You're snacking on sweet cherries or sipping on a fruit smoothie and suddenly feel a stiff lump slide down your throat. It's happened to the best of us. But is it bad to swallow a cherry pit? And what happens when you do?
Here, learn the side effects of eating cherry pits or seeds, how many are toxic to humans and what to do if you've swallowed too many.
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Can You Digest Cherry Pits?
Cherries are a type of stone fruit, like apricots, plums, peaches, mangoes and nectarines. While they contain plenty of healthy antioxidants, cherries can also cause gas due to their high sugar alcohol content. Inside of a cherry is a pit, which encapsulates the seeds of the fruit.
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).
So, if the pit was swallowed whole, it will pass right through your intestines without being broken down. But what happens if you eat a cherry seed?
Side Effects of Swallowing Cherry Pits
Even though it's usually an accident, there are some negative side effects to swallowing cherry pits to be aware of.
1. Cherry Seeds Can Be Poisonous
While swallowing a pit whole is generally safe, crushing or chewing the pit and swallowing it can be harmful because damaging the shell exposes the cherry seeds. Swallowing cherry seeds is bad because they 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).
How Much Cyanide Is in Cherry Pits?
Red cherry pits contain about 3.9 milligrams of amygdalin per gram of fruit, while black cherry pits have 2.7 milligrams per gram. Morello cherry pits, on the other hand, have 65 milligrams of amygdalin per gram. This means each can produce 0.01 to 1.1 milligrams of cyanide in your body, and it only takes 0.2 to 1.6 milligrams for cyanide toxicity to occur, according to the White Rose University Consortium at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom.
How many cherry pits are toxic to humans, then? Given the measurements above, about seven to nine pits from red and black cherries, and three to four pits from Morello cherries can lead to cyanide toxicity.
While this may seem like cause for concern, swallowing a cherry pit whole won't generally lead to poisoning because the seeds stay within the indigestible shell, according to the NCPC.
If you've chewed and swallowed cherry pits or seeds and experience dizziness, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing and heart rate, weakness and restlessness, you may be experiencing side effects of cyanide toxicity. If so, dial 911 immediately or visit your nearest emergency room, per the CDC.
2. Cherry Pits Are Choking Hazards
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. Because their bodies are smaller, a cherry pit could get stuck in their esophagus.
To prevent any hazards, either remove the pits in advance or teach children to spit out seeds and pits before swallowing.
What to Do If You've Swallowed Cherry Pits
If you or your child has swallowed one or two cherry pits whole, it should not be cause for concern. The pits will pass through the digestive system in one piece.
If several whole pits are swallowed, though, call your doctor, as this can lead to colon obstruction and cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting that requires surgery, per a December 2019 case study in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
If you or your child has chewed and swallowed several cherry pits, look out for the warning signs of cyanide toxicity like headache, nausea and difficulty breathing. If symptoms occur, call 911 or contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
How to Prevent Swallowing Cherry Pits
While accidentally swallowing pits or stones is generally nothing to be concerned about, prevention is your best bet. Here are some steps you can take:
1. Eat Carefully
Ideally, you should chew your fruit thoroughly and either avoid or spit out the pits. You can designate a separate bowl just for the pits to make sure none are eaten. Teach young children to spit out the pit, too.
2. Remove Before Cooking
Before 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, per the NCPC.
- National Capital Poison Center: "I Swallowed A Cherry Pit! Are Stone Fruit Pits Poisonous?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Facts About Cyanide"
- White Rose University Consortium: "Amygdalin Content of Seeds, Kernels and Food Products Commercially-available in the UK"
- Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: "Cherry Pits Causing Colonic Obstruction"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.