Iodine: what is it, and why are people buying it now for radiation?

Reviewed and fact-checked by Giulia Guerrini, Superintendent Pharmacist. Read our editorial policy to see how we create informative, accurate content.

Have you heard of Iodine? While it might not have been top of your radar – or anyone’s – a few days ago, sales of Iodine have rocketed on our site due to the current conflict in Ukraine, and we’re seeing it sell out across suppliers, brands and other pharmacies, too. At medino, we’ve seen a 300% increase since 25th February 2022 for searches on the site for Iodine and Iodine tablets, and we’ve seen sales of Iodine products rise by over 200% daily as a pharmacy. Slovenia, Belgium and Switzerland have seen pharmacies sell out within hours of Iodine.

So, what is Iodine? Why has Iodine had a sudden surge of popularity? And should you be taking Iodine? We’ve got the answers you’re frantically googling, and we’re here to provide you with a dose of calm, too.

Should I buy Iodine?

We want to make it super clear – you don’t necessarily need to buy Iodine right now. We’re not here to scare anyone. The UK government is not suggesting that you buy or take Iodine tablets at this time, and authorities in other European countries are not suggesting it either. If it becomes more necessary to have Iodine, authorities will release a statement suggesting that you take some and you’ll be able to find Iodine supplements at pharmacies.

What is Iodine?

Iodine is a mineral that can help to make thyroid hormones, which work to keep cells and your metabolic rate (the speed at which chemical reactions take place in the body) healthy. You can’t make Iodine in your body, so you need to get it by food or supplements. It’s found naturally in some foods, like sea fish, shellfish and some dairy products, and it’s commonly found in sea kelp supplements or added to salt that is labelled as 'iodised'.

What is Iodine used for? How does Iodine work?

Iodine can be effective against preventing your body from absorbing radiation. It was used for this reason after Chernobyl’s accidental nuclear explosion, where authorities within Ukraine and surrounding cities/countries gave them to their citizens in order to help them stay as healthy as possible against the radioactive threat.

If a nuclear explosion occurs, radioactive Iodine (it’s different to the kind we sell!) would possibly be released into the air and can then enter your body through your airways or through contaminated food. Your thyroid gland stores Iodine until it is saturated by it, so you could encounter radioactive poisoning (where your body is actually releasing radiation to you).

Taking stable, non-radioactive Iodine (this is the kind that we sell at pharmacies) at the right time, when instructed to by the government, will make sure that your thyroid gland is already saturated with Iodine so that you can’t take any more in. That helps to prevent the absorption of radioactive Iodine.

Why are people buying Iodine now?

To put it plainly, due to the current war in Ukraine and Russia, Europeans are stocking up on Iodine in the event of nuclear war. There has been a surge in demand after reports of fighting near Chernobyl’s nuclear plant, and after Russian President Vladamir Putin ordered their nuclear defences to be ready for combat. Many people are worried that there could be a nuclear threat, and are stocking up on Iodine to help keep them healthy in this case.

Where can I buy Iodine? How do I take Iodine?

While Iodine is still a very useful mineral no matter what you take it for, different dosages of Iodine are needed depending on your age and it could have a toxic effect on anyone who is over 40 years old or has thyroid or heart disease, so you need the go-ahead first. Iodine can also interact with various medications, especially those used to treat hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure. Adults usually need 140 micrograms of Iodine a day, and most people can get all the Iodine they need from a varied and balanced diet. If you’re a vegan and don’t eat fish, you might need to take Iodine supplements for this reason alone, although some plant milks are fortified with Iodine.

If you take too much Iodine, you can experience symptoms such as a goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland). With very large doses of Iodine (several grams, for example), you could experience burning of the mouth, throat and stomach; fever; stomach pain; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; weak pulse; and even potentially thyroid cancer or a coma.

In theory, Iodine tablets only need to be taken the day of the threat to be effective, so you don’t need to start taking Iodine as a pre-emptive measure.

Giulia, Superintendant Pharmacist at digital pharmacy medino, says:

Since February 25th, we’ve seen a massive 300% increase of searches on our site for Iodine and Iodine tablets. We've seen sales of Iodine products we stock rise by over 200% daily, and our suppliers have run out of stock of Iodine and sea kelp products.

If you were taking it to stop your body from absorbing radiation, you would only need to take it on the day of the potential threat. Your thyroid will absorb the stable Iodine needed to help keep you protected against harmful radioactive Iodine.

As a pharmacist, I want to stress that you do not need to take Iodine preventatively for radiation, and you should talk to your doctor or a pharmacist first before you do take it. If we do need to start taking Iodine supplements for radioactive protection in the UK, or other European countries, our health authorities will let us know as soon as possible so that we can take Iodine at the best time to give our bodies protection. Authorities are also likely to make it available for free if this were to ever happen. But if it gives you peace of mind to have Iodine at hand, you can buy some from us for next day delivery to your door.

My favourite Iodine supplement is Nutri Advanced Iodine Tincture (Liposomal) 50ml, which you can take as one dropper a day for full Iodine benefits. We have these in stock right now, and they can be delivered to you by tomorrow. You can also find Iodine in sea kelp supplements, such as Lindens Health + Nutrition Kelp 500mg 100 Tablets.

We've seen a huge demand for these products and are selling out fast, but we get new stock in daily. You can sign up for notifications when we're back in stock for these Iodine supplements, too."

Written by Natasha Edwards