Apricot Seeds For Cancer: Do They Really Work?

Written by Ravi Teja Tadimalla, Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

Apricot, scientifically known as Prunus armeniaca, belongs to the Rosaceae family and is commonly grown in India and Turkey. Apricot seeds are high in protein and fatty acids (1).

They are believed to help reduce cancer risk, but there is insufficient scientific data to back this claim. Moreover, there is a definite need for human trials in this regard.

These seeds are also used to extract oil, which is then used in medicines, shampoos, and perfumes.

Unfortunately, apricot seeds are toxic, courtesy of compounds like laetrile and amygdalin present in them. So, practice caution while consuming them.

In this article, we look at the health benefits of apricot seeds, their nutritional profile, their role in cancer prevention, and their daily recommended intake. So, let’s get started!

What Nutrients Do Apricot Seeds Contain?

  • Apricot seeds are rich in oil, which makes up for 50% of its total content. It also contains healthy unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic, linolenic, and oleic acids (1).
  • Around 25% of an apricot seed is protein, which is predominantly albumin (1).
  • The total fiber content of an apricot seed is only 5% (1).
  • Apricot seeds contain amygdalin (vitamin B17) in the highest concentration. It is considered to be one of the most essential enzymes found in apricot kernels (1).

There is a lot of debate surrounding the consumption of apricot seeds. It is believed that it could be fatal. Let’s check out the facts below.

Will Eating Apricot Seeds Kill You?

Chronic ingestion of apricot kernel is reported to cause cyanide toxicity (2). Apricot seeds contain various toxins such as cyanide, amygdalin (a cyanogen), and β-glucosidase (an enzyme catalyst) (2), (3), (4).

Biting on the seeds hydrolyzes amygdalin and β-glucosidase, which increases the toxicity of apricot kernels (5). Several cases of cyanide poisoning caused by the ingestion of apricot kernels have been reported (5), (6).

Annals of Tropical Paediatrics also published a retrospective diagnostic study on cyanide intoxication caused by eating apricot seeds in 13 children (7).

Though the symptoms may not appear immediately, toxic effects such as nausea, headaches, lethargy, insomnia, lowering of blood pressure, and pain in muscles and joints have been reported (8).

A few cases of death, especially in children, have also been reported (9). The FDA has deemed it unsafe as both a food and a drug (10).

So, here is the most important question…

Can Apricot Seeds Help Treat Cancer?

Laetrile or vitamin B17 is a synthetic form of amygdalin. It is a cyanogenic glycoside present in apricot seeds. Laetrile has been used to treat cancer as an alternative therapy (11).

In an in vitro study published in Food Science and Biotechnology, it was reported that the extracts of sweet apricot and bitter almond kernels have antioxidant, antimicrobial and antitumor properties. It states that apricot extracts can prevent the growth of human breast, colon, and hepatocellular (liver) cancer cell lines (12).

An in vitro study has reported the possibility of using apricot kernels as a part of dietary anticancer therapies. It was observed that the amygdalin present in apricot seeds could suppress the development of cancer in HT-29 colon cancer cells (13).

Amygdalin has been reported to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells by inhibiting the cell cycle. The authors claim that it is a “mistaken belief” that amygdalin causes cyanide toxicity (14). However, clinical trials are still required to prove these effects on humans.

A systematic review of 36 studies found that the data available on the potential benefits of laetrile (found in apricots seeds) for cancer treatment is inconclusive (15).

Several research review articles have claimed the anticancer effects of amygdalin or laetrile to be fraudulent due to lack of valid clinical data (16), (17).

Since most of the information available on the anticancer effect of apricot seeds is anecdotal, the success rate of this therapy has not been reported in the public domain.

The mixed research claims and reports of toxicity of apricot seeds make them a less than ideal treatment for cancer. Even the National Cancer Institute (NCI) does not approve of it (18).

Though there are mixed reports about the cyanide toxicity of apricot seeds, you can consume them in small amounts. Find out how in the next section.

How To Eat Apricot Seeds?

The pit found in the center of the apricot fruit contains the seed or kernel. Remove the apricot pit from the fruit. Use a nutcracker to open the pit and expose the seed. Throw away the pit and eat the seeds. Consult a doctor immediately if you experience any side effects, such as nausea or dizziness.

How Many Apricot Seeds Should You Eat A Day?

There is no accurate recommended dosage available as it depends on many factors, such as the age, weight, and health of the person consuming apricot seeds.

However, the European Food Safety Authority has reported that adults should not consume more than 3 small raw apricot kernels or half of one large kernel, and toddlers should avoid it completely. The presence of cyanide in the apricot kernels can be fatal to children as the toxicity of cyanide is dependent on body weight (8)

Apricot seeds are nutrient-dense. They are packed with phytochemicals that have a potential role in cancer treatment. They also are a good source of fatty acids, vitamins, and dietary fiber. The seeds also contain amygdalin, a compound that may possess anti-cancer properties. Nevertheless, one must be wary of the cyanide in the seeds. Overindulging in the seeds may cause cyanide poisoning. The severity of symptoms varies with a person’s age and weight. Apricot seeds may also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, and breathing difficulties. Also, amygdalin is thought to inhibit cancer cells by an unknown mechanism. The associated studies are not extensive enough to support the use of apricot seeds in cancer treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do apricot seeds contain arsenic?

There is no data available on the presence of arsenic in apricot seeds. However, they contain a toxin called amygdalin that releases cyanide, which is fatal to humans and cattle. So, do not ingest more than 3 apricot seeds in a day.

Can you take apricot seeds with chemo?

The anticancer effect of apricot seeds has not been scientifically proven. They should be avoided with chemotherapy and otherwise. Always consult a licensed medical practitioner before consuming apricot seeds.

Is apricot seed the same as almond?

No, an apricot seed is the kernel found in the pit of the apricot fruit. An almond is a nut commonly consumed for the many health benefits it provides.


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