Food Standards Agency warning about apricot kernels!

Food Standards Agency warning about apricot kernels!

Food Standards Agency warning about apricot kernels! Hi everyone,

There is a Food Standards Agency warning about eating apricot kernels on the BBC newsite this morning. Apricot kernels are often sold on web sites as cancer treatment. They certainly do kill cancer cells in a test tube but this is because the kernels contain cyanide!

In fact they could be potentially lethal in high enough doses!

Please check the web site address which is:

Best wishes and take care,


Hi Sue Thank you for that information. I’ve noticed a pop up ad on other sites for these things and also in health magazines. I don’t use them myself but I’ve posted a warning on the other site.

Hope you’re keeping well

Judy xxx

FSA - what an old chestnut. One wonders whose side the FSA is on - not ours that’s for sure. Taken as per instructions there is nothing wrong with apricot kernels, or apple pips for that matter. Don’t eat more than 6 at a time is the basic rule.

And don’t forget that cyano-cobalamin also contains cyanide - or are we not supposed to take vitamin B12 now?

Hi DarkLady Hi DarkLady,

I am aware that it is possible to overdose on vitamin B12. I believe that this has happened with over zealous American body builders who have gone on to develop nerve damage.

However, I don’t want to get into any sort of argument over biochemistry. I think it might be helpful if BCC commented on the FSA’s position on apricot kernels rather than me.

Hope that everything is going well, DarkLady. Nice to hear from you.

Happy Easter.

With very best wishes,


No evidence! Another alternative myth. There is certainly no evidence that they cure cancer.

This is what Cancer Bacup says:

I can remember reading some years ago about something called Laetrile being tried as a new cancer treatment. What is it and does it work?

Amygdalin is a natural chemical found in the kernels of apricots, almonds and peaches. During the 1950s and American doctor, Ernst Krebs Jnr, produced an extract from amygdalin which he called Laetrile. Dr Ernst claimed that laetrile was an affective treatment for cancer and it became very popular, particularly in the USA during the 1970s.

Like amygdalin, Laetrile contains small amounts of cyanide. One claim that was made was that cancer cells released the cyanide from the compound and this accounted for why they were killed off. An alternative claim was that cancer was really due to a lack of certain essential vitamins and that Laetrile was one of these missing chemicals, vitamin B17.

During the 1960s and 1970s many people claimed to have a benefit as a result of taking Laetrile as part of their cancer treatment, either as tablets or injections. As a result of these reports, and the growing popularity of the compound as an alternative therapy, several scientific studies were done and these all showed absolutely no evidence of any anti-cancer effect. It also became apparent that there were some cases of people taking large quantities of Laetrile who actually developed cyanide poisoning.

In the early 1980s the National Cancer Institute in the USA carried out a full scientific clinical trial of amygdalin. Nearly two hundred people with advanced cancer had injections and tablets of the compound. Of these only one showed a possible, very brief, very minor, improvement in their condition. The conclusion from this study was that amygdalin was of no value in the control of advanced cancer.

As a result of the lack of evidence of any real evidence for a benefit in people with cancer and the risk of side effects, Laetrile was banned in the USA in the late 1970s.

Content last reviewed: 27 January 2005
Page last modified: 12 April 2006


Hope this is helpful


Amygdalin and laetrile Was it Ralph Moss who found that MD Anderson Hospital was fiddling the good results they had on the use of laetrile as a cancer therapy so they would be discarded and the chemical thought to be worthless? Was that the same hospital which tested vitamin C on cancer patients at very low doses taken by mouth, and then pronounced that it had no effect? Of course it had no effect!

Laetrile really needs to be infused, as does vitamin C, to get the best results, and they know this. The ingestion of apricot kernels is the best a patient can do, sometimes, and as with all nutrional approaches to cancer, supplementation needs to be more agressive than for a healthy person. Two kernels a day will benefit no-one. 35 spead over the day just might.

Thankyou SuperSue for the note about overdosing on B12, Yes I was aware of that, but would hope that anyone would follow the recommendations of their nutritionist or doctor on the amount to take. Ideally, intake should be monitored with blood tests but that is not a likely scenario here in the UK, I suspect.

Cancerbacup may have a lot of useful information, but their data about some things, including apricot kernels, could be a little more accurate. Note also that the study quoted was for advanced cancer, not early stage disease.

“The conclusion from this study was that amygdalin was of no value in the control of advanced cancer.”

One difficulty is that most people use alternative therapies as a last resort, when their illness is so advanced that chemotherapy would not be worth bothering with. So why should any other approach give better results? However, use alternatives and complementary therapies early on in the disease, and you might get an entirely different result, rather like using Herceptin for early stage disease, and not metasasized disease.

Hope this helps to give another point of view to think about.

Hi DarkLady Hi DarkLady,

I’m not happy about your reply. Thirty five apricot kernels per day are probably enough to poison anybody.

I’ve asked BCC to comment on the Food Standard Agency’s alert. I think that they are in a good position to assess the relevance of the warning.

I think we will both have to agree to differ on our views. Sometimes emails aren’t the best medium for this type of discussion. I’m aware that when it comes to complementary/alternative medicine I’m a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic. What I don’t want to do is to worry anyone who is in a vulnerable position by my comments. I’ve decided to give this particular forum a rest for a while.

