Europeans are so fearful of a nuclear attack that they have panicked and purchased iodine tablets.

Fearful of an escalation in Russia's war on Ukraine, some Europeans have begun stockpiling iodine tablets.

The tablets help reduce the risk of developing long-term thyroid cancer, similar to what occurred following the Chernobyl meltdown, particularly in high-risk groups such as infants and children.

According to the Brussels Times, nearly 30,000 residents in Belgium went to pharmacies for free pills following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that his country's nuclear deterrent forces would be placed on high alert and recent fighting at Ukraine's nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that demand for tablets has increased 100-fold in Finland since Russia invaded Ukraine, with pharmacies across the country running out of stock.

What may seem reasonable to have on hand in theory can prove dangerous in practice if instructions are not followed precisely. They may not even provide a net benefit, depending on one's age.

"Taking [potassium iodide] more frequently than recommended provides no additional protection and may result in severe illness or death," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States warn.

The tablets work by saturating the thyroid with iodine for 24 hours, effectively blocking the thyroid from absorbing highly radioactive iodine-131 from contaminated air, food, or water.

In the event of a nuclear accident or attack, the tablet's 24-hour effect provides critical time for people to seek shelter from this unstable iodine isotope. Iodine-131, a byproduct of nuclear fission, decays after only eight days.

There is no protection against other radioactive isotopes.

Additionally, these tablets should not be taken unless an imminent risk of exposure exists. Preventatively ingesting the medication without supervision may cause more harm than good.

With many adults suffering from some form of hyperthyroidism, ingesting large doses of potassium iodide can result in harmful side effects such as acute cardiovascular failure that outweigh the increased risk of developing cancer.

As a result, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that people under the age of 40 take them in the event of a fallout.

Additionally, iodine is not a foolproof method of protecting oneself from fallout. It is ineffective against the threat posed by other radioactive elements commonly emitted during explosions, such as cesium-137 or strontium-90.

As a result, the chair of the German Pharmacists' Drug Commission strongly advised against self-administering such tablets last week.

"Not only does this pose significant health risks, but it also provides no benefit at the moment," Martin Schulz explained, citing the absence of any suspicious radioactivity emanating from Ukraine.

The commission added that there was "no rational argument for taking high-dose iodine tablets at the moment due to the situation in Ukraine," adding that authorities had stockpiled nearly 190 million tablets in case the need arose.

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