No, iodine sold in pharmacies will not save you from a nuclear incident

Obtaining iodine tablets in pharmacies to protect against a possible nuclear attack is not useful in Quebec, assure two medical specialists.

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In several European countries, residents are flocking to iodine tablets, intended to prevent thyroid cancer in the event of radioactive emissions. France has also announced that it would send 2.5 million doses of iodine to Ukraine in the face of the nuclear threat.

In Quebec, the Quebec Association of Pharmacists confirms that requests for iodine capsules have been observed in the province since the start of the invasion in Ukraine, specifying that these are “isolated cases”.

Stable iodine, or potassium iodide, is a natural trace element absolutely necessary for health. It enters into the composition of hormones made by the thyroid gland, located on the front of the neck, which fixes inhaled or ingested iodine. Stable, ie non-radioactive, iodine tablets protect the thyroid gland against radioactive contamination.

Quebecers do not have to buy iodine capsules or worry about the impact on their health of a nuclear attack in Ukraine, insist two doctors specializing in nuclearization in an interview with the 24 hours.

Rushing to a pharmacy in search of iodine tablets is completely useless, says Dr. François Lamoureux, former president of the Association of Medical Specialists in Nuclear Medicine of Quebec.

“No, it’s not recommended to take iodine capsules now. [de manière préventive], it is even not recommended,” says Dr. Lamoureux. He explains that several adverse effects can occur from unnecessary use of stable iodine. A person can have a serious allergic reaction or an imbalance in his thyroid, which results in several health problems.

“Me, I’m not going to store myself [de comprimés d’iode]says Dr. Tarek Hijal, director of the MUHC’s radiation oncology division.

Anyway, iodine tablets like those that France gave to Ukraine are not kept in stock in Quebec pharmacies. “In a crisis or threat situation, it is the government that would take steps to make them available,” says the AQPP. “There is no point in calling a pharmacy or going there to get it,” we add.

The natural products available on the shelves do not contain sufficient quantities of iodine, continues the AQPP, and would therefore not be able to protect the thyroid gland from radioactivity. The Association has not observed any variation in the sales of these products.

“We are in Quebec, there is no nuclear problem,” says Dr. Hijal. Even if the radioactivity takes several days to disintegrate and can travel in the air and in the clouds, the risk remains very low in Quebec, he specifies.

“The closer you are to where the bomb lands, the higher the health risk. […] We are still far in Quebec [de l’Ukraine] so it’s a low risk. Should people today be told to get iodine from pharmacies? We are not there yet”, continues Dr Hijal. He assures that, if the taking of iodine tablets became necessary, the health authorities would inform the population.

What you need to know about iodine

Stable, ie non-radioactive, iodine tablets protect the thyroid gland against radioactive contamination. In Quebec, any prefect who operates in an area within a radius of 20 kilometers from a nuclear power plant must keep enough of these capsules in stock for the surrounding population, explains the former president of the Association of Medical Specialists in Nuclear Medicine Dr. Francois Lamoureux.

A serious accident in a nuclear facility can result in the release of radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. Inhaled or ingested through the consumption of contaminated food, this radioelement contributes to the irradiation of the population, putting it at increased risk of thyroid cancer.

For example, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in 1986 caused a large environmental release of iodine-131 and short-lived radioactive iodine. A higher rate of thyroid cancer was observed among people living in contaminated areas of Belarus, where residents had not received stable iodine tablets. Ukrainians living within a radius of 20 kilometers who received capsules had fewer cancer diagnoses.

To prevent the thyroid from fixing radioactive iodine, taking stable iodine is a means of prevention to protect the health of exposed populations.

– With information from AFP

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