Apricot seeds are known for their nutritional value, primarily based on the availability of healthy fats and fatty acids (1). The seeds are currently cultivated across the world but with a strong concentration around Central Asia and countries in the Mediterranean region.
There are two kinds of apricot seeds available on the market. While one of them is sweet and often used as a substitute for almonds, the other tastes bitter. These sweet seeds are primarily grown in Central Asia and in the Mediterranean region (2).
The sweet seeds are often sold as snacks and even used in cooking. They contain limited or no amount amygdalin in them, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound which can raise cyanide levels in the body. However, the bitter seeds (and many other raw nuts) contain amygdalin in the kernel and forms part of the debate surrounding the efficacy of apricot seeds for cancer.
Can Apricot Seeds Cure Cancer?
One of the key causes of the debate surrounding apricot seeds or kernel is the chemical compound amygdalin. The compound is extracted and produced by a drug called Laetrile. This drug was first used in Russia in 1845 to treat cancer and was introduced in the United States in 1920 (3).
It has a topsy-turvy history in the United States which saw it get banned in the 1950s. After legal suits were filed in Oklahoma, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California challenging the FDA’s legitimacy in determining drugs that should be made available to the patients suffering from cancer, it was legalised in 20 states.
However, in 1980, the U.S Supreme Court upheld a previous ban on interstate transport of Laetrile, which has seen the use of the product decrease. As such, patients with interest in taking this experimental drug cross the border to travel to Mexico, where it is still administered.
Since the USFDA (US Food and Drug Administration) banned the mention of Laetrile in consumer products, companies are known to mention ‘Vitamin B17’ in apricot seeds packaging to indicate its ability to act on cancer.
In order to truly determine whether amygdalin really works to counteract cancer cells, there have been many studies. While some studies have used it to test in animal studies, others have been conducted in clinical trials involving humans.
In theory, the cyanide released by Laetrile is supposed to increase the acid content in toxic cells. This, in turn, should break down the lysosomes (the compartment that contains the acids), spilling the acid and in effect kill the cancerous cells.
The National Cancer Institute has stated that Laetrile can be administered orally, intravenously or intramuscularly (4).
Studies on Laetrile’s impact on cancer
In 1982, a study put patients on Laetrile which was being injected intravenously and in addition, put them on a special diet restricting the use of caffeine, meat, dairy products, sugar, eggs and alcohol. The patients were also required to take Laetrile orally, in addition to the injections (5).
After a period of 21 days, no significant improvement was observed in the stabilization of cancer, symptoms, or extending the lifespan. Many patients also displayed symptoms of cyanide toxicity but one patient that had gastric carcinoma with cervical lymph node metastasis saw partial improvement, lasting up to 10 weeks.
In 2006, Department of Physiology at Kyung Hee University in South Korea conducted a study which combined Laetrile extracts with cancerous human prostate cells and found that the extracts helped to induce programmed cell death (6). As a result, they concluded that amygdalin may offer a natural option for treating prostate cancer.
In contrast, there are other studies which found that Laetrile had no significant impact on cancerous cells but rather caused cyanide poisoning and induced liver damage, fever, coma and even death (3).
Benefits Of Eating Apricot Seeds?
The debate on its impact on cancer aside, there are other benefits which apricot seeds tend to have. Due to the presence of amygdalin inside the kernel, Vitamin B17 is supposed to help with a few common ailments like:
1. Increase In Immunity
Apricot kernels are thought to restrict the spread of illness throughout the body but due to lack of conclusive studies, the nature of which helps is not entirely clear.
International Journal of Radiation and Biology released a study that found amygdalin to increase the ability of white blood corpuscles to attack foreign bodies (7). It is thought that amygdalin inhibits the process which turns normal cells into harmful cells by encouraging the growth of an enzyme which is generally produced in the pancreas.
2. Pain Relief
In some of the cancer studies, the patients were said to have found a decrease in pain despite no changes in the cancer cells. A series of studies published in the year 1962 found patients with metastatic cancer being treated with a broad spectrum of Laetrile dose and one of the frequently reported benefits was pain relief (8).
3. May Lower High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, which is one of the most common causes of stroke, aortic aneurysm and chronic kidney disease, was once treated with apricot seeds. The seeds aid in the creation of a chemical called thiocyanate which was used in the treatment of hypertension in the early 20th century, but the treatment was ceased due to the high levels of toxicity. Nevertheless, sodium nitroprusside, a metabolite of thiocyanate, continues to be part of the treatment for hypertensive emergency.
Whether the impact of amygdalin on blood pressure is prolonged or lasts only for a short period of time, is unknown but it is thought that once the chemical is metabolized, it aids the production of an enzyme called beta-glucosidase, which reacts with intestinal bacteria to reduce toxins in the body and lower blood pressure (9).
Are Apricot Seeds Safe?
There still isn’t a consensus regarding its efficacy or harmfulness. As a result, snacking on more than a couple can be potentially dangerous. At the same time, there are opinions that sweet kernels can boost immunity and help encourage potency of antibodies.
For now, though, we should steer clear of apricot seeds until the debate regarding their true potency reaches its conclusion. Nutritionist Dr Rupali Dutta mentioned that the efficacy has not been proven beyond doubt and recognized by any food or drug safety body like Federal Drug Administration (in the U.S.A, also known as USFDA) or European Food Safety Authority and people should use caution while taking the seeds (10).
Are Apricot Seeds Edible?
It should be noted that apricot seeds can be sweet tasting or bitter. The bitter taste comes from the Vitamin B17 component within the kernel. Those that are sweet tasting can actually be eaten without any worry. Since they do not have any considerable amount of B17, if any, they do not pose the same threat to human life or efficacy in curing cancer.
In contrast, the debate and argument between the naysayers and the yea-sayers are regarding the bitter apricot seeds. If you’re looking to snack on them or use them in cooking, feel free to do so as long as you have read the package labelling correctly and ensured that it does not contain B17 and are not labelled as bitter.
If there still remains any confusion, you can try and take one small kernel out and bite half of it. If it tastes sweet, it’s good to eat; otherwise best steer clear of them.
How many apricot seeds should you eat a day?
While ingestion of apricot seeds still continues to be argued, there isn’t a standard guide to eat them. UK Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) determined that eating 30 stones can create enough cyanide in a human’s body to be fatal (11). It also added that people consuming 10-15 seeds at a time reported feeling their fingers going numb.
The FSA also stated that eating one half of a big kernel is enough for an adult human to exceed the safety levels and so marks it as the maximum limit. It has also mentioned that for toddlers and children, one half of small kernel can be considered the maximum limit.
While government agencies continue to ban and provide caution to use of apricot seeds, alternate treatment channels continue to espouse the use of apricot seeds, with some advising 10-12 seeds to be taken per day to keep cancer away.
Are apricot seeds good to eat?
The sweet apricot seeds are actually healthy and beneficial and contain nutritional value but there are mixed reports as to how many can be taken on a daily basis. They can be used as a substitute for almonds and even feature in various cuisines around the world, notably in Italian baking.
The fact that can create anxiety among consumers is that the seeds aren’t labelled properly. As a result, the packaging might not always correctly depict whether the apricot seeds contained inside the package are sweet or bitter.
What are the side effects of eating apricot seeds?
There are a number of raw nuts and kernels which when taken can cause cyanide poisoning particularly since the cyanide is activated only after the kernel is ingested in the body. If taken over the permissible limit, the user can experience symptoms of cyanide poisoning which include, fever, vomiting, rash
When consumed more than permitted quantity apricot seeds may produce symptoms such as mental confusion, insomnia, rash, weakness, lethargy, headaches,, fever, nervousness, increased thirst, varied aches and pains in joints and muscles, and a drop in blood pressure. In severe cases, cyanide poisoning causes nerve damage, coma or even death (9).
As per various studies, when Laetrile is used as a form of pain or cancer treatment, oral Laetrile showed serious side effects as compared to the injected Laetrile. With persistent use of apricot seeds, crushed fruit pits, fruits or vegetables, raw almonds, having beta-glucosidase like carrots, celery, and peaches side effects can surge. When taken high dose of Vitamin C orally with Laetrile increases the odds of getting cyanide poisoning.
Apricot seeds present a fine paradox that can hardly be found anywhere else. While one variety of apricot kernels offer a delicacy used to garnish desserts and savoury dishes, another is thought to add years to the life of a cancer patient.
The sweet variety, as seen above, can be used as a casual snack, but its bitter cousin represents a vast variety of health benefits, though not all can be conclusively verified. The fact that Vitamin B17 offers relief in cases of pain, high blood pressure and boosts immunity, while more extensive use has been marketed to treat cancer.
It has a tumultuous history, since its first reported use in Russia, to more recent case studies in 2006. While some experiments on animals found programmed cell death in cancer cells to be possible, some human trials found that there had been no improvement in the condition of the patients.
At the same time, there exist a number of other reports which claim that Laetrile can aid pain relief and even help in curing cancer. Incidentally, government organizations in Europe and U.S.A have maintained that apricot seeds can cause cyanide poisoning.
In conclusion, while there are purported health benefits of apricot kernels, they aren’t all conclusively determined and the dosage for the same is still under debate. EFSA maintained that half a kernel is the maximum limit. For cancer, it’s best that you consult with your doctor and do some more reading of past clinical trials and studies conducted to understand Laetrile’s functioning on a cancer patient. But until then, try not to have more than half a kernel.
Alternatively, if you just want to munch on a few apricot seeds, stick to the sweeter alternative and you might find yourself with a suitable almond alternative, that isn’t as pricey but still does a job. As a word of advice, always remember to read the labels of what you’re buying. A small omission in information may be the difference between life and death.