How Apricots Can Poison You

It turns out that apricot seeds can do a lot more harm than good.

Nick Rose

Nick Rose

Photo via Flickr User Will Power

Apricots are chock full of stuff that is good for your skin, bones, and brain, but it's also possible to get too much of a good thing. For example, take the people self-administering megadoses of apricot kernels in order to kill cancer cells, a hypothesis which remains unconfirmed at best—or "worthless," depending on who you ask. Not a great idea.

It turns out that apricot seeds can be toxic, even deadly, to humans. Apricot seeds contain a chemical called amygdalin, which your body chemically converts into cyanide. According to a recent case report by the British Medical Journal, a 67-year-old man developed cyanide poisoning from consuming too much apricot seed extract.

"The man explained that he had been taking two teaspoons of home-made apricot kernel extract every day for the past five years in addition to three tablets of Novodalin—a herbal fruit kernel supplement," a related press release revealed. This brought the unnamed man's cyanide levels to a whopping 25 times above the "acceptable" levels.

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To be fair to the firm, hairy fruit, the man in question was also self-administering 17.32 milligrams of cyanide every day, in addition to his already pretty hardcore apricot seed intake. Still, apricot man, who reportedly has cancer, seemed undeterred by the fact that he literally poisoned himself. "The doctors made the man aware of their concerns about his fruit kernel diet, but he nevertheless opted to continue with it," the press release concludes.

Despite the bad rap it's gotten because of sneaky, murderous spouses over the years, cyanide is not inherently poisonous, and, as with most chemicals, dosage is everything. In fact, cyanide is in your table salt, almonds, and spinach, but if you're a scorned lover it's going to take a lot more than upping the amount of spinach in your partner's smoothie to get rid of them.

In 2010, a study entitled "Cyanide poisoning caused by ingestion of apricot seeds" looked at 13 cases of children who had suffered from intoxication caused by apricot seeds. Symptoms included from hypotension, coma, convulsions, and four of the subjects had to be hooked up to mechanical ventilation. All of the poisoned children in these cases had to undergo a "gastric lavage" and almost half of them received a cyanide antidote treatment. All because they ingested too many apricot seeds.

So what is an acceptable dose of apricot seed? "This is the dilemma posed by our case report," lead author Dr. Alex Konstantatos told MUNCHIES. "Cyanide levels have only been previously consistently measured in one situation and that is after a lethal dose to confirm cause of death. There are two case reports other than ours that measured a special pigment in the red blood cells after near lethal apricot kernel poisoning but this pigment only reflects that the antidote against cyanide is working."

In other words, besides the fact that apricot seeds can be dangerous, little is known about what a non-deadly dose is. "In reality, we have very little idea of the ramifications of chronic sub-lethal doses of cyanide. We need to measure cyanide more often in people who regularly take ake [apricot kernel extract] and follow these people over time to see if there are dangers associated with sublethal levels of cyanide. The current recommendations are not so prescriptive except for one UK recommendation to take extract from less than two apricot kernels per day and I am not certain this recommendation is based on accurate scientific data."

But this most recent case only adds to a solid body of medical evidence suggesting that apricots are not to be fucked with.