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Hi, I'm Malcolm Woods

I’m the New Media Editor at Outpost, though I’m the old media editor, as well. In both capacities, I read, hear, photograph and write about food. I also eat food pretty regularly, all of which means I spend a lot of time thinking about food in...
Malcolm Woods

The inside dope on iodine

Food, Love and Policy By Malcolm Woods on March 16, 2011

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has raised alarms worldwide about the possibility of radiation poisoning. It has also triggered a run on potassium iodide supplements and on other sources of iodine – in the US.


Which has got us wondering about a couple of things.


First, where’s the radiation? It’s not here. Any radiation that has been so far released has occurred in Japan and the danger from that radiation is limited to the immediate vicinity of the plant. The Japanese government has ordered an evacuation zone around the damaged plant, but there is little evidence yet that a danger exists any further away from the facility. Over here, on the other side of the world? Experts just don’t foresee us being at risk at all from radiation exposure. Plenty of reasons behind their thinking, but we’re not diving into that here. We’re talking potassium iodide, remember.


And also kelp, because it turns out people in some parts of our country are making their way to natural foods grocery stores and stocking up on kelp. Kelp is a seaweed and a good natural source of many minerals and vitamins – and iodine. So, will eating kelp or buying kelp supplements, ward off radiation poisoning?


Again, no health officials we can find are saying there is any reason to worry about radiation exposure here in Wisconsin from a broken nuclear power plant in Japan. No reason at all. But back to kelp. It is a good thing to have in a balanced diet. And it is believed to help your thyroid function normally. You like kelp? Continue eating it. We sell kelp supplements, too. But taking them to ward off non-existent radiation poisoning is over the top and impractical.


Why? The amounts needed. According to experts (the same experts who say there is NO need for prophylactic measures here in America), an adult would need a 130mg (milligrams) dose of potassium iodide to provide a 24-hour block; a child would need 65mg for that same time period. The kelp tablets Outpost carries contain 225mcg (micrograms) of Potassium iodide, much less than needed. In fact, an adult would have to consume more than 550 kelp tablets to get the amount of potassium iodide needed to block the thyroid from absorbing harmful radioactive iodine. 


We do carry other supplements that offer more potassium iodide, but even they top at 2.5mg per tablet – again nowhere near enough – IF there were even a legitimate need.


So what is it about iodine and the thyroid that figure into all of this?  Well, the thyroid gland is a very sensitive hormone-making machine. It needs iodine to power that hormone production. It’s a greedy little organ that will gobble up any iodine it encounters. Inhale or absorb radioactive iodine, and the thyroid will readily utilize it.


Which can lead to a greatly increased risk of thyroid cancer down the road, though the degree of risk is dependent upon many factors, not the least of which is the amount of radiation one has been exposed to.


Basically, an potassium iodide supplement works by flooding the thyroid with good iodine, leaving no need for that greedy little grub to seek out and store any of the radioactive stuff. One dose of potassium iodide can protect the thyroid gland for one day. That protection lasts 24 hours and is limited to the thyroid – it won’t protect you from other dangers inherent in radiation exposure.


Finally, keep in mind that the thyroid is a very sensitive organ. In a balanced system, the body generally gets enough from a normal diet. Over-consumption of potassium iodide can cause severe health risks – up to and including death.


So, to recap: there is a valid reason to pop a potassium iodide tablet WHEN exposure to radiation is imminent – it can help shield your thyroid for 24 hours. But there are only a handful of sources of the proper dosage and they are rightfully bound for Japan, where there may actually be a need.


Speaking of need, the Cooperative Development Fund is accepting online donations to help with earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan. Look for the bright yellow box in the upper right corner of the organization’s website. And send as many healing thoughts as you possibly can to the people there.




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