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by Carly Neubert, BA, NC January 19, 2017
*Article updated with additional studies on January 10th, 2020.
Apricot seeds or apricot kernels are considered by many to be a hot topic, particularly surrounding their health benefits and whether or not they are dangerous to consume. This article will examine amygdalin in the apricot seed, as well as Laetrile's history with curing cancer and the US regulations placed on it.
Apricot seeds are not the entire pit of an apricot. The seed or kernel is actually inside the pit. In order to get to the seeds, you have to crack open the apricot and then crack open the pit to reveal a small almond-shaped seed.
The seed looks almost identical to an almond and could easily be mistaken as one. But once you put an apricot seed into your mouth, you will know immediately that you are not eating an almond.
Apricot seeds taste wildly bitter. I mean really, really bitter. In fact, if you buy apricot seeds and they taste sweet, you have purchased the wrong item. Some apricot seeds are sweet, but these are not the ones that have amygdalin in them. This means they do not contain enough nutrients to improve your health. Amygdalin is the compound that makes them so bitter and coincidentally is the compound that may kill cancer cells as well.
What is amygdalin? It is a compound found in many foods. Over 1,200 plants have some amount of amygdalin in them. Apricot seeds happen to have the highest amount of amygdalin when compared to other foods.
Amygdalin, or what some companies refer to as B17, is a nitroloside composed of four natural substances: two glucose molecules, one bound cyanide, and one bound denzaldyhide.
Bound cyanide is not the same thing as free cyanide. Bound cyanide is found in apricot seeds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo shoots, and cassava roots. These everyday foods are acceptable to eat because the cyanide is bound to other molecules within the food and will not cause cyanide poisoning. Free cyanide is what causes poisoning. You encounter free cyanide in cigarette smoke, smoke from fires, water, and hydrogen cyanide gas.
In fact, bound cyanide is used in the food industry as a preservative. It is usually bound to iron, potassium, or calcium and used as an anti-caking agent.
So are apricot seeds poisonous and deadly? Yes they are and no they aren't. In the right dose, anything can be poisonous and deadly. In fact, my grandmother almost died from drinking too much water. But that is another story entirely. There are many other common foods we eat daily that can also be toxic. These include: cinnamon, nutmeg, tuna, liver, Brazil nuts, and broccoli. The old adage: The dose makes the poison is perfectly applicable to this issue.
I have had so many clients ask me if it is legal to buy, sell or eat apricot seeds. The answer is yes! If apricot seeds were illegal (they are legal) to buy or sell, then you would never be able to find an apricot at the store or growing on a neighbors tree. Apricot seeds are the food (legal), amygdalin (legal) is the nutrient in the food (apricot seeds), Laetrile (illegal) is the drug made from concentrated amygdalin.
As a food, apricot seeds are not controversial. As a supplement, ground apricot seeds and apricot seed extract are not controversial. The controversy stems from the ordinary apricot seed and whether or not its amygdalin can help get rid of cancer. Almost one out of every two people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.
Recently the Huffington Post reported on a Melbourne man who was in great health, but had high levels of cyanide in his bloodstream. The doctor overseeing his case said, "The effects of dosing yourself with substantial but non-lethal quantities of cyanide every day have never been tested." In other words, the dose makes the poison. Large doses of cyanide are lethal, but lower levels are not known to cause health concerns.
According to the CDC, the side effects of cyanide toxicity include:
The US Department of Health and Human Service published the report Toxicological Profile for Cyanide in which the only case of amygdalin cyanide toxicity was reported. The patient took 3000mg of amygdalin and suffered 2 seizures. The study clarified that amygdalin alone was "nontoxic." The study in 2005 concluded that the amygdalin coupled with high levels of oral Vitamin C caused the toxicity. Other than the one incident in 2005, the US Department of Health and Human Services have not recorded or reported any human incidents of cyanide toxicity from amygdalin.
On the other hand, cancer is the most difficult and deadly disease known to man. Both cancer and its treatments are toxic and lethal. There are more treatment options than there are actual types of cancer. Many conventional treatments are extremely toxic. Most alternative therapies are not well known or researched. These therapies are often controversial and misinformation abounds.
As far back as the 1800s, scientists, medical doctors, and researchers have been using amygdalin against cancer cells. By 1955, Dr. Enst Krebs was using injectable amygdalin (Laetrile) for treating cancer. He based his treatment on the diet of the Hunza people in Northern Pakistan.
These indigenous people eat apricot seeds daily and live long and cancer-free lives. Krebs hypothesized that cancer was a metabolic disease caused by the lack of nitrilosides in the diet. These compounds are a large group of water-soluble, sugar-containing compounds found in thousands of plants. Amygdalin is the most well known nitriloside and is consumed in abundance by the Hunza people.
By 1963, Krebs had developed a concentrated form of amygdalin and filed a patent giving it the name of "Laetrile." It is a common mistake to think that amygdalin and Laetrile are the same thing; they are not. Amygdalin is the extracted compound from an apricot seed. Laetrile is a concentrated form of amygdalin that is made in a lab.
