Faster than merchants can keep it
stocked, potassium iodide (KI), the so-called “anti-radiation” pill, is flying
off drugstore shelves in the U.S.,
especially along the West Coast. One supplier, Nukepills.com, reportedly sold out its
entire supply of 250,000 pills over the weekend and has back-ordered another 1
million pills. The KI was purchased by pharmacies, corporations, hospitals and
nuclear labs serving Americans who, in spite of assurances by the U.S. government that its
citizens are safe, fear that radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear
reactors will travel across the Pacific Ocean
and contaminate them and their families. A company spokesman told the Wall
Street Journal that Nukepills has donated 50,000 pills to Japan.
companies are approved by the FDA to manufacture KI. The other producer,
Virginia-based Anbex Inc., is reported to
have sold its entire supply of 10,000 packages, each containing 14 pills and
selling for $10, on Saturday. Anbex says their offices are getting about three
orders per minute for their KI pills, sold under the brand name of Iosat.
a salt of stable iodine—a substance our bodies need in order to produce thyroid
hormones—KI is a tablet or
liquid medicine that protects the thyroid from absorbing radioactive
iodine, which is released into the air following a nuclear event. It is able to block radioactive iodine because
the thyroid recognizes both KI and radioactive iodine as the same substance. KI
“fills up” the organ with its daily iodine quota, thus blocking the radioactive
version from being absorbed. For this reason, people are generally advised to
take KI as soon as the possibility of radiation contamination is known, before
the damage can occur. Without such protection, the thyroid gland would quickly absorb
the radioactive iodine, an internal injury that often results in thyroid
KI protects only the thyroid. It does not prevent radioactive iodine from
entering the body through breathing, or by eating contaminated food. KI also
does not protect other parts of the body besides the thyroid, and it cannot
protect even the thyroid from other radioactive materials besides iodine. Nor can
it reverse damage once the thyroid has been exposed to radioactive iodine. One
dose of KI is effective for 24 hours.
iodized table salt also contains iodine, it doesn’t contain enough to block
radioactive iodine and should not be used as a substitute for KI.
most instances of radiation exposure, the benefits of taking KI outweigh any
known risks or side effects. Newborn infants taking a repeat dose of KI
increase their risk of developing hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid.
is available over-the-counter and is sold without a prescription.
produces a number of symptoms, including hair loss, skin redness, radiation
burns and, in extreme cases, acute radiation syndrome (ARS). A common effect is
an increased cancer risk that can continue more than a decade after the
exposure. After the atomic bomb was dropped over Japan during World War II, some
survivors developed leukemia within a few years.
the event of a nuclear accident, no one who is advised to take KI should
hesitate to do so. It’s especially important for pregnant women, whose thyroids
absorb radioactive iodine more quickly than those of other adults—and when the
mother protects herself with KI, the thyroid of the fetus is protected as well.