Panicked Reaction to Japanese Radiation Emergency May Trigger Additional Thyroid Problems in People Needlessly Taking Potassium Iodide

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While potassium iodide can effectively protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine, it has no effect on other types of harmful radiation. It is intended for use only by those who are in the direct path of radiation or fallout, and must be used in the hours before and after the actual radioactive exposure to be effective. There is no benefit to taking potassium iodide outside the window of exposure, taking more than necessary, or taking it for a longer period than specified.

Mary Shomon - Thyroid Expert and Author

The March 11, 2011 earthquake, followed by a destructive tsunami, and resulting in severe damage to a number of nuclear reactors in Japan, has caused a serious and ongoing radiation emergency in Japan. As the radiation emergency continues, fear grows that other areas -- including Alaska, Hawaii and the west coast of the United States -- may eventually be exposed to radiation as a result of the Japanese nuclear leak.

The American public's --- and in some cases, the media and practitioners' -- response has been to focus on the over-the-counter supplement, potassium iodide (also known by its chemical symbol KI), which can help prevent radiation-induced thyroid cancer. While adults may benefit from potassium iodide, priority is typically given to administering the supplement to infants, children and pregnant women, who are most susceptible to the thyroid-damaging effects of radiation.

The last major radiation emergency of this magnitude was the 1986 Chernobyl accident, when potassium iodide -- which was given to the residents of Poland -- was proven to help that population avoid a spike in thyroid cancer rates. The Ukraine and Russia, however, with no potassium iodide stockpiles or distribution programs in place, have seen huge increases in thyroid cancer rates in the last 25 years.

While potassium iodide can effectively protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine, it has no effect on other types of harmful radiation. It is intended for use only by those who are in the direct path of radiation or fallout, and must be used in the hours before and after the actual radioactive exposure to be effective. There is no benefit to taking potassium iodide outside the window of exposure, taking more than necessary, or taking it for a longer period than specified.

Unfortunately, in the fear and frenzy surrounding the Japanese situation, there is not only panic buying of potassium iodide and other iodine supplements, but panic usage of these supplements. This is raising concern among some health officials and advocates.

"I am extremely concerned that we will begin to see a rash of new thyroid problems showing up down the road, as a result of all this unnecessary use of potassium iodide," said Mary Shomon, the New York Times best-selling author of the book "The Thyroid Diet," and an internationally-known thyroid patient advocate. "People outside Japan, who are not in the direct path of fallout, are taking potassium iodide, thinking that they are doing their health a favor. Instead, they may be putting themselves at greater risk of developing thyroid disease. Their thyroid health would be better protected by doing nothing at all right now!!"

Experts recommend that potassium iodide only be taken at recommended dosages by those who are advised by their governmental officials that they are in the direct path of a radioactive plume. Even then, potassium iodide should be taken only in a very specified time before and after the fallout exposure, and according to very specific instructions.

There is reason for caution about taking potassium iodide or iodine supplements, because their unnecessary use can cause conditions such as the Jod-Basedow phenomena, and the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, trigger and/or worsen hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and ultimately cause temporary or even permanent thyroid conditions. It can also cause sialadenitis (an inflammation of the salivary gland), gastrointestinal disturbances, allergic reactions and rashes.

Potassium iodide is also not recommended for those who have had an allergic reaction to iodine, and people with dermatitis herpetiformis and hypocomplementemic vasculitis, conditions that are linked to a risk of iodine sensitivity.

Says Shomon, "While we don't need to rush out and start popping potassium iodide pills, those of us who are not in Japan or directly in the path of any radioactive fallout should consider this as a wake-up call to do three important things to help protect our thyroid health and that of our children. First, I suggest ordering some potassium iodide so that you do have it on hand in the event that there is a local radiation emergency down the road. The FDA-approved forms of potassium iodide are Iosat Tablets, ThyroSafe Tablets, and ThyroShield Solution. Second, consider having baseline thyroid and iodine level tests done for every member of your family via a local physician or through online lab tests. This will allow you to identify undiagnosed thyroid problems now, and monitor changes to your thyroid function over time. And third, learn how to do a thyroid neck check, to monitor for enlargement, lumps or bumps in the gland that can help you detect changes that may signal disease."

While many of the FDA-approved formulations of potassium iodide are currently on back-order, as the Japanese situation calms down, they should come back in stock soon. Links to a number of sources who sell FDA-approved potassium iodide products -- along with the official government specifications regarding administration and dosages of potassium iodide in the event of emergency -- are all available online at http://www.thyroid-fallout.com. Information on how to do a Thyroid Neck Check is also available at http://www.thyroid-fallout.com.

A baseline panel of thyroid tests may be available through physicians, but for those who want to order their own lab tests online, have the tests run right away, and have results delivered quickly and securely into an online personal health record, the direct-to-consumer laboratory service MyMedLab is available. MyMedLab's "Thyroid Safety Panel" -- developed by Mary Shomon and MyMedLab -- measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free T4, Free T3, Thyroid TPO Antibodies, and the Urinary Iodine level -- to establish a baseline of key thyroid health parameters. The Thyroid Safety Panel tests are available through MyMedLab.com and to learn more, please visit the pertinent link.

Thyroid Safety Panel US ( Lower 48 States )
Thyroid Safety Panel International ( Worldwide + Alaska & Hawaii )

Those who order the test panel also receive exclusive entry to the ThyroidHealth Hub private health group on Facebook, which allows consumers to interact with Mary Shomon and others who have taken the tests, to discuss thyroid health and wellness.

Says Shomon: "We have an estimated 60 million Americans who have thyroid problems, and the majority of them are undiagnosed. Untreated thyroid problems contribute to obesity, heart disease, depression, and a number of other serious health problems that are truly a threat to us today, here and now. I would rather see Americans spend their time and energy safely getting a handle on their thyroid health now, rather than rushing around in a panic trying to find and take potassium iodide that they don't even need, only to discover that they've ended up creating an entirely new thyroid problem for no reason!"

About MyMedLab: MyMedLab is a privately held company with the primary mission of empowering consumers to make informed health care choices. As a leading provider of direct-to-consumer (DTC) laboratory testing services, MyMedLab has developed a unique suite of software applications and professional networks that enable the ordering, processing, and reporting of test results directly to consumers. This innovative set of services includes access to wellness tests organized by organ and disease profiles, physician oversight of test ordering, educational laboratory content, and results reporting through the web-based platform. In addition to the direct to consumer channel, MyMedLab also offers their software as a subscription service to physician offices or provider organizations developing community outreach programs that incorporate DTC services. For additional information, see http://www.mymedlab.com.

About Mary Shomon: Mary Shomon is an internationally known thyroid patient advocate, and author of ten books on thyroid disease, hormones, and health, including the New York Times bestseller, "The Thyroid Diet." Shomon founded and serves as editor for a number of websites on thyroid disease and hormonal health, including http://www.thyroid-info.com, http://menopausethyroid.com, http://www.thyroidawarenessmonth.com, and for more than a decade, has been publishing the popular thyroid patient newsletter, "Sticking Out Our Necks." Shomon is co-founder of the Coalition for Better Thyroid Care, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving thyroid care in the US. Mary Shomon has been featured in hundreds of newspapers, magazines including the Wall Street Journal, First for Women, Elle Magazine, Time magazine, and the New York Times, and on numerous radio and television programs, including ABC World News Tonight, CBS Radio Networks, and National Public Radio.

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