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Radioactive iodine

Radioactive iodine

When there is an accident at a nuclear power plant — if there's an explosion or a leak or it's damaged in some way in war — radioactive iodine is one of the first substances that's released into the atmosphere.

If that radioactive iodine gets into the body, it can damage cells in the thyroid and result in cancer.

You can inhale radiation, or it can get into your body via the skin. But you can't see, smell or taste it in the air. It's an invisible threat.

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Is it worth taking iodine against radiation?

  • Our bodies do not produce iodine themselves. But we do need it, so we consume iodine through food or supplements.
  • When consumed, the iodine is collected or stored in the thyroid gland, where it is used to produce hormones. They help various bodily functions and even support the development of the brain.
  • The thyroid can, however, become saturated with iodine. And when that happens it can't store anymore.
  • The theory is that if you take enough "good" iodine, there will be no room left in the thyroid for any "bad" or radioactive iodine. That radioactive iodine should then simply pass through the body and get excreted via the kidneys.

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Don't take iodine as a precaution

There is no point in taking iodine as a precautionary measure to prevent against radiation exposure after a leak or attack on a nuclear power plant.

The thyroid only stores iodine for a limited amount of time. And taking too much iodine — even the good stuff — can be dangerous.

But the iodine is still only effective if taken when it is needed. Experts say an iodine "block" only has a chance of helping if the good iodine is taken just before or during contact with radioactive iodine. 

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