Iodine and Iodide for Preppers. Setting Things Straight

Okay, we get it: Iodine and iodide sound like the exact same thing. So if you’ve been doing some research, you might be wondering, what exactly is the difference between the two substances? It turns out, you’re not alone.

Many people struggle with the difference between iodine and iodide and many more don’t even know that they’re two entirely separate substances.

iodine and other medical supplies

To help set the record straight on this score, we’ll take you through the basics of both iodine and iodide and give you some information on what each one is used for.

We’ll even offer some advice on why you should have both iodine and iodide in your emergency stockpiles for when SHTF so you can always be ready. Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. It is for information proposes only. Do consult your doctor before deciding to buy and / or use these substances.

What Is Iodine?

Put simply, iodine is a chemical element. Iodine is number element number 53 in the periodic table, and is represented by the symbol “I”. It is a member of the “halogen” group, which means it’s a chemical that produces salts when it reacts with metals.

For the vast majority of us, though, the most we ever hear about iodine is when people talk about it as a dietary supplement. Iodine is what’s known as a “trace element,” which means it is required by humans in very small amounts (usually less than 1,000 parts per million).

Since it’s required by the body for proper functioning, even if only in tiny amounts, iodine is often added to food or made into dietary supplement pills, though it is naturally present in some kinds of food.

What exactly does iodine do for us? Well, iodine is an essential part of two different hormones that are produced by the thyroid gland: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is a critical part of the body’s hormone system because it regulates the growth, development, and metabolism.

Without the hormones produced by the thyroid gland, our body has a hard time keeping our growth and metabolism in check. Thus, without enough iodine, our body can’t produce these hormones and we can end up with a whole host of negative health effects.

While these health effects are most severe for pregnant people and their unborn child, iodine deficiencies can also cause goiters and other thyroid-related issues like hypothyroidism. In particular, iodine deficiency in pregnant women is one of the leading causes of preventable intellectual disability in children.

How Much Iodine Does The Body Need?

Since iodine is a trace element, our body doesn’t actually need very much of it. In fact, when we talk about how much iodine humans should consume per day, we talk about quantities in terms of micrograms (mcg), which is one-millionth of a gram!

Here are the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) daily recommended guidelines for iodine:

  • Birth – 6 months: 110mcg
  • 7-12 months: 130 mcg
  • 1-8 years: 90 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 120 mcg
  • 14-18 years: 150 mcg
  • 18+ years: 150 mcg
  • Pregnant people: 220mcg
  • Breastfeeding people: 290mcg

What Can I Do To Get Enough Iodine?

Since our recommended daily requirement of iodine is so small, it’s really not that hard to get enough in your diet. There are plenty of different foods that naturally have iodine in them, such as:

  • Fish and other seafood (including seaweed)
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • Grain products (one of the most popular ways to get dietary iodine in the US)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Iodized salt

As you can see, there are plenty of options for getting enough iodine in your diet naturally. However, if you’re still struggling to get enough iodine in your diet, the NIH recommends dietary supplements or multivitamins that contain small amounts of iodine to get you up to speed.

It is worth talking to your doctor if you’re concerned you’re not getting enough iodine in your body before you start on supplements as it is possible to have an allergy to it.

What Are The Other Uses Of Iodine?

In addition to its importance as a trace element in our diet, iodine has some other uses. Perhaps most importantly, especially for preppers, it’s a popular disinfectant used to clean wounds.

In fact, if you’ve ever had blood drawn before, whether for a blood donation or to get blood work done, you’ve probably had a nurse swab your skin with iodine to clean it.

So, for preppers, we can choose to stock iodine in our emergency supplies and our first aid kits for the same purpose.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that some people have iodine allergies, so it’s not a great first choice for a disinfectant. Usually, soap and water will do the trick just as well as iodine can for cleaning out wounds.

If that wasn’t enough, iodine also has another popular use as a water disinfection treatment system for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts. Although it leaves behind a unique taste, iodine is a fairly effective water treatment system, which can be useful in an emergency.

Popular iodine-based water treatment systems include Polar Pure and Potable Aqua, but keep in mind that people with iodine allergies should not use these products.

