Sunday 4 December 2011

Iodine and Thyroids

I went to a lecture last week by a thyroid specialist and it did me good. It was good to hear an expert talk objectively. Since March we've been caught in the crossfire not knowing who to believe: the initial announcements by the government which in order to avoid panic did not tell the whole truth; the media doing their best to be objective but wheeling out experts on all sides; then information, misinformation and disinformation on the internet. So it was reassuring to sit in a lecture, have the anatomy and workings of the thyroid explained, and the risks assessed by someone who knows what they're talking about.

The lecture was one of a series organised by the older Dr Kikuchi, paediatrician in Koriyama. It is his son who I have mentioned before who is active with the  'Koriyama Post Disaster Children's Care Project' (that should be Kokoro no Kea, care of the heart, which I find impossible to translate) which, among many other activities, is opening an indoor play centre just before Christmas.

Anyway, the speaker was Dr Naoko Momotani. She showed us diagrams of the thyroid, wrapped around the front of the throat, shaped like a butterfly. (By the way, learnt a new word, do you know this one? Nodo-botoke  のど仏 literally, the Buddha of the Throat. It's the Adam's Apple! Funny how both languages have a religious reference - must look into that sometime ...)

Back to the lecture. Thyroid hormones are essential for regulating metabolism and the production, use and maintenance of energy. Symptoms are listlessness and lack of energy so diseases of the thyroid are hard to diagnose. Thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) are produced in the pituitary gland in the brain and regulate the amount of thyroid hormones, FT3 and FT4 in the blood. FT4 are produced by the thyroid and need four iodine molecules, FT3 need three iodine molecules and can be converted from FT4 not only in the thyroid but in other parts of the body too.

Different amounts of thyroid are needed at different ages. The highest amount is needed from birth to three years (none is needed in the womb) for the development of the brain and for growth. That blood test on the heel of a newborn picks up any deficiency so there are no irregularities in developed countries. Diseases of the thyroid can be treated easily and cheaply.

Thyroid cancers account for 6% of cancers diagnosed. Only one kind is fatal (undifferentiated carcinoma of the thyroid) and occurs in people over 40. The rest can be treated and most people recover. The cancer amongst children in Chernobyl was papillary thyroid cancer and occurred 5 years after the accident.  She thinks the reasons for the prevalence of that cancer in Chernobyl were 1) Ten times more radioactive material was emitted from the plant at Chernobyl than Fukushima 2) children drank contaminated milk (this she thinks was the main reason, 80% of cases) 3) general insufficiency of iodine  4) late evacuation and 5) late diagnosis.

The Recommended Daily Allowance of iodine for an adult is 150 μg. Japanese consumption varies between 180 and 30,000 μg. That high figure is for the days you eat the konbu seaweed and drink the soup in that winter speciality o-den! Average Japanese consumption is 1,200 μg/day. (Incidentally, she pointed out that in a Western diet the main source of iodine is in salt - it's added to salt in most countries but not here - and in the US 10% of people are not getting enough because they are cutting their salt intake or switching to non-iodized salt.)
Talking about iodine pills, she said they have to be taken before the plume goes over, or up to 3 hours later. She said it's no use giving them later on. (I read different on the internet, but she's the expert).

Her conclusion, and that of three international conferences she's been to since March, is that there is no increased risk of cancer for children in Fukushima. The prefecture is, however, carrying out ultrasound tests on all children under 18 (for the rest of their lives) and she says this is to reassure people and create a baseline.

One mother got up and said she's been feeding her kids seaweed in all forms (nori, konbu) since the disaster but Dr Momotani urged moderation. Too much iodine can stop the thyroid working.

So there we have it. It's official. Fukushima kids are unlikely to develop thyroid cancer. We can knock that one off the list. Now, we need measured advice on all the other nasties. It's going to be a long haul but we're getting there one by one.


  1. I have been taking bovine thyroid supplements for over a year. This is the first natural meds I have ever taken, and it's working just fine for me.

  2. Anne, Thank you for your very informative blog.

    It seems like good news, but one found irregularities in the thyroid glands of children from Fukushima evacuated in Nagano (news by Kyodo on October 4).
    Did the expert talked about it?

    Some children will probably have thyroid problems anyway.

  3. Back in March I suggested to avoid giving milk to the infants and was laughed in the face. From Chernobyl (1986) studies the milk and mushrooms are bioaccumulators so they tend to collect the radioactive materials and posing the higher danger. The I-131 affects women more then men (the women exposed to I-131 are 4 times more likely then men to develop thyroid nodules later in life; about 90% of I-131 tends to collect in the thyroid and the rest goes to ovary and breast tissue). Injestion of 500 millicuries of I-131 acts at cellular level, “burning the cells” and converting them to the dead tissue (used for thyroid ablation for grave’s disease toxic goiter and cancer; the KI tablets can help here), on the other hand low doses ingested on regular bases are acting on molecular levels damaging acids present in the nucleus of the thyroid cells, causing atypical cells, nodules and cancer. It is impossible to take KI in high doses for 70 days (like wearing a gas mask for more then 4 hours!)
    However there are easy steps can help to prevent radiation poisoning from long term low dose exposure for the risk groups:
    Installation of the chlorine removal (activated carbon) filter on your water drinking system will trap I-131(the neutral atoms of I-131 poorly dissolving in water, unlike ions found in sodium and potassium iodides); the iodine molecules are larger then chlorine molecules so the filter can trap them.
    Milk can be processed into the cottage cheese and stored for several weeks; this will reduce I-131 activity levels in that product due to decay.
    As most iodine falls down during the rain, have your kids stay indoors especially right after rain when the water near ground is evaporates (this vapor has high concentration of I-131). Control the dust (it is full of cesium).
    Taking these easy steps now can avoid someone you know to grow up a “madam’s apple” (thyroid nodule) later or end up with “neck smile” surgery scar and lifelong dependency on the hormone tablets