Potassium Iodide for Radiation Exposure?
With the recent tragedy of the twin natural-disasters in Japan spawning a potential nuclear catastrophe, many of us are concerned not only for the huge numbers of displaced people in Japan, but also about what nuclear fallout might reach us here at home. The news is reporting a run on potassium iodide, and exorbitant prices online. Should you be concerned about radiation levels in Seattle, and should you take potassium iodide yourself?
The first question is beyond my expertise, but I will point you to UW Weather researcher Cliff Mass, who says that there’s little risk we will be experiencing damaging levels of radiation in Seattle, to judge for yourself. At present, I personally think the everyday risks we always face are worse: from drunk and texting drivers, for example, or from the long-term health effects of eating excessive sugar and other junk food.
But as to the potassium iodide – should you take it preventively? At this point, I say no, it’s not safe.
Potassium iodide is useful in a “radiation emergency,” such as is being experienced in Japan. Nuclear fallout includes radioactive iodine. Our thyroid glands are wired such that they normally take up circulating iodine, to synthesize thyroid hormone. Iodine is generally ingested from the food we eat. (However, read below about why to avoid iodized salt.) If the majority of the pool of biochemically available iodine is radioactive, then radioactive iodine will be incorporated into thyroid hormone, and potentially stored in the body for future use. Thus, consuming temporarily high doses of non-radioactive iodine discourages this, by crowding out the radioactive iodine with normal iodine.
However, consuming high doses of iodine entails risk. While low doses of iodine, such as would be consumed by eating seaweed or sea salt, encourage proper thyroid function, high doses suppress the thyroid gland. In fact, pharmaceutically, potassium iodide can be used to suppress hyperactive thyroid function. [Of course, naturopathically, we aim to nourish and support weakened tissues, rather than suppressing, wherever possible.]
In all cases, with drugs as well as supplements, the question we should ask ourselves is: does the benefit of consuming this substance outweigh the risk of consuming it?
In Japan, the answer is yes: people there have a known radiation exposure, and steps to counteract it make sense. There, the risks of doing nothing (which include increased cancer risk) outweigh the risks of temporarily suppressing thyroid function.
In our present circumstances here in Seattle, in which there are (today) no measurements of increased environmental radiation, the answer is no. I recommend against taking a potentially damaging substance when there is currently no known radiation exposure to counteract.
If you want to take something to protect yourself “just in case,” there are better options. Nuclear radiation is “ionizing” – it creates free radical ions in the body – and the damage it creates is oxidative. Taking high-quality antioxidants is a safe (outside of personal allergies) option, as antioxidants are nutritive and useful in your body with or without radiation exposure, without causing some trouble along the way. Please ask me about high-quality supplement options here in my Medicinary if you are interested.
Naturally, you can eat your antioxidants on a daily basis; they are found in fruits and vegetables. Eat a wide variety, of all colors, mostly vegetables. Note that “white” counts as a color, particularly as it relates to onions, rich in the antioxidant quercetin, and garlic, which stimulates detoxification pathways in the liver.
In addition, a colleague sent a note to her mailing list today advising that there is evidence of radioprotective effects of miso. [Note: always consume only organic soy products, because non-organic sources are generally genetically modified.] In the interest of saving space, if you’re interested in the research reference, contact me at www.lumina-health.com, and I will send it to you.
Last, a quick explanation of my comment above, about avoiding iodized salt. While iodization of salt may once have been important in reducing the incidence of iodine-deficiency goiters among inland peoples, this is not generally a concern in the context of coastal populations eating a reasonable diet. And the problem returns to that risk/benefit analysis discussed above: it has been found more recently that iodized salt increases the incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease. Since it’s easy to eliminate the risk of iodine deficiency by consuming sea salt and seaweed harvested from clean sources (which offer you the additional benefit of ingesting other trace minerals at the same time), there is no good reason to increase the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease by consuming iodized salt.
Many Blessings, and May You Enjoy Luminous Good Health,
Dr. Deborah Epstein