by Robert J. Gilbert, Ph.D.
As many of you may know, my background includes having been a U.S. Marine Corps instructor in Nuclear - Biological - Chemical Warfare Defense and Survival (abbreviated as NBCD.) I received a Meritorious Field Promotion by Major General Robert Haebel in Okinawa for excellence in NBCD training, and helped create the first pocket guide for troops dealing with NBCD threats in the early 1980's. I have been studying nuclear, biological and chemical toxins for 30 years, both from the standard scientific model and from the perspectives of energetic therapies & alternative medicine.
At the moment there is a lot of concern about the nuclear fallout effects from the Japan Nuclear Reactors disaster in Fukushima. You have probably seen information circulating on the internet of very variable quality, and often in a fragmentary form, about radiation and what to do about it; many people are using this partial information to go buy specific products which they are told will protect them from nuclear radiation effects. One of the most commonly suggested panaceas is Potassium Iodide tablets, which are now being taken by many people on the U.S. West Coast (they are now sold out in many West Coast health food stores.)
There are some important things you should know regarding health effects of Radiation, and how to protect yourself. I hope to have time to create a complete document sometime in the near future, until then please see below for a few key points about Potassium Iodide, one of the most commonly suggested (and misunderstood) supplements being promoted right now.
I have seen literally dozens of emails telling people that they need to start taking Potassium Iodide immediately, before radiation from Japan hits North America. This is great for sellers of this product, but may not be so great for you. High dosage tablets of Potassium Iodide can save lives of people exposed to high levels of Radioactive Iodine fallout, but should ONLY be used in these cases as it can be highly toxic and many people do not tolerate it well. PI is NOT a complete solution for radiation exposure, it is highly targeted and only protects one specific part of the body from one specific hazard.
Potassium Iodide tablets are a very good idea for people living in the areas of Japan affected by the Fukushima accident and downwind of the fallout living in other Pacific Rim areas (which extends far beyond the area designated by the Japanese government, which has consistently understated and misrepresented the severity of the problem), just as they were for Russians and Poles in affected areas after the Chernobyl accident. However they are not as clearly needed by persons living in North America unless and until independent and reliable monitors indicate that significant radioactive iodine fallout has reached the West Coast of North America; this is highly unpredictable due to the large, chaotic weather systems of the Pacific ocean which stand between Japan and North America. My goal is to clarify for you exactly what PI does and does not do, so you can make an informed decision whether you or your family needs to take it.
By independent and reliable monitors, I mean persons with radiation monitoring equipment and education in nuclear fallout finding significant problems in North America. I do not mean government or industry sources, which cannot be trusted in these matters. The best source of reliable information in this regard will likely be the numerous scientific non-profit NGO's in North America who act as nuclear watchdogs and who do not accept money from the nuclear industry. Some websites to check out as this situation progresses:
Nuclear Information and Resource Center: http://www.nirs.org/
Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/
The Radiation and Public Health Project: http://www.radiation.org/
Beware of poor quality emails or YouTube videos claiming high radiation measurements in North America if this is not verified by reputable nuclear watchdog groups like the above. There have already been numerous hoax emails, and this is likely to continue.
Many people survived radiation exposure from the atomic bombs which hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki without taking Potassium Iodide, so don't believe that this is the necessarily the only way (or the best way) to protect yourself in all cases.
Here are some things you should know in order to make an informed decision:
A) POTASSIUM IODIDE IS SPECIFIC FOR JUST ONE ASPECT OF NUCLEAR FALLOUT, AND ONLY PROTECTS ONE PART OF THE BODY
The thryoid gland needs iodine for healthy growth and mental function, so iodine in naturally absorbed into the thyroid. Potassium Iodide in large doses in intended to flood the body with iodine, so that the thyroid is saturated and does not absorb radioactive iodine which is released in nuclear plant accidents and nuclear bomb fallout. Iodine specifically targets the thryoid gland.
However there are numerous other components of any nuclear contamination, which can vary depending on the source of radiation (some sources, like "dirty bombs", have almost no radioactive iodine and PI is of no use for these events.) All the components of nuclear fallout beyond radioactive Iodine are NOT addressed in any way by Potassium Iodide; sadly this is not understood by much of the public, which is under the impression that PI is a kind of complete protection against radiation sickness. In addition to not helping with anything other than radioactive Iodine, PI does not protect any area of the body other than the thyroid.
B) YOU DON'T NEED TO TAKE POTASSIUM IODIDE FOR A LONG PERIOD BEFORE EXPOSURE
According to the American Thyroid Association, taking Potassium Iodide 6 to 12 hours prior to exposure is sufficient, and maximum amount of time to take it before exposure would be 24 hours; even taking it within a few hours after exposure is extremely helpful. Many people are taking Potassium Iodide in heavy doses for many days before possible exposure, in the false belief this is needed to get the protection they desire from Radioactive Iodine. The Mayo clinic warns that toxicity can build up in the body if high dosage pills of Potassium Iodide (an inorganic form of Iodine) is taken on a long-term basis; for some people even taking it for a short time leads to serious problems.
C) MANY PEOPLE ARE HIGHLY SENSITIVE OR ALLERGIC TO SOME TYPES OF IODINE
I personally am one of these people: I break out in hives and my throat swells shut if I take some types of Iodine internally. Drugs.com estimates that 4% of patients taking Potassium Iodide get hypothyroidism and goiters, or a swelling of the thyroid gland. See the bottom of this article for a more complete list of potential side effects of Potassium Iodide, and indicators of allergic reactions.
D) RADIATION PROTECTION TABLETS OF POTASSIUM IODIDE ARE NOT THE SAME AS NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Nutritional Iodide comes in tabs around 0.15 mg = 150 microgram (mcg) of iodide.
