This is a MYTH…
…a popular rumor touted as an alternative health solution to chemotherapy drugs and based widely on anecdotal evidence! Apricot kernels, the seeds found in the center of the apricot fruit, are concentrated with vitamin B17…which isn’t really a vitamin at all, but a plant substance called amygdalin. Amygdalin has also been rumored to alleviate arthritis pain and lower blood pressure, although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims either. Far from being a harmless natural therapy for cancer treatment and prevention, apricot kernels carry a significant health risk when consumed long term and in excess.
Laetrile: The Cancer Drug
In the 1950s, scientists used amygdalin extracted from apricot kernels to create the anti-cancer drug Laetrile. This chemically modified version of amydgalin was marketed as a safe alternative to chemotherapy drugs that not only kill cancer cells, but also destroy healthy cells. Laetrile has failed to live up to these claims. A clinical trial conducted between 1979 and 1981 discredited the drug, showing that within three months, 91% of users saw their cancer progress. The American Cancer Society has since declared Laetrile (and apricot kernels), an ineffective cancer treatment.
If consuming apricot kernels was truly safe, there’d be no harm in ingesting a handful a day to possibly keep cancer away. However, the cyanide levels in apricot kernels present a significant health threat. According to a 2006 report from the Committee on Toxicity, cyanide is lethal at a dose between .5 and 3.5 mg/kg of body weight. For example, a 140-pound woman could experience cyanide poisoning from 65 apricot kernels (32.5 mg) to 455 kernels (227.5 mg) per day. A 175-pound man is at risk from 80 apricot kernels (40 mg) to 560 kernels (280 mg) per day.
According to the American Cancer Society, apricot kernels consumed alongside high levels of vitamin C increase the concentration of cyanide released in the body. The American Cancer Society also recommends against consuming raw almonds and fruits high in the enzyme beta-glucosidase—such as peaches, celery, bean sprouts, and carrots—when eating apricot kernels in order to reduce the risk of cyanide toxicity.
To Eat or Not to Eat
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the vitamin B17 in apricot kernels is not necessary for good health. In fact, the scientific definition of a vitamin is that it be proven essential to maintaining optimal health…and there is just no proof that vitamin B17 lives up to its health-promoting claims.
That being said, death by apricot kernel is extrememly rare. If you are one of the anecdotal believers in the health benefits of apricot kernels, then by all means, chomp down a few…but keep your consumption within a safe limit.