Apricot kernels pose risk of cyanide poisoning

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Posted 05 May 2016

FaithfulToNature-ApricotKernalsFaithful to Nature are selling apricot kernels with the claims that “These tasty dried fruit treats are known for their high vitamin and mineral content (including B17), offering you a wealth of wellness benefits and even cancer-fighting properties. You can use By Nature Apricot Kernels to make jams, pestos, biscuits and marzipan – or simply pop a few in the blender with your morning smoothie, to give your body a healthful, disease-fighting boost. They also go well with warming curries and soups”.

 

Update 06 May 2016: It appears that this product has been removed from the Faithful to Nature website

EarthProductsEarth Products also sell this product, making spurious claims, such as “The Hunza people are considered living proof of the health benefits of apricot kernelsBased in the remote Himalayan region near West Pakistan, they are traditional apricot farmers and are believed to consume 200 times more B17 than Westerners do (about 30 to 50 apricot seeds a day). The Hunza are also said to have low levels of cancer and high rates of longevity” and “Amygdalin/Laetrile/ B17is credited with cancer-fighting properties”.

However, apricot kernels pose risk of cyanide poisoning!

According to the European Food Safety Authority, “eating more than three small raw apricot kernels, or less than half of one large kernel, in a serving can exceed safe levels. Toddlers consuming even one small apricot kernel risk being over the safe level”.

A naturally-occurring compound called amygdalin is present in apricot kernels and converts to cyanide after eating. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle various aches and pains, and falling blood pressure. In extreme cases it is fatal. Studies indicate 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams (mg) cyanide per kilogram of body weight can be lethal. EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain set a safe level for a one-off exposure (known as the Acute Reference Dose, or “ARfD”) of 20 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This is 25 times below the lowest reported lethal dose. Based on these limits and the amounts of amygdalin typically present in raw apricot kernels, EFSA’s experts estimate that adults could consume three small apricot kernels (370mg), without exceeding the ARfD. For toddlers the amount would be 60mg which is about half of one small kernel.
Sellers promote them as a cancer-fighting food and some actively promote intakes of 10 and 60 kernels per day for the general population and cancer patients, respectively.

Does Laetrile have any benefit in the treatment of cancer?

Laetrile has been shown to have no major effect on cancer. A Cochrane review of all studies and evidence concluded:

“The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative”.

Milazzo S, Horneber M. Laetrile treatment for cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 28;4:CD005476. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005476.pub4.

Furthermore: “Laetrile can be administered orally as a pill, or it can be given by injection (intravenous or intramuscular). It is commonly given intravenously for a period of time followed by oral maintenance therapy. The incidence of cyanide poisoning is much higher when laetrile is taken orally [21-23] because intestinal bacteria and some commonly eaten plants contain enzymes (beta-glucosidases) that activate the release of cyanide after laetrile has been ingested.[17,22] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65988/

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