Posted by: Chris Maloney | March 19, 2011

Nuclear Radiation and Iodine: Should I Take Some?

Waterfront in Nagasaki, Japan

Image via Wikipedia

When something like this reaches the little pocket of wonderful out-of-the-wayness I call home, it means it’s reached epidemic proportions. 

Short Answer: Make sure your kids aren’t deficient.  Take it if you are planning to involve yourself in capping the reactors in Japan.  Otherwise, leave it alone. 

For those who need all the research to read for themselves, maloney medical has it all.

I spent some time researching this one, because my patients aren’t likely to be satisfied with the smug expert answer:  we’re all so far away it doesn’t matter.  Anyone who has been paying attention to the news in the last few years realizes that dilution is not the solution. 

So here’s the dirty truth.  Taking short term potassium iodide will do nothing for you unless you happen to be deficient.  In the U.S. , this is most likely if you happen to be a broccoli farmer down on his luck forced to eat his own crop every day and with a genetic predisposition not to absorb iodine

Most of us are getting plenty of iodine through our processed foods.  I don’t like it, but now you can eat your high sodium fast food and burp out:  “it’s for radiation protection, really.”

For those of us who are trying not to eat that way, I would recommend a small (less than a gram a day) amount of sea vegetable.  I get very grumpy with the experts state that sea vegetables have variable amounts of iodine and should be avoided.  Hello, processed foods have variable amounts of iodine and very little nutritional value.  So instead of telling people to have a little sea vegetable with their cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and the like), we’re told to avoid both. 

What you really shouldn’t do is suck down straight potassium iodide.  I’m serious.  I read another expert who has all the negative effects of potassium iodide spelled out in terms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, then goes on to say how we really don’t need it for various reasons, and concludes with saying you should take it or at least have it around.  She bases this on the CDC website’s warning about what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion in your area. 

Ok, so I did the basic research.  Remember a couple of names of major nuclear explosions?  How about Chernobyl and Nagasaki?  Ok, so the kids around Chernobyl are still, twenty years later, at higher risk for thyroid cancer.  That’s a lot of potassium iodide to feed your children, so please don’t.  You could get them checked for iodine deficiency, which was very common in the area around Chernobyl.  In Nagasaki, where we were the ones responsible for the radiation, the high iodine content of the food had a hugely protective effect. 

For adults engaging in the cleanup of Chernobyl, those exposed to the highest radiation had a slight increase in thyroid cancer risk.  In comparision, the millions of Europeans who were downwind did not experience increased risk. 

So unless you plan on helping out in Japan, leave the potassium iodide on the shelves and focus on improving your overall health.  A number of other antioxidant foods, including turmeric, help modify your risk for thyroid cancer.  The biggest epidemiological protector?  More vegetables. 

All the research I’ve based my conclusions on is here


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