Should I Keep Iodine In My Emergency Supplies?

Since iodine is a critical trace mineral in our diet, you may be wondering if it’s worth adding it to your stockpile of emergency supplies.

While it’s difficult to understand the importance of dietary iodine, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people in the US do get enough iodine simply through the food they eat.

So, unless you’ve spoken to a doctor and know that you have an iodine deficiency, it’s really not going to help you to have stores of iodine supplements in your stockpile.

However, investing in a small bottle of iodine for medical use is worth your time. As we’ve said, there are some people who have iodine allergies, so don’t go using this stuff all willy nilly, but a small bottle of disinfecting iodine is nice to have in your first aid kit.

What is Iodide?

While iodine and iodide sound similar, they aren’t exactly the same thing. That being said, they are very similar, so it’s understandable if you’ve used the terms interchangeably before.

Basically, iodide is an ion of the element iodine. If we want to get technical here, an ion is a molecule that has a negative charge because it has more electrons (negative particles) than protons (positive particles) in its composition.

You’ll generally see iodide referred to as potassium iodide (chemical symbol KI), which is a stable (a.k.a. not radioactive) form of iodine. In fact, potassium iodide is a salt, much like the stuff you’d find on your table and is often what’s used to “iodize” table salt in the US and other developed countries.

But, while iodide and iodine are very similar, there are some important differences, especially in terms of what we use both substances for.

What Do We Use Potassium Iodide For?

While iodine is required in our bodies for the proper function of our thyroid gland, potassium iodide is used to protect our thyroid gland from the harmful effects of a specific type of iodine known as “radioactive iodine.”

Radioactive iodine can result from a nuclear meltdown or from nuclear warfare. When something is radioactive, it basically disintegrates at the atomic level.

If humans are exposed to radiation, they can get something known as acute radiation syndrome, which can have negative long-term health effects or cause death.

That’s where potassium iodide comes into the picture. Potassium iodide can protect humans from some of the harmful effects of radiation exposure by basically blocking the thyroid gland from being able to absorb radioactive iodine.

However, potassium iodide can only protect a thyroid gland from radioactive iodine if it is taken before your body is ever exposed to the radioactivity.

Since the thyroid gland will absorb both radioactive iodine and potassium iodide equally (it doesn’t have a preference for one or the other), it’s critical that potassium iodide be taken as a preventative measure, not as a treatment for radioactive exposure.

What Are The Drawbacks To Potassium Iodide?

Additionally, it’s important to note that potassium iodide is not a fool-proof solution to radioactive iodine exposure. While the CDC and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) both recommend the use of potassium iodide for protecting people against the harmful effects of nuclear radiation, there are limits to what potassium iodide can actually do.

Additionally, there are ways that you can hurt yourself by taking potassium iodide improperly. Here’s what you need to know:

Limited Protection

First and foremost, potassium iodide ONLY protects your thyroid from radioactive iodine and ONLY when taken before the exposure. It does not stop radioactive iodine from entering your body, nor can it protect you from anything else other than radioactive iodine.

This means that just because you’ve taken potassium iodide doesn’t mean you’re immune to all radiation.

Additionally, when it comes to protection from radioactive iodine, timing is critical. Potassium iodide works best when taken within 3-4 hours of exposure. However, it has only been shown to offer protection from radioactive iodine for the first 24 hours after consumption.

Thus, the FDA’s guidance is to repeat exposure once a day until the radioactive threat is gone, EXCEPT for pregnant people and infants, who are more susceptible to serious side effects from too much potassium iodide.

The CDC also does not necessarily recommend that adults over the age of 40 take potassium iodide unless under a direct order from emergency management officials or a physician, unless they’ve been exposed to a particularly high level of radiation.

This is because adults over 40 have a low chance of developing a thyroid issue, but have a higher likelihood of having severe side effects after taking potassium iodide.