In the 1970s, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) was at the epicenter of America's war on cancer. Someone convinced the board of directors to study the benefits of Laetrile. The compound had been in use for some time but hadn't been investigated or studied. This is where the problems begin.
Dr. Sugiura was given the task of testing Laetrile because he was regarded as the best American and global cancer researcher of his time. From the beginning, he noted remarkable results. But these results were ignored and finally refuted by the MSK Board of Directors. All of the board members had financial ties to large pharmaceutical companies and were invested in chemotherapy drugs. Finding a cure in a simple apricot seed didn't fit into their financial model for cancer. According to the Director of Public Affairs at MSK, Dr. Ralph Moss,
"If a cure for cancer were to be found in an extract from the lowly apricot seed, it would be a terrible economic blow to the cancer-drug industry.”
And this began the disappearance and discrediting of Laetrile in the United States. Between 1972 and 1977, several researchers at MSK provided promising data in support of Laetrile. But MSK released a statement that they found Laetrile ineffective and would discontinue the study. Shortly following this event, Dr. Suguira was interviewed by a journalist. He would not recant his results or his belief that Laetrile could kill cancer cells.
By 1977, Dr. Ralph Moss decided that he could not tolerate the dismissal of Dr. Suguira's work and felt he could no longer lie about the findings. He held a press conference in which he revealed the cover-up and results of Dr. Suguira's studies. The next day, Dr. Moss was fired from Memorial Sloan Kettering.
In 1977, the FDA prohibited the shipping of Laetrile and amygdalin across state lines, but individual states pushed back by creating laws to allow the use of Laetrile for cancer therapy. However, by 1980 the US Supreme Court upheld the ban on shipping Laetrile. This decision made it virtually illegal to make, ship, or use Laetrile in the United States.
That is how Laetrile and its main ingredient amygdalin got the reputation for being an illegal treatment. Presently, Laetrile is made and available for cancer treatments in Mexico. In a sense, Laetrile (made from apricot seeds) is illegal in the United States. The drug is illegal, but the food is not.
In case you're getting lost with amygdalin's history, here's a quick overview:
Here is what we know:
In 2008 Dr. Krashen conducted a review of all the current (as of 2008) research regarding apricot seeds. He concluded that “death by apricot kernels appears to be rare.” He estimated that thousands of Americans are consuming apricot kernels, and there hasn’t been a reported death since the 1990s.
In fact, there have only been 4 reported toxic events since the 1970s. It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that the individuals who suffered toxic events likely had other medical conditions, and may have already had very high levels of cyanide in their bodies prior to eating apricot kernels. Beside those few events, there are no medical studies or reports of cyanide poisoning despite thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people, consuming apricot seeds.
And don’t forget that while apricot kernels are usually eaten by cancer patients in the United States, they are eaten as part of a traditional diet in Turkey, Egypt, and other middle eastern countries.
There are less than 100 documented studies involving Laetrile or amygdalin. The results have been mixed. Some proponents claim that many studies have been flawed or purposefully skewed. There aren't enough studies proving that amygdalin DOESN'T cure cancer or that it is indeed toxic. On the other hand, there aren't nearly enough studies showing that it does cure cancer. But, that is quickly changing.
Since 2000, there have been multiple new studies that support Dr. Suguira's insistence that amygdalin induces cancer cell apoptosis (death). Researchers have various hypotheses about how amygdalin actually works to kill cancer cells. Here are a few additional studies you can comb through:
We can’t ignore the medical studies showing that Laetrile (injectable amygdalin) improved cancer treatment outcomes. There are several important points for using apricot seeds as a complementary part of cancer treatment:
Currently, Americans do not have access to injectable amygdalin as Laetrile. But we do have access to bitter apricot seeds as a food product. They generally contain 20mg of amygdalin per apricot seed. Alternative cancer experts recommend 1 seed for every 10 pounds of body weight. The seeds need to be consumed throughout the day as opposed to all at one time. As of right now, I recommend getting your apricot seeds from Apricot Power, whose seeds are completely raw.
We may never know the "true" history of injectable amygdalin (Laetrile), but with emerging new studies, we can safely say that it shows promise for treating cancers. Adding apricot seeds to your diet is an easy way to add nutrition and possibly prevent and eradicate cancerous cells.
My best advice: If you choose to use apricot seeds or capsules as an adjunctive therapy, then be proactive. Consult a trusted medical practitioner who can order a simple cyanide blood test. Monitor your blood cyanide levels monthly or quarterly. Be aware of the signs of cyanide poisoning. And be confident in your knowledge that there have not been any reported toxicities from amygdalin in the last 10 years.
If you would like expert guidance to discuss your supplement and diet regimen, schedule a consult with Carly Neubert BA, NC.
Carly Neubert BA, NC
For additional recipes, biohacking tips and lifestyle hacks -- check out my other blog on my coaching site www.cleancoachcarly.com! I post weekly about nutrition and lifestyle topics, all backed by science. Happy Reading!
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