Health food stores all over town have been sold out of sea kelp—a supplement containing high levels of iodine, believed to stave off radiation's effects on the thyroid gland—since early last week.
With from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors having reached the United States on Friday and heavy rainfall coming in the days since, many people are worried about exposure to radiation. U.S. officials have assured residents that there is , but many locals are still taking precautions.
At on Santa Monica Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, an employee said sea kelp tablets and dried sea kelp (used in soups) have been sold out since March 12, less than 24 hours after concerns about the Fukushima nuclear reactors were first announced.
Earthbar at 8365 Santa Monica Blvd (at Flores Street; diagonally across from Gelson’s) has been sold out of sea kelp since Monday, March 14, and the same is true for at 8578 Santa Monica Boulevard (near 24 Hour Fitness).
An alternative treatment for radiation exposure—potassium iodine, which contains thousands of times more iodine than sea kelp—was in stock at both stores as of closing time Sunday.
“We used to carry [potassium iodine], but it never sold. Finally, it expired and we didn’t reorder it,” said Ruth Tittle, owner of Capitol Drugs. “But in the last week, we’ve received a tremendous number of calls about it, so we were able to get it in and expect to get more shipments.”
Potassium iodine tablets contain 30 milligrams or more of iodine (depending on the brand), whereas sea kelp tablets average 150 micrograms of iodine (1,000 micrograms equals 1 milligram). The USDA recommends a daily dose of 150 micrograms of iodine and most multivitamins have that dosage.
Taking too much potassium iodine for too long can cause adverse reactions in the thyroid, possibly even causing it to shut down entirely.
“You would only take potassium iodine when they announce that everyone should stay indoors,” said Earthbar employee Tracey Lee, who special ordered the supplement due to customer demand. “It’s not something you take as a preventative.”
Potassium iodine has a shelf life of six years, but it is not cheap. A bottle of 30 tablets sells for $39.99 at Earthbar and Capitol Drugs.
“We don’t want someone buying us out, then hording it and selling it at an exorbitant price,” Tittle said. Capitol Drugs limits customers to buying one bottle.
Both stores expect new shipments of sea kelp some time this week, but also expect them to sell quickly. No word on when Whole Foods will get more dried sea kelp in.
Erewhon Natural Foods market store on Beverly Boulevard has bottles of liquid iodine in stock. The amount of iodine in liquid iodine, which is ingested by dropping on the tongue, is lower than that of sea kelp.
Other foods containing iodine are yogurt, cow’s milk, eggs, strawberries and mozzarella cheese. And of course, iodine is found in iodized salt. Fish and shellfish also contain iodine in varying amounts.