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Beware of unapproved radiation supplements

Consumer Reports News: March 24, 2011 09:08 AM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week warned consumers to be wary of supplements and other products sold online and in retail stores that claim to treat or prevent the effects of radiation but are not FDA-approved for that purpose.

The FDA didn't specify which products might be making false claims. "These fraudulent products come in all varieties and could include dietary supplements, food items, or products purporting to be drugs, devices or vaccines," the FDA said.

It's an important warning for consumers who are considering taking dietary supplements during the reported shortage of potassium iodide, the FDA-approved drug that can help prevent radiation-induced thyroid cancer in the event of a true radiation emergency.

"A variety of supplements are being promoted to protect against damaging radiation and to 'detox' from potential exposure," said Philip J. Gregory, Pharm.D., editor of the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which partners with to provide information about the safety and effectiveness of nutritional supplements. "For most supplements there is very little or no reliable scientific evidence supporting their use. Consumers need to think twice before loading up on supplements with unknown benefits and unclear safety."

Some supplements, such as seaweed or kelp, are a source of iodine, Gregory said. But he advised consumers to avoid products that don't clearly state the amount of iodine they contain or products that contain a variable amount. FDA-approved products are the best bet in the event of a true radiation emergency.

Here's what the FDA said is approved:

• Potassium iodide (over-the-counter brands include IOSAT, ThyroSafe, and ThyroShield) fights contamination with radioactive iodine by blocking its uptake into the thyroid gland. In the U.S., worry about the risk of radiation exposure due to the ongoing situation in Japan has led to a shortage, but the FDA says it is working with these companies to ramp up production.

• Calcium-DTPA and Zinc DTPA (from Hameln Pharmaceuticals) and Radiogardase (also known as Prussian blue, from HEYL Chemisch-Pharmazeutische Fabrik GmbH & Company, KG) fight radioactive contamination by increasing its rate of elimination from the body. These are prescription drugs and should be used only under the supervision of a physician after assessing your medical condition.

ThyroSafe [ThyroSafe potassium iodide tablets]
ThyroShield [ThyroShield potassium iodide oral solution]

Doug Podolsky

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