Safety Recommendations for Radioactive Iodine

Q: Is it okay for me to take iodine pills to protect myself from radiation that is released? My friend's naturopath recommends seaweed, Rad Tox and Aztec Healing Clay for two weeks. Would that be better?

A: One of the radioactive elements that can be released from a damaged nuclear reactor is radioactive iodine, which can get into the body via the air, water or contaminated foods. The thyroid gland absorbs iodine from the bloodstream and concentrates it; the radioactive substance can cause thyroid cancer several years later. Exposure is particularly dangerous for infants and children and pregnant women.

Potassium iodide (an iodine salt) is sold as an FDA-approved over-the-counter drug that saturates the thyroid and thus blocks the absorption of radioactive iodine. Proper timing and dosage (based on age) are essential.

However, taking potassium iodide is recommended only for people living near a damaged reactor—but even then, only when instructed by emergency management officials, and usually as an adjunct to evacuation of the area.

There are good reasons not to take potassium iodide "just in case," as some Americans contemplated doing in 2011 when Japan experienced a disaster at the Fukushima reactors (even though no evidence of harmful levels of radiation in North America as a result of the tragedy was found). It can cause an underactive thyroid and worsen existing thyroid conditions, such as Graves disease, as well as certain skin conditions. The risks increase with excessive and/or repeated doses, especially among children. In some people the pills can cause allergic reactions.

Many other iodine-related supplements (including fraudulent potassium iodide) along with nutritional, herbal and homeopathic remedies are being sold for radiation protection. There's no good evidence to support the use of any of these substances to protect against radiation. If you were exposed to radiation from a damaged nuclear plant, you should not take any of them instead of FDA-approved potassium iodide.

Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (July 2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 21 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015