What is potassium iodide and what is it used for?

The war in Ukraine, the attack on Chernobyl, and other nuclear power plants located on the territory of Ukraine, as well as the Russian president’s threatening messages, have worried people, who have begun to wonder how they should act or what should do in the event of a nuclear disaster. That is how potassium iodide became a hot topic in Europe at the beginning of 2022.

Those who experienced the Chornobyl disaster in 1986 rushed to buy potassium iodide tablets so that some European countries such as Belgium, Bulgaria, and Romania ran out of stock. Due to this panic, even those for whom the Chernobyl nuclear accident was not a living memory have begun to search for information about potassium iodide.

Below you can find what exactly are potassium iodide tablets and how do they work in the event of a nuclear disaster.

What is potassium iodide and what is it used for?

Potassium iodide (KI) is, first of all, a chemical substance, meaning that it is formed of many identical molecules and different atoms bonded together by chemical bonds, but also a medication and dietary supplement that it should not be taken without consulting a doctor.

It is used in case of nuclear accidents, radiation exposure, or contamination (radioactivity through contact with radioactive materials), but also as a medicine to treat certain diseases, the most common being hyperthyroidism.

What is the common name for potassium iodide?

The most common name for this chemical compound is potassium iodide (KI), but it can also be found under other trade names such as iOSAT, SSKI, ThryroSafe, and ThryroShield.

Is potassium iodide the same as iodine?

Both are types of iodine. Potassium iodide is a compound that results from one of the chemical forms of iodine, but they are not entirely the same thing. Although the world tends to confuse them due to the similar component they contain, potassium iodide is a combination of potassium (K) and iodine (I), being classified as an inorganic compound.

On the other hand, iodine is an element that has its own atomic weight and boiling point, being extremely important for the human body, especially for thyroid glands.

Another difference between the two is how they are used. Potassium iodide is recommended by doctors for persons with iodine deficiency, while iodide is used as a disinfectant to clean wounds.

Who needs potassium iodide?

In general, potassium iodide is recommended by a medic in the following cases: in case of an iodine deficiency and thyroid disorders, or irradiation exposure, as in the case of a nuclear accident.

What foods contain potassium iodide?

Iodine is an element naturally present in some foods, but potassium iodide can be found only as medication and dietary supplements. Foods that can help you get the necessary iodine intake due to their iodine-rich properties are:

  • cod
  • crab
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • seaweed
  • halibut
  • pollock
  • shrimps
  • tuna
  • milk
  • scallops
  • cheese
  • prunes
  • lima beans
  • iodized salt

Why would you need potassium iodide tablets in case of an accident such as Chernobyl or in case of a nuclear war?

Radioactive iodine is one of the first substances to be released into the atmosphere in case of an accident at a nuclear power plant such as Chernobyl or the launching of a nuclear weapon. Due to the fact that the human body is not capable to produce iodine and, at the same time, the thyroid cannot distinguish between stable iodine and radioactive iodine, the gland will absorb everything it can.

If that radioactive iodine enters the body, it is absorbed by the thyroid cells that release the iodine throughout the body through various physiological processes, increasing the risk of cancer.

To avoid this absorption of radioactive iodine, it is recommended to take potassium iodide tablets. They act on the thyroid gland and help to increase the “good” iodine deposits in the gland so that radioactive iodine can no longer enter the thyroid and be excreted by the kidneys as soon as possible.

The administration of potassium iodide tablets is done only at the indication of the authorities who can signal the radioactive danger. 

What causes low iodine in the body?

Iodine deficiency can occur when a person does not consume enough iodine through diet. It is generally recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women have a higher iodine diet.

Another cause would be the presence of a certain disease that affects the secretion of thyroid hormones. The most common conditions are autoimmune thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s disease, which is a chronic, autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid.

How much iodine is in the human body?

Extremely important for the normal function of the thyroid gland, iodine is an element present in very small amounts in the human body (15-20 milligrams), with 70-80% of the quantity being in the thyroid.

How much iodine does the human body need?

According to the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), the human body needs the following amounts of iodine:

How much iodine does the human body need?
Birth to 6 months 110 micrograms (mcg)
7 to 12 months 130 mcg
1 to 3 years 90 mcg
4 to 8 years 90 mcg
9 to 13 years 120 mcg
14 to 18 years 150 mcg
19 years and older 150 mcg
Pregnancy 220 mcg
Lactation 290 mcg

What are the symptoms of iodine deficiency?

Some of the signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency or hypothyroidism are:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain despite the loss of appetite
  • depression
  • apathy
  • hair loss
  • brittle nails
  • difficulty learning and remembering
  • feeling cold
  • cold and dry skin
  • muscle cramps and pain
  • low heart rate
  • constipation
  • decreased smell and taste
  • menstrual disorders
  • infertility
Warning!!! The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice.

1 thought on “What is potassium iodide and what is it used for?”

  1. In my country, people stormed pharmacies and potassium iodide was nowhere to be found. Some of them even started taking the pills and ended up in the hospital.People stop thinking when they panic……


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