"Pharmaceutical Dose" (the tablets you buy for radiation exposure) is around 130 mg for severe immediate nuclear accidents and is not suitable as a nutritional supplement; they are too strong and toxic. Never take these high dosage PI tablets unless you are certain you are being exposed to high levels of radioactive Iodine fallout. Be aware that radiation tablets of PI are massive doses far beyond what the body can handle for nutritional needs.
E) YES, POTASSIUM IODIDE TABLETS ARE THE SAME CHEMICAL ADDED TO TABLE SALT: BUT AT MUCH HIGHER DOSAGE
Table salt has only 75 micrograms (mcg) of Potassium Iodide per gram. PI tablets for radiation emergencies have 130 milligrams (mg) of PI. You would have to eat 3 and half Pounds of table salt to get that much PI. This is why PI tablets intended for radiation exposure should only be used in emergencies and for short duration: they are massive doses intended for complete body saturation, and could build up to toxic levels quickly if continued.
F) DON'T TAKE "DELAYED-RELEASE" POTASSIUM IODIDE
Rather than taking smaller doses over a period of time, the idea behind the delayed release form of PI pill is that it will release slowly over time. However there are indications that this ongoing release in the gut can have severe side effects: it can create bowel lesions, hemorrhage, obstruction and perforation, which in some cases is fatal.
G) NEVER GIVE CHILDREN THE ADULT DOSE OF POTASSIUM IODIDE
If giving PI to children under 12, you MUST reduce dosage, down from 130 mg for an adult to:
- 65 mg for ages 3-12
- 32 mg for 1 month to 3 years
- 16 mg for 1 month old to newborn
These are World Health Organization recommended dosages.
Again, only give these supplements to children if there is an immediate danger present, due to the potential toxicity of these supplements.
H) PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD ONLY TAKE POTASSIUM IODIDE IF A CLEAR AND IMMEDIATE DANGER IS PRESENT
Pregnant women should only take Potassium Iodide in high doses if they are definitely in a high risk area of radioactive iodine fallout. High doses of PI are suspected of causing birth defects due to their toxicity.
I) THERE ARE MANY FOOD SOURCES FOR IODINE WHICH ARE MORE COMPATIBLE WITH HUMAN BIOLOGY THAN POTASSIUM IODIDE
* Iodine from Seawater creates high concentrations of Iodine in Seaweeds (kelp, wakame, arame, nori, dulse, hijike, etc.), Fish (Sea Bass, Perch, Cod, Haddock etc.) and Shellfish (Lobster, Oysters, Clams, Shrimp etc.) However due to the high Mercury content in some fish, and the general toxicity of most shellfish, Seaweed is the preferred source of easily assimilable iodine from the Ocean.
Safe levels of highly bio-available iodine can be added to the diet by eating
Miso soup including sea vegetables, and is one of the best things you can do for your health generally, as well as for radiation exposure specifically (Miso has valuable radiation clearing qualities, so adding your seaweed into the Miso soup is an ideal combination and saved the lives of many Japanese after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear explosions.)
In addition to the seaweed items which can be found in a health food store (nori, hijike, dulce, kombo etc.) there are many other seaweeds which can be bought much cheaply through ordering in bulk from a seaweed collector on the coast of the country you live in. For the U.S. and Canada, a good source is www.theseaweedman.com, who has many different varieties harvested off the coast of Maine.
One of the varieties available from the above supplier which some alternative health practitioners like is laminaria digitata kelp; this inexpensive seaweed is rich with fucoidan and sodium alginate as well as iodine, and is $22 a pound at the time of this writing. These chemicals not only help with detox from radiation, they also help with detoxification from other sources.
* Eggs and Beef have significant levels of iodine. It is also found in many dairy products, especially because many animals today are given iodine supplements in their feed.
Eggs and Beef currently in the supply chain should be fine. However be aware that any area that has had strong nuclear fallout containing radioactive iodine will have toxic problems with Eggs and Beef from that area following the fallout (ie, it will have been taken into the bodies of the chicken and cows and appear in their eggs and meat.)
J) FOODS WHICH INTERFERE WITH IODINE UPTAKE IN THE BODY
A natural component of some foods called Goitrogens will reduce iodine availability in the body or block its absorption. If you are in a radiation hot zone and need to take iodine supplements, avoid these foods. Relevant foods which create this effect include:
* Canola Oil (Rapeseed)
In many cases heating or cooking these foods will reduce their interference effects with iodine uptake in the body.
K) SIGNS OF DANGEROUS HYPERSENSITIVITY TO POTASSIUM IODIDE
* Difficulty Breathing (throat swelling and/or tightness in the chest)
* Hives or Skin Rash
* Swelling in the Mouth and/or Face
* Ulcerating Skin Lesions
In some rare cases, hypersensitivity to Potassium Iodide has led to Arthritis, Blood disorders including Blood-related cancers, Lymphoma, Arthritis, and Leukemia.
L) SIGNS OF TOXIC EFFECTS FROM ONGOING USE OF POTASSIUM IODIDE
* Mental Confusion
* Skin Sores (including gum sores)
* Irregular heartbeat
* Severe Headache
* Numbness, Pain, or Tingling in Hands or Feet
* Burning in the Throat
* Sore Gums
* Metallic Taste in the Mouth
I hope this helps clarify what Potassium Iodide supplements are, and are not.
I hope to be able to summarize more helpful information regarding radiation protection in the near future.
As most of you reading this know already, governments and scientific establishments with economic links to the nuclear industry cannot be depended on for accurate information about nuclear accidents. The same can be said for media outlets which rely on "experts" from these sources to reassure the public there is no danger (regardless of the severity of the problem; this is simply standard operating procedure for governments and industry.) It is essential we learn the facts about these powerful radioactive toxins, so we can make informed decisions about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones.