However, scientists have warned that a compound in the apricot kernel converts to cyanide in the body at levels that could be harmful.
Is eating apricot kernels a safe alternative way to treat cancer or another dangerous health fad? We sort the facts from the fiction.
What are apricot kernels?
The seed of an apricot is also known as a kernel.
Apricot kernels look similar in appearance to a small almond. Fresh apricot kernels are white. The skin becomes light brown when dried out.
Apricot kernels contain protein, fiber, and a high percentage of oil. The oil can be extracted from the kernel.
Oil pressed from the sweet kernel can be used for cooking in the same way as sweet almond oil. The kernels themselves are used in processed foods such as amaretto biscuits, almond finger biscuits, and apricot jams.
Oil and kernels from the bitter variety of apricot kernel are often used in cosmetics in body oil, face cream, lip balm, and essential oil.
What nutrients do apricot kernels contain?
Apricot kernels are made up of the following:
- Oils - up to 50 percent
- Proteins - around 25 percent
- Carbohydrates - around 8 percent
Apricot kernel oil is high in essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential to human health, but the human body is unable to produce them, so they must be taken in through diet.
There are two main types of essential fatty acids: linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).
Linolenic acid plays a vital role in brain function and normal growth and development. Fatty acids also stimulate skin and hair growth, regulate metabolism, maintain bone health, and support the reproductive system.
Vitamins and minerals
Apricot kernels do not contain a significant amount of vitamins and minerals. However, apricot kernel oil is rich in vitamin E.
Can they help fight cancer?
Although apricot kernels have some health benefits, can they help fight against cancer or are they do more harm than good?
Some people regard a compound called amygdalin, which is found in apricot kernels, as a secret weapon to attack cancer cells, eradicate tumors, and prevent cancer.
What is amygdalin?
Amygdalin is a naturally occurring substance found in apricot kernels. Amygdalin is also present in other seeds of fruit including apples, cherries, plums, and peaches. Amygdalin can also be found in plants such as clover, sorghum, and lima beans.
People who eat large numbers of apricot seeds are at risk of cyanide poisoning.
When amygdalin is eaten, it converts to cyanide in the body. Cyanide is a fast-acting, potentially deadly chemical.
Cyanide prevents the cells in the human body from using oxygen, which kills them. As the heart and the brain use a lot of oxygen, cyanide is more harmful to those than other organs.
It is estimated that eating 50-60 apricot kernels would deliver a lethal dose of cyanide. Cyanide poisoning can occur at much lower levels, however.
Web sites that promote the consumption of raw apricot kernels recommend between 5-10 kernels per day for the general population and up to 60 apricot kernels per day for people with cancer.
People who follow these dose recommendations are likely to be exposed to cyanide levels that cause cyanide poisoning.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned that a single serving of three small apricot kernels or one large apricot kernel could put adults over the suggested safe levels of cyanide exposure, while one small kernel could be toxic to a toddler.
The EFSA advise that no more than 20 micrograms of cyanide per kilogram of body weight should be consumed at one time. This limits consumption to one kernel for adults. Even half a kernel would be over the limit for children.
What is laetrile? What is vitamin B17?
Laetrile is a partly synthetic form of amygdalin. Laetrile is produced from amygdalin through a chemical reaction with water.
Laetrile was patented in 1961, but it did not become popular until 1970. The biochemist, Ernst T. Krebs, Jr., stated that cancer was a vitamin deficiency disease and the missing vitamin in cancer was laetrile. He named laetrile "vitamin B17."
B17, or laetrile, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States and is deemed unsafe for food and drug use. It has not been shown to have any use in the treatment of any disease.
There is currently no evidence that laetrile helps with cancer. However, some people choose to use laetrile in the hope that it will cure cancer when conventional treatments have failed. People may take laetrile to:
- Improve energy levels and well-being
- Detox the body
- Help them live longer
There is no scientific evidence to support these reasons.
The FDA say: "There are no published clinical studies that demonstrate that laetrile is safe and effective and cancer patients who take it sometimes forgo conventional therapies to their detriment."
"Despite repeated warnings by FDA, the products continued to be promoted through numerous websites for the cure, treatment, and prevention of cancer."
Most websites that support laetrile as a cancer treatment base their claims on anecdotal evidence and unsupported opinions. No reliable evidence confirms laetrile as an effective treatment for cancer.
The use of apricot seeds to treat cancer cannot be recommended.
The Cochrane Library conducted a review in 2015 of studies that have looked at laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer. They found no reliable evidence to show any benefit from using laetrile or amygdalin in the treatment of cancer.
Alternative cancer treatments are used instead of regular cancer treatments such as cancer drugs or radiation therapy. Using unproven methods in place of conventional medicine can cause serious harm.
Consumption of apricot kernels and laetrile is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women because of lacking data on the potential risk of congenital disabilities.
Cyanide poisoning and death have resulted from ingestion of laetrile and apricot kernels.
There may be promise with using chemicals from apricot kernels for cancer treatments after harmful elements have been removed. For now, however, the use of apricot kernels cannot be recommended.