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Toxicity of Apricot Kernels

by
author image Timothy Blalock
Based in Boston, Dr. Timothy Blalock was a senior scientist and regulatory writer at pharmaceutical companies where he developed preclinical research models, authored manuscripts and wrote grants/regulatory documents. He has produced many published scientific articles and is a member of the American Medical Writers Association. Blalock holds a Ph.D. in biomedical science from the University of Florida.
Toxicity of Apricot Kernels
Eat the flesh of an apricot, but skip the kernel. Photo Credit Blue Jean Images/Photodisc/Getty Images

Apricots are a nutritious source of potassium, fiber and vitamins A, C and K, and have a place in your healthy eating plan. The kernel, however, contains cyanide. For that reason, the kernels might not be an appropriate part of your diet because the cyanide can cause unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. These effects are even more acute and profound in children, who should never eat apricot kernels.

What Makes Them Toxic

The toxic compound in apricot kernels is cyanide. One apricot kernel contains about 0.5 milligram of cyanide, according to Internet Scientific Publications. Cyanide is a chemical gas that's poisonous and prevents your body from properly absorbing oxygen. Cyanide is most often present in factories that make plastic, paper, jewelry or textiles. The chemical is also present in some soil, fire and cigarette smoke and exhaust from cars.

Apricots and Cyanide Poisoning

Apricots contain cyanogenic glycosides, when, if chewed, release cyanide, according to a 2013 article published in "ISRN Toxicology." Eating apricot kernels raw is one way humans can become exposed, but many cultures use ground apricot kernels in baking and cooking, which is another potential route for poisoning. Cyanide poisoning can cause headache, dizziness and confusion. Anxiety, restlessness, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath are additional symptoms of cyanide poisoning. More serious symptoms include rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, chest pain, loss of consciousness and seizures, according to the Drugs.com website. Coma and death are possible in acute cases.

How Much Would Cause Toxicity Effects

Eating one apricot kernel isn't as likely to cause any negative side effects compared to larger doses, though you should always speak to your doctor before adding the kernels to your diet. A lethal dose of cyanide falls in a range between 0.5 and 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, notes "Internet Scientific Publications." So for a 175-pound man, a toxic dose would be between 80 and 560 kernels. For children, however, even 10 apricot kernels can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. Nonfatal reactions are possible at much lower doses, however, and can require hospitalization for treatment. Common treatments include the administration of activated charcoal or of hydroxocobalamin, a medication that helps normalize blood pressure and promote normal oxygen absorption.

Staying Safe

Do not allow children to eat apricot kernels. Because they are much smaller than adults, even small amounts can prove toxic. If you have small children, remove the kernel before serving the apricots. While dying from eating apricot kernels is rare, you should also limit your intake because small amounts can still cause negative side effects. Always consult with a physician before you use apricot kernels or apricot kernel powder for any reason.

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