Iodine is an essential mineral for both plants and animals. In vertebrates it is best known as a component of the thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. Iodine consumed in the diet
is stored in the thyroid gland and used as needed to make these hormones.
Why radioactive iodine is harmful
Iodine exists as several different isotopes that have the same chemical properties but different stability as elements. Iodine-127
is the stable isotope that makes up most of the iodine found in nature. Iodine-131 is an unstable isotope that is generated
as a byproduct of nuclear reactions involving uranium. Iodine-131 decays into xenon-131. While xenon is a harmless gas, the
conversion of iodine to xenon produces energetic particles that damage their surroundings.
Iodine-131’s ability to be concentrated in the thyroid gland where it can damage surrounding tissue when it decays to xenon
makes it highly carcinogenic.
What has Chernobyl taught us?
The Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in Ukraine in 1986 has provided much information on the health consequences of releasing
radioactivity into the environment.
“It is now well documented that children and adolescents exposed to radioiodines from Chernobyl fallout have a sizeable dose-related
increase in thyroid cancer, with the risk greatest in those youngest at exposure”
Thyroid cancer cases have risen significantly over a large area of Europe downwind from Chernobyl, and they are still rising
25 years after the accident because the radiation damage in people’s thyroid glands can take decades to develop into cancer.
A 2010 study of cancer cases in the province of Opole, Poland, concluded: “The results of this study indicate a significant
increase in incidence of thyroid cancer in 1995-2002 in males and in females comparing to the years 1987-1994.” Opole is 906 km west of Chernobyl.
Similar results were obtained from a study in St. Petersburg, Russia: “A reliable relationship was noted between the time
of the appearance and aggressiveness of the course of thyroid carcinoma in patients in St. Petersburg with the data obtained
from the regions exposed to radiation pollution after the Chernobyl accident.” St. Petersburg is 963 km north of Chernobyl.
How do anti-radiation pills work?
Anti-radiation pills protect against radioactive iodine-131. Unless steps are taken to prevent it, radioactive iodine that
is breathed or consumed in food or water will accumulate in the thyroid gland and damage the DNA in thyroid cells, predisposing
them to become cancerous. Anti-radiation pills taken prior or during radioactive exposure will load the thyroid with normal
iodine (iodine-127) and cause it to reject any new iodine that comes its way.
The biggest risks of radioactive iodine exposure come from nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. In both cases the problem
stems from iodine-131 generated during nuclear reactions of uranium. The half-life of iodine-131 is about 8 days. That means
that even if water and food supplies are contaminated, 97% of the radioactive iodine will disappear over a period of five
weeks. Airborne contamination is likely to be gone much sooner — within a few days.
The best formula is Potassium Iodate
There are two kinds of anti-radiation pills in common use for protecting against iodine-131. Potassium Iodide (chemical formula:
KI) and Potassium Iodate (KIO3). The iodide is more widely used because it is less expensive, but it has a much shorter shelf life than the iodate, and
it has a bitter taste that makes it difficult to administer to children. Iodate tablets taste better and will last for decades,
whereas the iodide will get soggy and deteriorate if the container is opened repeatedly.
Treatment with these anti-radiation pills should be started just prior to exposure to radioactive pollution and should be
continued until the pollution is gone. There is no value in taking the treatment days in advance of exposure, nor in continuing
it once the emergency is over.
The dosage of Potassium Iodate recommended for protection from iodine-131 is as follows:
|Infants 0–1 month
|1 month – 3 years
|3 years – adult
LifeLink’s Potassium Iodate tablets are scored so that they can be easily broken into infants’ doses — ½ tablet/day.