassium Iodide for Radiation Exposure - Does It Work?
Does taking potassium iodide for radiation exposure reduce the risk of cancer?
The earthquake in Japan has cause serious damages to their nuclear reactors. The world-wide panic and concerns on the reactors spewing out radioactive substances have caused a buying panic of potassium iodide (KI) from pharmacies and online retailers.
But how effective is taking KI for preventing your thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine?
Read on to find out...
Radioactive iodine is one of those nasty left-overs (by-product) that results from using nuclear fission reactions. Properly functioning nuclear reactors
do not discharge these toxic substances into the water or air.
When it gets into our body, the radioactive iodine concentrates in the thyroid gland leading to an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. Once the radioactive iodide is in the thyroid glands, it cannot be removed.
Indeed, the experience from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident revealed that young adults and children exposed to the radiation had significantly higher risk of thyroid related cancer after a four year period.
Adults over the age of 40 years have less of a concern.
Research studies on using potassium iodide for radiation exposure
There is one study done in Japan on the benefits of using potassium iodide in preventing the thyroid gland from absorbing the radioactive iodide.
Thyroid blockade during a radiation emergency in iodine-rich areas: effect of a stable-iodine dosage.
Takamura N, Nakamura Y, Ishigaki K, Ishigaki J, Mine M, Aoyagi K, Yamashita S.
J Radiat Res (Tokyo). 2004 Jun;45(2):201-4.
The researchers in this study showed that a single dose of 50 mg or 100 mg of potassium iodide was able to block the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodide for up to 24 hours.
The 50 mg tablet had a protective effect of 73.3% and the higher 100 mg dose had 79.5%.
Moreover, the volunteers did not experienced any side effects from this single dose.
(Note: 50 mg of potassium iodide gives you 38 mg of iodide and the 100 mg gives you 76 mg of iodide.)
The American Thyroid Association, in a 2002 study, recommended the use of potassium iodide for radiation exposure. This conclusion came from the results after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident which caused 3,000 cases of thyroid cancer.
The United Nations in the same year also reported that between 8,000 and 10,000 people who were also exposed can expect to develop thyroid cancer in another decade.
All these studies focus on the effects of radiation on those people who live close to where the nuclear accident occurred. The effects of the nuclear fallout on the other side of the world is not unknown.
Side effects of potassium iodide
There are very few side effects reported. Of course, some people may allergic to it. In very rare cases, it may cause either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Dose to use and how to take potassium iodide
The above study demonstrated that using a 50 mg or 100 mg potassium iodide as a single dose during a nuclear accident worked.
This single dose provided protection for a period of 24 hours against the thyroid glands from absorbing radiative iodine.
The current FDA recommended dose for adults (over 18 years) is 130 mg taken once daily for as long as there is risk of radioactive iodine from nuclear accidents.
Children between the age of 4 and 18 can take 65 mg daily and those between 1 month and 3 years of age can take 32.5 mg. If needed, a liquid can be made by dissolving the crushed potassium iodide tablets in water or juice.
People living close to a nuclear reaction in the United States are given access to potassium iodide free of charge from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Potassium iodide tablets are proven to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine. And infants and young children will benefit more from taking potassium iodide for radiation exposure.
Most studies of the effect of radioactive iodine on cancer risk looked at the site of the nuclear accident and several hundred miles away. As the distance increases, the risk drops off rapidly.
The question still remains as to how much radioactive iodine is expected to reach places in Canada and North America.
Experts do not expect any significant amount to travel that far. And when some eventually find their way to the other side of the globe, the amount is expected to be below measurable limits.
Can you buy potassium iodide?
You can buy potassium iodide from most pharmacies. It would be a special order item that might take a day or two for them to arrive from their pharmaceutical wholesaler.
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