How Does Iodine Prevent Cancer?

The answer is that it really doesn’t prevent cancer overall but it helps to prevent cancer of your thyroid gland.

You’ve been hearing a lot lately about people in Japan taking Potassium Iodide pills to help prevent them from getting cancer should there be a radiation leak from one of the messed up nuclear power plants.  Maybe you are curious about how his potassium iodide  helps prevent cancer — here is the answer.

Your thyroid gland is the body’s gas pedal.  It’s located at the base of your throat and it kinda wraps around your windpipe like a butterfly.  It’s about the size of a split plum — one half on one side of your windpipe and one half on the other.  The thyroid secretes hormones that control your metabolism. 

Too much thyroid hormone and you’re racing around like a maniac — but not in a good way.  Your heart goes fast, you lose weight no matter how much you eat,  and you sweat and feel weak and your heart gets worn out.  Too little thyroid hormone and you have all the opposite symptoms.  You are sluggish, you’re tired and sleepy, you get fat, your eyes get puffy and your hair gets thin.  Either way, fast or slow, you get really screwed up. 

There are exceptions to the rules but you don’t need to know about that unless you’re a doctor.   There are names for all the various conditions that cause your thyroid gland to go whacky, but all you need to know right now is that a bad thyroid is either producing too much or too little of the hormones your body uses to control the rate at which your metabolism runs. 

Atop the thyroid are tiny little glands that are called the parathyroid glands.  They secrete hormones that control bone density and electrolyte balance – - it’s actually a lot more complicated than that but for now that’s all you need to know.

These glands make their hormones by using the iodine that they suck up from the food you eat.  Some of us do not get enough iodine in our diets so that’s why a lot of table salt is “iodized” — they put iodine in the salt so that every time you sprinkle salt on your food, you get a little does of iodine.  Some salts companies do not do this and that’s why you will see a label that says “This salt does not contain iodine.”   It’s just like fluoride in your drinking water.  Every time you drink city water, (in most places in the USA) you get a little fluoride to help your teeth stay hard.  They put Vitamin D in milk for the same reason.  Back in the old days, kids didn’t get enough vitamin D because of poor diets and the lack of sunlight in the winter.  (Your body makes its own vitamin D from sunlight on your skin).  The government decided that milk should have vitamin D added to it because all kids drank milk — supposedly.  They still do it today so it must have worked out the way doctors and scientists planned.

Anyway, think of your thyroid gland as a sponge that loves to soak up iodine.  If there is a radiation leak from a power plant, some of that radiation will be in the form of radioactive iodine and it will grab onto your thyroid like a key in a lock.  If, however, you have taken a big dose of harmless iodine like Potassium Iodine, there will be no place left on the thyroid for the radioactive stuff to stick so it will dissipate.  That’s the theory of why taking oral iodine helps to prevent you from getting thyroid cancer after a nuclear accident.

Don’t run around taking iodine if you don’t have a nuclear accident to worry about.  You get a lot of the iodine you need from sea food, certain green leafy vegetables and table salt — relax and don’t worry about it.