Protecting Your Thyroid From Radiation

Nuclear Power Plant at Sunset
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Frankly, the panicked rush to buy up every single bit of potassium iodide -- in the unlikely event that a toxic radioactive plume from Japan passes over the United States -- is getting fairly ridiculous.

I live about an hour's drive from a nuclear plant, and so for more than ten years, I have always kept enough potassium iodide on hand for my entire family, just to be prepared in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident or attack on the nearby nuclear facility.

But the frenzy taking place the past few days is rather amazing. I can't open up an email, or turn on a television show, without seeing a doctor, health expert, or some other self-appointed "radiation emergency" talking head spouting bad advice. Usually, it's someone who has absolutely no idea whatsoever about thyroid disease or use of potassium iodide as a radiation blocker.

Meanwhile, I have had more emails and calls from otherwise rational friends and family members who are desperately trying to get potassium iodide, or who can't get it, and therefore want to know if they can load up on iodized salt, or seaweed salad, or kelp pills, to protect their thyroid from Japanese radiation.

Yes, it really is getting this out of control.

Let's take a look at ten things you should know about protecting your thyroid from radiation.

1. All potassium iodide can do is protect the thyroid from one radioactive isotope -- radioactive iodine.

It is NOT an "Armageddon pill" or a "radiation protector pill." When taken properly, potassium iodide can saturate the thyroid with iodine, and prevent it from absorbing radioactive iodine, which can prevent the increased risk of thyroid cancer associated with radiation exposure.

2. Now, about taking potassium iodide properly...It must be the proper form -- potassium iodide -- and it must be in the proper doses, and it must be taken at the proper time.

That means, it must be taken in the hours before and after the radioactive plume is passing over your area. Not days before. Not days later. If you're taking potassium iodide now, and it's days before any radioactive fallout (if any) has reached you, then you are not only wasting your money, but you are potentially risking your health.

Want to know exactly how much to take, how to take it, and when? These official guidelines from the experts will help:

3. If you have had Graves' disease and were already treated with radioactive iodine, potassium iodide would not be necessary to protect your thyroid against radiation.

4. If you have had your thyroid surgically removed, potassium iodide would not be necessary to protect your thyroid against radiation.

5. If you are not in Japan, the likelihood that you will need potassium iodide in the next several days or weeks to protect your thyroid against radiation is VERY small.

6. Most experts have indicated that harmful levels of radiation from the Japanese leak are not likely to reach the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

The risk that Japan's radioactive plume will be able to not only travel many thousands of miles, but that the radiation would remain intact and no be dispersed, is, according to experts, very negligible.

7. In a radiation emergency, the risk of developing thyroid cancer is thought to justify the risk of taking potassium iodide. But if you are not directly in the path of the radioactive plume, potassium iodide will not only not protect you from anything, but it MAY INCREASE your risk of developing thyroid problems. Let's be clear about this. Potassium iodide can trigger or worsen hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, worsen existing thyroid conditions, cause conditions such as the Jod-Basedow phenomena, and the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, and ultimately cause temporary or even permanent thyroid conditions.

It can also cause sialadenitis (an inflammation of the salivary gland), gastrointestinal disturbances, allergic reactions and rashes.

8. There are three FDA-approved forms of potassium iodide: Iosat Tablets (130 mg), ThyroSafe Tablets (65 mg) and ThyroShield Solution (65 mg/ml.)

9. If you are paying more than around $20 for a bottle of potassium iodide in any form, then you are a victim of severe price gouging due to the current panic buying frenzy.

10. There are nuclear reactors located across America (See a map from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission showing where they are located.) To protect us against any future radiation emergencies that could affect you locally, you may want to have potassium iodide on hand as part of your family emergency kit. (But don't pay the currently inflated price...wait until the prices return to normal.)

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