The truth about apricot kernels
A man who took apricot kernel extract in the hope of preventing cancer was almost poisoned by cyanide, doctors at The Alfred found.
The issue came to light after they noticed that he had abnormally low levels of oxygen (hypoxia) in his body when he was under anaesthetic for routine surgery. Blood tests showed that he had high levels of cyanide in his body.
The case featured in the BMJ Case Reports last week.
Dr Alex Konstantatos, Specialist Anaesthetist & Head of Pain Service at The Alfred, said the case initially puzzled the medical team – who could not work out why the patient has such low levels of oxygen in his blood.
The patient later explained that he had been taking two teaspoons of home-made apricot kernel extract every day for the past five years in addition to three tablets of Novodalin - a herbal fruit kernel supplement.
Apricot kernels contain cyanide, and along with the herbal supplement, the man was taking almost enough cyanide every day, to raise blood cyanide to around 25 times above acceptable levels.
He urged anyone taking apricot kernel extract as a supplement to stop.
“Some people believe that taking apricot kernel extract can reduce the risk of some cancers reoccurring, but the perceived benefits have not been scientifically validated,” Dr Konstantatos said.
“Apricot kernels contain cyanide, which is released into the bloodstream when consumed. Imprecise doses can easily release enough cyanide to cause severe toxicity which can lead to brain damage or even death.”
Dr Konstantatos said apricot lovers have nothing to fear as long as they only consume the flesh. The kernel is the only part of an apricot that contains cyanide.
Apricot jams, have also been given the all-clear, as the apricots used in jams are cooked which inactivates cyanide. Only raw apricot kernels contain cyanide.
Children should be advised not to eat the kernel and parents can take preventative measures by removing the kernel before consumption.
For more information or if you have been consuming apricot kernel extract, visit your GP.