Why people rush for iodine tablets over nuclear, cancer risk
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France said it would send 2.5 million doses of the chemical compound to Ukraine after Russian forces there seized the defunct Chernobyl nuclear site and damaged Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest atomic plant.
Here are some facts about iodine.
What is iodine?
Stable iodine -- potassium iodide -- enables the thyroid gland in the neck to produce hormones that are essential for brain development and vital bodily functions. The body does not make iodine so it is key to the diet.
A serious incident at a nuclear facility would release radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. If this is inhaled or eaten in contaminated food, it can increase the risk of thyroid cancer -- an effect observed after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
Tablets of stable, non-radioactive iodine help prevent radioactive iodine from concentrating in the thyroid gland. Saturated like a sponge with stable iodine, the gland can no longer capture the radioactive element, which is then flushed out of the body naturally through the urine.
Does iodine work in all circumstances?
The tablets must be taken at precise times -- ideally, one hour before exposure to radiation and, at the latest, in the 6 to 12 hours following exposure.
They are recommended in particular for pregnant women, babies, children and young people.
Taking too much iodine can cause the thyroid to malfunction and damage the heart and kidneys.
Last week Croatian doctors warned of the dangers of taking iodine without proper precautions.
Belgians have also been warned of the risks but have nonetheless reportedly rushed to buy the pills.