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iodine solution

Iodine: Solution for Disasters and More

Iodine is a trace element that the body needs to produce vital thyroid hormones. In phases when there is a secure supply of iodine through food, the body builds up a certain supply of it.

An iodine deficiency only occurs after long periods of insufficient supply. Read here what a long-term iodine deficiency or an iodine oversupply causes in the body and why you should avoid both.

What is iodine?

Iodine is a vital trace element that is urgently needed for the functioning of the human thyroid gland. It is a central thyroid hormone component that mainly regulates energy metabolism. Iodine solution is also involved in the processes of bone formation, growth, and brain development. The thyroid gland enlarges if there is a prolonged (chronic) iodine deficiency.

How does iodine work?

Iodine is ingested through food and metabolized in the thyroid. With the iodine provided, the thyroid produces thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4) – the two important thyroid hormones. The finely tuned interaction of both hormones significantly controls the body’s energy metabolism.

Iodine solution and thyroid function

If the body, thanks to iodine solution, produces increased amounts of the hormones T4 and T3 due to a pathological change in the thyroid gland, the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism). In rare cases, this can also be temporarily triggered by an oversupply of (medicinally) administered iodine. Hyperthyroidism usually manifests itself in a fast heartbeat, weight loss, and increased nervousness.

If the body produces too few thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland is underactive (hypothyroidism). There can be many reasons for this. For example, it can result from an autoimmune reaction against the thyroid gland (e.g., Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), surgical removal of the thyroid gland, or a (chronic) pronounced iodine deficiency supply.

Depending on the cause, hypothyroidism can also develop gradually and manifests itself, among other things, in impaired concentration or has a negative effect on psychological well-being.

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How much iodine do you need daily?

On average, the body needs around 150 – 200 micrograms of iodine daily to produce sufficient thyroid hormones – the actual amount, however, depends on age.

The body can adapt to a different iodine solution supply to a certain extent. If the supply is sufficient, the thyroid stores a few milligrams as an “iodine reserve” in the thyroid. This (filled up) memory can then cover the demand for a few months. The body easily compensates for a temporarily reduced iodine intake. So there is not an immediate iodine deficiency.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may have an increased need for iodine.

Health authorities offer the following orientation for the recommended daily iodine intake:

  • Infants and toddlers up to 12 months: 40 – 80 micrograms
  • Children up to 10 years: 100 – 140 micrograms
  • Children up to 15 years: 180-200 micrograms
  • Adolescents and adults from 15 to 51 years: 200 micrograms
  • Adults 51 years and older: 180 micrograms
  • Pregnant women: 230 micrograms (here’s a study confirming this)
  • Breastfeeding women: 260 micrograms

natural source of iodine

What foods contain iodine?

Since the trace element iodine is naturally predominantly found in the oceans, foods from the sea contain a correspondingly high iodine content. For example, regular consumption of sea fish or seafood can supply the body with sufficient iodine.

Nowadays, however, the iodine content of the soil is low. Consequently, the food produced on it is usually low in iodine. Depending on the type of soil fertilization, the amount of iodine added to animal feed or the addition of iodised table salt to processed foods, the content can vary greatly.

As a rule, a balanced and conscious diet can adequately cover the daily iodine requirement. The economical, moderate use of iodized table salt can usually effectively prevent a deficiency.

What happens if you have iodine deficiency?

A short-term iodine deficiency usually does not lead to any direct health risk. The body can compensate for a temporary deficiency by storing iodine in the thyroid gland for a certain period.

However, if the iodine deficiency persists for a long time, it becomes chronic. The body reacts with progressive thyroid growth (goiter). In this way, the body tries to produce a larger amount of thyroid hormones. However, this does not succeed in the case of a persistent iodine deficiency.

How does too much iodine manifest itself in the body?

Excessive intake of iodine can be dangerous for certain people. Older people in particular or patients with unrecognized thyroid nodules may develop life-threatening hyperthyroidism if they have an oversupply of iodine.

Other uses and roles of iodine in medicine

Low-dose iodine tablets can compensate for a pronounced iodine deficiency in individual cases and only after consultation with your doctor. On the other hand, high-dose iodine tablets and iodine solutions are only intended for emergencies!

