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September 21, 2017

Cyanide in Bitter Apricot Kernels

Apricot kernels are the seeds found inside the pits (stones) of fresh apricots. There are two types of apricot kernels, bitter and sweet. Bitter apricot kernels naturally contain a compound called amygdalin, which has the potential to release cyanide when ingested by humans. Small amounts of cyanide are detoxified by the human body but high doses can be lethal. Alternatively, sweet apricot kernels and the fruit (flesh) of apricots do not pose a risk of adverse health effects from cyanide exposure because they contain lower levels of amygdalin. Some people use ground or whole bitter apricot kernels to flavor foods, as a health food, or for medicinal purposes. Apricot kernels may be promoted in some health foods as a medicinal ingredient. Apricot kernels with unapproved medicinal claims may be offered for sale. These products may recommend very high quantities of apricot kernels be consumed, which would result in exposure to amygdalin doses higher than those considered to be safe by health authorities and other international jurisdictions. Together with the related synthetic compound laetrile, amygdalin has been marketed as an alternative cancer treatment. However, studies have found the compounds to be ineffective in the treatment of cancer, as well as potentially toxic or lethal when taken by mouth, due to cyanide poisoning.

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