You're snacking on sweet cherries or sipping on a fruit smoothie after dinner and suddenly feel a stiff lump slide down your throat. It's happened to the best of us: Swallowing the pits of cherries is common and generally nothing to be worried about. Enter: You won't die of cyanide poisoning.
What Happens When You Swallow Cherry Pits?
Just like all food, when you swallow a cherry pit, it passes through your esophagus to get to your stomach. Unlike the fruit flesh, cherry pits are indigestible and will pass through your system whole and intact, according to the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC).
Cherries are a type of stone fruit, just like apricots, plums, peaches, mangoes and nectarines. All stone fruits have a pit in the center, which actually encapsulates the seeds of the fruit. Contrary to what you may have heard, the stone is actually indigestible, according to the NCPC. So, when it reaches your intestines, it will pass right through without being broken down.
While swallowing a pit whole is generally safe, crushing or chewing the pit and seed (and then swallowing it) can be harmful. That's because damaging the shell exposes the seeds. And the seeds of stone fruit contain a chemical called amygdalin, which the body converts to cyanide when consumed (yes, that cyanide). Cyanide is a poison that can deprive your cells of oxygen when swallowed, depending on the amount consumed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While this may seem like cause for concern, swallowing a cherry pit won't generally lead to poisoning since the seeds stay within the indigestible shell, according to the NCPC. Unless the seeds within the shell are chewed and swallowed, poisoning is not likely. However, if you are concerned about the pit you swallowed, consult a doctor.
Another consideration when eating stone fruit is the potential choking hazard. This is especially dangerous for small children who may not have much experience eating cherries or other similar fruits. To prevent any hazards, either remove the pits in advance or teach children to spit out seeds and pits before swallowing.
While accidental ingestion of pits or stones is generally nothing to be concerned about, prevention is your best bet — which means, chew your fruit thoroughly and avoid swallowing the stones. And teach young children to spit out the pit.
Before eating, blending, baking or cooking any stone fruit, remove the pits to avoid any accidental consumption. While you may have heard about the potential health benefits of eating pits or stones, there is no legitimate medical research to support those claims and doing so can actually be dangerous, the NCPC reports.