Vitamin B17 and Apple Seeds

The apple is one of the world's most common fruits and a portable and nutritious snack. Most people throw away the apple seeds, but some believe there are hidden nutritional benefits. The seeds contain a controversial compound called vitamin B17 that some researchers believe have many beneficial effects on the body.

Are apple seeds nutritious or should they be avoided? (Image: gemphotography/iStock/Getty Images)

Apple Facts

Apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruits in the world with the majority of the world's supply being grown in China. There are thousands of different varieties of apples which vary in size, color, flavor, and drought or pest tolerance. While apples do not contain as much vitamin C and dietary fiber as many other fruits, they contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that make them an important component of the diet according to the October 2003 issue of the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry."

Apple Seeds

Even though apples are very nutritious, you should not eat apple seeds due to the presence of cyanide containing compounds. Some believe that there are medicinal benefits to apple seeds and you can even purchase apple seed extract. There are claims that apple seeds may treat cancer, hyperthyroidism, and even head lice. Although eating many apple seeds at a time may not be safe, they are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and are high in protein according to the "International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition."

Vitamin B17

Even though apples are very healthy, they are high in the compound amygdalin, sometimes known as vitamin B17, which is a potentially toxic cyanide-containing molecule. Side effects of toxicity of this compound include headache, nausea, fatigue and lethargy. The molecule was for many years believed to have anti-cancer properties, but recent studies have disputed these claims. A clinical trial was published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" finding that amygdalin was potentially toxic and not suited for cancer treatment.

Avoiding Toxicity

Even though apple seeds are potentially toxic, poisoning due to Vitamin B17 is relatively rare. A study in the "Annals of Emergency Medicine" published the effects of poisoning and described them as similar to cyanide toxicity. However, the amount of apple seeds that would need to be consumed to result in these symptoms is very high. Eating a few apple seeds by accident certainly poses no health risk and should not be avoided due to concerns over the compound.

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