03/08/2018 2 min

Apricot kernels pose a risk of cyanide poisoning

A familiar ingredient for jam-makers, apricot kernels are increasingly being consumed as a natural remedy for their claimed "anti-cancer" properties. While one kernel added to perfume several jars of jam is not a problem, ingesting them in large quantities exposes consumers to the risk of cyanide poisoning. ANSES has identified several cases of apricot kernel poisoning in France through its toxicovigilance scheme, and encourages consumers to exercise caution.

The kernel is the seed inside the apricot stone. When ingested in large quantities, these kernels expose consumers to the risk of cyanide poisoning. This is because apricot kernels contain a significant amount of amygdalin, a naturally-occurring compound that converts to highly toxic cyanide during digestion. The Agency is therefore reminding consumers that the quantities of kernels not to be exceeded per day, as set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is equal to around 1 to 3 kernels for adults and half a small kernel for young children.

These apricot kernels have become very popular in recent years, and are being marketed as a cancer-fighting food. High doses are recommended, ranging from 10 kernels per day for prevention to 60 kernels as a cure. ANSES points out that to date, there is no scientific evidence of their value in curative or preventive cancer treatment. Moreover, consuming high doses of these kernels can lead to symptoms of acute poisoning such as convulsions, respiratory problems, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness and even coma.

As part of its toxicovigilance scheme, ANSES has identified several cases of apricot kernel poisoning reported to the network of French Poison Control Centres (CAPs) since 2012. The symptoms reported are mainly dizziness, discomfort, headache, digestive disorders, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing.

Even though no truly serious cases have been reported, ANSES wishes to alert consumers to the risks of severe poisoning, especially when high "anti-cancer" doses are consumed. Consumption of apricot kernels must therefore remain moderate.

The toxicovigilance scheme coordinated by ANSES aims to monitor the toxic effects on humans of products, natural substances and pollution. The French Poison Control Centres are available 24 hours a day, and can be called by individuals and professionals alike to assess a toxicological risk. Each year, nearly 200,000 cases of exposure are recorded and analysed through this scheme.