Kernels of Truth
Apricot kernels, or seeds as they are sometimes referred to, are gaining popularity because of their claim to improve cancer treatment. Will it help cure cancer as some online media claim? Are they tasty and safe to consume? Some sources call these kernels a superfood. Others are giving conflicting information warning consumers to stay away from the fruit. Apricots are among the types of fruits known as ‘stone fruit’ due to having large, hard seeds or a pit. Apricot kernels come from inside the fruit stones. Fresh seeds have a white appearance and turn brown once they dry out, resembling a small almond.
Hidden Health Hazards? In 2016, The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) put out warnings advising against eating kernels due to risks of cyanide from the raw kernels. They defined small amounts as “eating more than three small seeds or less than half of a large sized kernel.” Furthermore, they claimed that even one small kernel was unsafe for children.
How does a fruit turn into a compound that can poison us? Apricots and other fruits with seeds contain a compound known as Amygdalin or Laetrile. Enzymes found in our intestines break down the Amygdalin into cyanide. Cyanide poisoning causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms ranging from headaches, insomnia, decreased blood pressure, joint pain and even death. ESFA states that 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of body weight is lethal. This translates to roughly 50-60 kernels. This is where the claim that the cyanide from the kernels kill active cancer cells originates. However, in both animal and human clinical studies Amydgalin showed no benefits against cancer cells. Furthermore, there were reports of people in the clinical study with cyanide toxicity. In the United States, the use of Laetrile is not approved. Most raw apricot kernels are sold online as cancer fighting supplements, sometimes under the name vitamin B17. It is not actually a vitamin, just more misleading information.
The Bottom Line is that the use of Amydgalin or Laetrile for cancer treatment is not backed with strong data (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25918920). While the apricot kernels may not be safe to consume, the fruit is 100 percent safe.
Written by: Tiffany Tanksley, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern