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Apricot Seeds for Cancer Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on May 20, 2020

Apricot seeds are almond-shaped kernels inside the fruit’s pit, or stone. Raw apricot seeds contain a compound called amygdalin, which is an enzyme that your gut turns into cyanide.

Cyanide is a toxic chemical that is naturally found in small amounts in apples, peaches, lima beans, and other foods. You can get sick or die if you eat a lot of it.

Some people believe that the cyanide from eating apricot seeds can kill cancer cells. But there is no scientific evidence that this treatment works. In fact, they might be harmful.

It’s illegal to sell apricot products or extracts as drugs.

History of Amygdalin and Cancer

Amygdalin was used in Russia as early as in 1845 to treat cancer. In the 1940s, an American doctor named Ernst T. Krebs Sr. patented a man-made version of amygdalin called laetrile and pushed it as an anticancer drug. He was convicted of selling laetrile illegally. The FDA has banned laetrile since the 1970s.

Krebs and others claimed with little evidence that amygdalin targeted only cancer cells, not healthy ones. But studies later showed it can lead to cyanide toxicity, whose symptoms are similar to cyanide poisoning. It can make you dizzy and nauseated, damage your liver, and cause a coma or even death.

Amygdalin is also called vitamin B17. But that’s a term made up by Krebs’s son, Ernst T. Krebs Jr. Amygdalin and laetrile are not approved vitamins.

What the Research Says

So far, there haven’t been any controlled clinical trials on humans to prove that laetrile or apricot seeds have any anticancer effects.

Amygdalin studies on animals and in labs have turned up mixed results. Some found no benefits. Others showed amygdalin might help with pain or slow down or kill certain cells that cause tumors. That includes the ones in cancers of the:

Scientists continue to study how and if amygdalin might help fight cancer. Until they know more, they can’t say if amygdalin can be used safely, or at what amounts.

Risks of Apricot Seeds

We don’t know much about the safety of apricot seeds. Some experts say it’s a bad idea for adults to eat more than a few really small ones. Children shouldn’t eat apricot seeds. They may get sick if they eat more than half a seed.

Apricot seeds may be safer than amygdalin pills. Adults have ended up the hospital after eating 20-30 kernels.

You also may get sick if you eat apricot seeds over a long period of time. And you shouldn’t pair amygdalin with extra vitamin C. That combo can push your cyanide levels even higher.

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include:

In serious cases, you may have a seizure or even die. Get medical help right away if you think you have cyanide poisoning.

If you have cancer, talk to your doctor before you try any natural or alternative treatment. A healthy diet may lower your chances of getting cancer. And apricots and other fresh fruits pack a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Food Standards Australia & New Zealand: “Apricot kernels (raw).”

Government of Canada: “Recalls and safety alerts.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Amygdalin.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “Apricot Seeds: Do They Fight Cancer?”

FDA: “Illegally Sold Cancer Treatments,” “Closeout Letter: God Quest, Inc. d/b/a Creation Today.”

National Cancer Institute: “Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ) -- Patient Version.”

International Journal of Biochemistry and Pharmacology: “Experimental and Therapeutic Trials of Amygdalin.”

Cancer Medicine: “Recent updates and future perspectives about amygdalin as a potential anticancer agent: A review.”

Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports: “Effects of the Gut microbiota on Amygdalin and its use as an anti-cancer therapy: Substantial review on the key components involved in altering dose efficacy and toxicity.”

Anticancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry: “Amygdalin from Apricot Kernels Induces Apoptosis and Causes Cell Cycle Arrest in Cancer Cells: An Updated Review.”

European Food Safety Authority Journal: “Acute health risks related to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in raw apricot kernels and products derived from raw apricot kernels.”

Annals of Tropical Paediatrics: “Cyanide poisoning caused by ingestion of apricot seeds.”

BMJ Case Reports: “An unusual presentation of chronic cyanide toxicity from self-prescribed apricot kernel extract.”

CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians: “Unproven methods of cancer management: Laetrile.”

CDC: “Facts About Cyanide.”

American Cancer Society: “ACS Guidelines for Nutrition and Physical Activity,” “Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment.”

The New York Times: “Inquiry Casts Doubts on Laetrile Figures.”

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