How Potassium Iodide Can Protect People from Radiation Exposure

The radiation leak in Japan has sparked panic buying of iodine pills in neighboring countries such as Korea and the US (Hawaii) which are believed able to prevent radiation exposure. Does potassium iodide really can protect people from radiation exposure?

Iodine pills contain potassium iodide (KI), a salt of stable (non-radioactive) iodine. This stable iodine is needed by the body to make thyroid hormone.

If any nuclear radiation leak, the radioactive iodine will released into the air and contaminate the local food supply. When these materials get into the body through breathing, eating or drinking, then this will lead to the condition called internal contamination.

When internal contamination occurs, the thyroid gland will quickly absorb this chemical. Radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid can then injure the gland and may cause thyroid cancer. Because non-radioactive KI acts to block radioactive iodine from being absorbed into the thyroid gland, it can help protects the thyroid gland from damage.

Generally, the thyroid gland can not distinguish between stable iodine and radioactive iodine. When a person takes KI, the stable iodine will be absorbed by the thyroid gland. Because this gland already contains so much stable iodine, the thyroid gland will becomes ‘full’ and can not absorb any iodine – either stable or radioactive for the next 24 hours.

Even so, Potassium iodide (KI) can only protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine and can not protect the other parts of body, and can not recover the thyroid gland which had been damaged.

In addition to that, KI also can not protect the body from other radioactive elements. So if no any radioactive iodine, KI would be ineffective to protect.

It is important to note that KI may not give 100% protection against radioactive iodine. How well KI protects the thyroid gland is depends on the following factors:

  1. How much time passes between contamination with radioactive iodine and the taking of KI (the sooner a person takes KI, the better it will).
  2. How fast the KI absorbed into the blood
  3. The total amount of radioactive iodine were exposed by a person

Who should take Potassium Iodide or KI?

Generally, the thyroid gland of a fetus and infant are most at risk of damage from radioactive iodine. However, children and people with low reserves of iodine in their body are also at risk of thyroid injury.

Potassium iodide is available without prescription. Ask your pharmacist about how to take it correctly. Make sure to get the KI brands that has been approved by the FDA.

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