Side Effects

Like any drug, taking potassium iodide can potentially cause some side effects. Plus, if one does take potassium iodide and there is no radioactive iodine present, it can exacerbate any potential side effects. Some potential side effects of potassium iodide include:

  • Rashes
  • Inflammation of the salivary gland
  • Hypothyroidism (especially in infants and newborns)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Gastrointestinal issues (stomach problems)
  • Iodism (burning sensation of mouth and throat, flu-like symptoms, metallic taste, sore teeth and gums)

How To Take Potassium Iodide

There are currently only two FDA-approved types of potassium iodide in the United States: a tablet and a liquid form.

Both options are taken by mouth as indicated on the medication bottle, as ordered by emergency management officials, or as indicated in FDA guidelines. It is NOT meant to be taken as a daily supplement or to build up immunity to radioactive iodine.

The tablet form of potassium iodide comes in either 130mg and 65mg options and can be cut down to smaller sizes. Alternatively, every 1 mL of the liquid solution equals 65 mg of potassium iodide.

The FDA recommends the following dosages of potassium iodide for exposure to radioactive iodine by age:

  • Birth – 1 month: 16mg
  • 1 month – 3 years: 32mg
  • 3-12 years: 65mg
  • 12-18 years (or over 150lbs): 65mg
  • 18-40 years: 130mg
  • 40+ years: 130mg (only if predicted thyroid gland exposure is greater than 500cGy)
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 130mg

While the FDA has these guidelines in place, it is important that people also listen to the guidance of emergency management officials for the most up-to-date information regarding dosage during a nuclear crisis.

The CDC advises that taking a larger than recommended dose is NOT a good idea, and that excessive amounts of potassium iodide can actually result in severe illness or death.

Where Can I Get Potassium Iodide?

It turns out that potassium iodide is available as an over-the-counter drug in the United States so you do not need a prescription from a doctor to buy it.

However, even though you can get potassium iodide without a prescription in the United States, it’s still worth talking to your primary care doctor before you buy some, just to make sure you don’t have any other health issues that could be worsened by taking potassium iodide.

That being said, even though potassium iodide is recommended for prevention during situations where people might be exposed to radioactive iodine, the FDA has not specifically recommended that individual civilians go out and buy some for themselves.

However, you can still go out and buy your own supplies of potassium iodide to protect you and your family during a radiation emergency. There are FDA-approved potassium iodide products out there, so be sure that you’re only buying a product that’s been tested to work.

Additionally, the government provides a small amount of potassium iodide to anyone who lives within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant.

Since this population is at a particularly high risk for radiation exposure, in the event of a nuclear meltdown, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) supplies them with emergency potassium iodide for use until they can be evacuated from the area.

Can I Take Iodine Supplements Or Iodized Salt To Protect Against Radiation?

If you’re not quite ready to go out and buy potassium iodide for your emergency stores, you might be wondering if you can use iodine supplements or iodized salt to protect you against radiation.

Unfortunately, even the strongest iodine supplements and most iodine-rich foods just don’t contain enough stable iodine or iodide in them to actually protect you from harm when it comes to radiation exposure.

Plus, taking iodine supplements instead of potassium iodide for radiation probably won’t work, and can be dangerous to your health. The CDC recommends that people only take potassium iodide products that have been approved by the FDA.

Why Should I Have Potassium Iodide and Iodine In My Emergency Supplies?

If you’ve paid attention to history, you’ll know that nuclear disasters can be pretty darn deadly. Whether it’s a nuclear attack or a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, the radiation that comes off of radioactive substances can cause something called acute radiation sickness, and lead to death.

Thus, it can be nice to have a small stock of potassium iodide tablets at home to protect you and your family in case of a nuclear emergency. Although it’s unlikely, these things do happen (see Fukushima 2011), and potassium iodide can help you be more prepared.

When it comes to regular iodine, unless you have a known iodine deficiency, you probably don’t need to stockpile iodine supplements in your emergency stores. However, having a small bottle of medical iodine for disinfecting wounds can be useful.

Iodine tablets or drops are also great for water treatment during an emergency, especially if you have to live off the grid, so they’re great to have as well.

At the end of the day, what’s important is that you, the prepper, know the difference between iodine and iodide. Understanding the key differences between these two substances can make a huge difference in an emergency, especially if you have to protect your family from the harmful effects of radiation when SHTF.

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