However, you initiate a so-called iodine blockade to protect against radioactive iodine. This is especially important in our unstable times filled with radioactive threats.

In medicine, iodine also has other important applications: it is used in radioiodine therapy for thyroid cancer. Targeted local irradiation of the thyroid gland is achieved through deliberately administered radioactive iodine molecules.

Doctors also use the properties of iodine molecules in diagnostics: Since they can influence X-rays, contrast media containing iodine (e.g. iodobenzoic acid) are used in certain nuclear medical examination procedures (scintigraphy).

In addition, elemental iodine solution has a disinfecting effect. It is, therefore, the main component of Betaisodona – a germicidal antiseptic that supports wound healing.

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Iodine can protect from nuclear disaster aftermath

In the event of a nuclear accident, radioactive iodine can be released. To prevent it from accumulating in the thyroid, non-radioactive iodine should be taken in the form of a high-dose tablet at the right time (so-called iodine blockade).

Taking iodine tablets only protects against the absorption of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland, not against the effects of other radioactive substances.

Important: Large amounts of iodine solution are also associated with health risks.

Iodine tablets (also known as potassium iodide tablets) should only be taken to block the thyroid gland if expressly requested by the responsible authorities.

Taking iodine in the event of a nuclear disaster

An accident in a nuclear power plant can result in releasing radioactive substances, including radioactive iodine. If radioactive iodine is inhaled or enters the body through food or drink, it can accumulate in the thyroid gland and promote the development of thyroid cancer.

If those affected take non-radioactive iodine in the form of high-dose iodine tablets (also: “potassium iodide tablets”) at the right time, they can prevent radioactive iodine from accumulating in their thyroid gland: The thyroid gland is saturated with non-radioactive iodine with the help of the tablets, see above that radioactive iodine can no longer be absorbed by the thyroid at a later point in time. This is called an iodine blockade.

iodine ampoule
ampoule with iodine on a white background

Take iodine tablets only when expressly requested

Iodine tablets should only be taken when expressly requested by the civil protection authorities – and only in the dose specified by the authorities.

Self-medication is strongly discouraged since taking the (high-dose) iodine tablets can lead to side effects.

Basically, the one-off intake is sufficient. Further tablets should only be taken if the civil protection authority recommends it.

The right timing of iodine intake is crucial!

The desired effect is only achieved if the tablets are taken at the right time.

If iodine tablets are taken too early, the non-radioactive iodine can already be broken down again when radioactive iodine is ingested. The protection would then exist too early and would not be sufficient.

If iodine tablets are taken too late, the thyroid may already have absorbed radioactive iodine. The protection would then come too late.

In the event of an emergency, the right time to take it will be announced via the media by the civil protection authorities.

Regional recommendations for consumption

Whether or not people are encouraged to take iodine tablets in a region after a nuclear accident depends on whether airborne radioactive iodine can reach that region. This in turn depends on:

  • How much radioactive iodine is released,
  • How far away the scene of the accident is and
  • What the wind and weather conditions are like.

For example, iodine tablets are distributed in the vicinity of nuclear power plants in the event of a nuclear accident. The size of the radius depends on the severity of an accident.

Iodine tablets make sense for people up to the age of 45, including pregnant women and children.

In principle, all people up to the age of 45 should take iodine tablets in the affected areas at the express request of the civil protection authorities, the dosage depends on their age.

Since the thyroid gland is particularly sensitive in children and adolescents up to the age of 18, it is particularly important for children and adolescents to take iodine tablets.

In pregnant women, the intake of iodine tablets serves in particular to protect the unborn child.

People over the age of 45 are advised not to take iodine tablets to block the thyroid gland. For them, the risks of side effects outweigh the benefits of avoiding an increased risk of thyroid cancer.

Iodine tablets can be risky in thyroid disease

Taking the high-dose iodine tablets is also associated with health risks. In the Western World, a significant proportion of adults suffer from latent hyperthyroidism, i.e. an overactive thyroid without any symptoms. This latent hyperthyroidism can turn into hyperthyroidism with symptoms if high doses of potassium iodide are taken. The symptoms can range up to acute cardiovascular failure.

Other side effects, such as hypersensitivity to iodine, are also common. People who are known to have a thyroid disease should only take iodine tablets after consulting their doctor.

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