The Radiation Pill

There is a lot of buzz regarding the radiation pill and the nuclear disaster in Japan following the tsunami in 2011 where over 15,000 lost their lives. It is reported that the first stage of the clean-up could take until 2020 before it is resolved. Then it proceed onto the second stage, removing nuclear debris from the site, including the damaged reactors.

There are also many questions about the radiation pill and what it does. There is an alternative we will discuss here.

What is the pill?

Does it work?

What other options are there?

What is the Risk of Radiation Exposure

First, radioactive fallout is not likely to pose an immediate threat unless you are within 10-20 miles (15-30 Kilometers) of the source of the fallout.

The next area of risk is the area covered by the radioactive cloud. This could be thousands of miles. The farther away, the less the risk.

If your are close to a future incident, the standard of care is potassium iodide (KI) pills.

Note: It is not the only protection. There are a number of other ways to protect yourself. In the 3 Mile Island incident, the pills did not arrive until 6 days after the incident.

The main source of radioactivity is radioiodine (radioactive iodine 131). Radioiodine is the major component of both nuclear explosions as well as nuclear power plant disasters.

Note: Radioactive iodine is most likely will not be a component of a dirty bomb.

It is of special concern because radioactive iodine is easily taken up in our thyroid glands if we breathe or ingest it. The more radioiodine our thyroid takes in the higher the risk of cancer within a few years of the exposure.

What does the Potassium Iodide Pill do?

The KI pill only blocks the thyroid from the uptake of radioiodine, the radio active form of iodine. This is the most prevalent form of radioactive material usually released into the atmosphere in a nuclear accident.

You are only at risk if you breathe or ingest radioiodine. The KI pill floods the thyroid preventing the radioactive form of iodine from being taken up into the thyroid and allowing it to be excreted.

Taking the iodine before exposure blocks the thyroid from getting any radio active iodine, which is then excreted from the body.

Note: Potassium Iodine (KI) pills are not the only source of this kind of iodine. In addition to KI pills, there are also KIO3 which have a longer shelf life and do not have the bad taste noted with KI pills.

Skin Absorption of Tincture of Iodine painted on the skin can also be effective. It involved painting 8 ml of a 2 percent tincture of Iodine on the abdomen or forearms. This has to be done approximately 2 hours prior to I-131 contamination.

Do not drink iodine or iodine solutions. They are poisonous. You will get sick.

Does the Potassium Iodide Pill Protect From Other Kinds of Radiation?

Potassium iodide pills are only effective for radioactive iodine and the thyroid. They do not provide general radioactive protection.

When Should It Be Taken?

Taken within 2 hours of exposure provides 75 percent effectiveness. There is some concern that unless perfectly timed, this protective action may be counterproductive.

The optimal time to take it is 2 hours before exposure and within 8 hours of exposure.

The study noted that taking it up to 96 hours prior to exposure had no effect. This is because the iodine only lasts in the system for about 24 hours.

What is the Dose

For dosing follow the package insert. The dose is specific to the exposure. The younger the age, the greater the risk. Dosing is also based on expected exposure measured in Gray or Gy.

For exposure greater than 5 Gy

Birth to 1 month 16 mg

1 month -3 years 32 mg

3 years through 18 years 65 mg

Adolescents weighing more than 150 lbs are encouraged to take adult dose.

For Exposures greater than 10 Gy

18 years through 40 yrs. - 130 mg

Exposures greater than 500 Gy:

Adults over 40 yrs - 130 mg.

How Long to I Take Potassium Iodide?

Since the KI pill lasts for about 24 hours, it will usually be taken once every 24 hours until the exposure risk ends. Pregnant women and neonates should only take under a doctors supervision.

Is potassium iodide or KI contraindicated or is the dosing restricted?

Do not take more than indicated. Taking more can cause your body to become allergic. Taking more will not provide any more protection.

If you have an allergy or sensitivity to iodine you should avoid KI pills.

Derdermatitis herpetiformis and hypocomplementemic vasculitis, although rare, are risk factors for being sensitive to iodine.

Multinodular goiter, Graves disease and autoimmune thyroiditis should only take under a doctors supervision.

The Alternative to the Radiation Pill

First, consider...Beyond Radiation Pill: Effects to Exposure to Radiation

Using Glutathione for Radiation Protection

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