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Investigation

Is pharmacy iodine effective in the event of a nuclear accident?

Pharmacie-Internationale-min (1)
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Given the threat of Russia using nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine, many people are heading to pharmacies to buy iodine, despite its effectiveness being unproven when sold over the counter.

It’s very much in demand. But why is that? Iodine, a trace element that is essential to thyroid gland function and an effective means of protecting the health of people who become exposed to radiation, has become a massively sought-after commodity for people concerned about the course of the war in Ukraine.

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Doses have no effect other than to put the thyroid gland off balance

Christophe Ginbert, Manager of the Pharmacie Internationale

In some parts of Monaco, pharmacies have been seeing their iodine sales increase in recent weeks. This is true of the Ferry pharmacy on rue Grimaldi. “Usually we only sell very little, but it’s been every day for some time,” says Stéphanie. An observation  shared by Christophe Ginbert, manager of the International Pharmacy, also located on rue Grimaldi.

“There was some demand, particularly in the first week of the conflict, when the nuclear power plant was hit, but we have never advised customers to take these food supplements, because in the current context, it’s not at all recommended,” he states. “Doses have no effect other than to put the thyroid gland off balance.”

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Minimal doses of dietary supplements

In Monaco, as in France, iodine stocks are regulated and only the Prince’s Government is authorised to distribute them if a major risk arises.  “We only sell trace elements containing iodine, often in the form of food supplements,” explains Jean-Luc Bughin, manager of Pharmacie Bughin, on boulevard Princesse Charlotte. Clients are warned that only the active substance is effective, but some people think differently”

We sell substitutes, as usual, but they are mostly bought as a precaution by people who are overestimating a minimal risk.

Antoine, pharmacie du Rocher
Seafood shortage
Natural iodine is present in seafood in particular / Unsplash

The Pharmacie Centrale and the Pharmacie Rocher are unaffected by the demand. “We haven’t noticed any difference compared to normal,” according to Pharmacie Centrale staff. Neither have we,” said Antoine from the Pharmacie du Rocher. “We sell substitutes, as usual, but they are mostly bought as a precaution by people who are overestimating a minimal risk.”

Iodine tablets as a preventive measure are therefore ineffective, and could even expose the body to risks in the event of overconsumption. Meanwhile, France has sent iodine to Ukraine as a precaution, in case of a nuclear accident during the conflict.

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