Good luck and best wishes to you all,


Response from Moderator Dear Sue and other contributors to this thread

I have been in contact with clinical experts at Breast Cancer Care and hope to have a detailed response to the issues you raise within the next few days.

Kind regards
Beast Cancer Care Moderator

Decide for yourself! Almonds (bitter as well as sweet) contain about 50% of a fatty oil, which is, though, too expensive to be used for cooking. It is made up of glycerides (80% oleic acid, 15% linoleic acid, 5% palmitic acid).

Bitter almonds contain 3 to 5% amygdalin, a so-called cyanogenic glycoside composed of mandelic nitrile and gentobiose. Vegetative parts of the almond tree accumulate the analogous prunasin (with glucose as sugar component).

On enzymatic hydrolysis of these glycosides by β-glucosidases, the aglycon mandelic nitrile (2-hydroxy-3-phenylacetonitrile) is liberated. A second enzyme (mandelonitrile lyase) converts mandelic nitrile quickly to benzaldehyde (C6H5–CHO) and hydrocyanic acid (HCN, also known as prussic acid). By chance, both compounds are olfactorily similar, but hydrocyanic acid is highly toxic; bitter almonds’ value as a spice is only due to the benzaldehyde.

Hydrocyanic acid is a dangerous poison (about one twentieth of a gram is considered lethal for an adult), but it is also very volatile and susceptible to hydrolysis at higher temperatures. Therefore, significant amounts of hydrocyanic acid are highly unlikely to accumulate in any dish prepared with bitter almonds. On the other side, incorporation of whole raw bitter almonds is fairly dangerous because, in this case, all of its hydrocyanic acid is formed in one’s stomach. Serious poisoning is quite rare with adults, but children may be killed by just a few bitter almonds. Very similar warnings hold for other plants of the genus Prunus, the kernels of which all contain amygdalin: Peach, apricot and, to a lesser extent, cherry and plum. One kernel of bitter almond yields about one milligram of hydrocyanic acid.

It should be noted that bitter almonds can only develop their aroma if both water and the necessary enzymes are present. The two enzymes (called together emulsin) are deactivated by heat; thus, bitter almonds must never be fried nor roasted, for they will not develop almond aroma afterwards.

Sweet almonds are, by centuries of cultivation and breeding, very low in amygdalin and, thus, harmless; however, even sweet almond trees sometimes yield single bitter almonds (up to 1% of total crop), and some sweet almond cultivars still contain traces of bitter almond aroma. This does not apply to Californian almonds, which can be regarded totally destitute of amygdalin.

Principally, sweet and bitter almonds are very different products and can never substitute each other.

From Breast Cancer Care ‘Having looked into this subject in great depth The Food Standards Agency has recently issued a warning of the possible risk to health from consumption of bitter apricot kernels.

The Agency’s scientific committee, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), expressed concern that, when ingested, bitter apricot kernels can produce cyanide. The COT therefore considered a safe intake is equivalent to one to two kernels a day.

As a charity we would always ensure we follow guidance such as this, if we are asked about the safety of a complementary or alternative therapy or dietary supplement. We would also point out that there is information available to suggest taking apricot kernels can help treat cancer. As this has never been proven in formal randomised trials and the amount of kernels recommended in these situations is above the recommended safe level, we would suggest anybody considering this as an option did so with extreme caution and only having discussed it with their specialist.

We appreciate that this subject often creates very strong feelings for people, and can initiate strong debate. We also believe everybody has a right to express their own opinion, however, if there is evidence to suggest something may be harmful Breast Cancer Care must inform people of the potential dangers.’

Bitter apricot kernels and other things to eat It is worth noting that there is a subtle campaign to dissuade the general public from taking any nutritional supplement in any quantity which may be worthwhile. You might remember the ‘research’ which showed that small doses of industrial vitamin E increased mortality, or that which showed that vitamin C has no effect on the immune system, or that minute amounts of herbs are dangerous. The list of such instances is quite long.

I have taken upto 40 bitter apricot kernels a day without any problem - I’m still here to tell the tale. 2 a day would be pointless.

For more information about why we are being discouraged from using beneficial nutrients, look at the ANH website, Alliance for Natural Health dot org, and canceractive dot com, and look into what CODEX means for us. Then ask who will benefit.

Laetrile - Pros & Cons websites Hello DarkLady

I am interested by this particular thread as I was unfamiliar with laetrile until a colleague of my husband’s whose wife also has breast cancer, approached him with this information. I am a fan of complementary therapies, but I do approach it all with a healthy dose of scepticism. For those who want to know more about Laetrile, the website is:

I also read what the main critic, Benjamin Wilson, MD had to say at:

I have to say that I am convinced by neither side. You say DarkLady, that you have been taking apricot kernels, but the site clearly states that this therapy is only meant to be effective if taken in conjunction with pancreatic enzymes. What makes me suspicious is not so much the lack of clinical evidence that it works, but more that if you are to follow the treatment in the recommended way, it would set you back from hundreds to a couple of thousand £’s!! So much for saying that pharmaceutical companies were not interested because the treatment was accessible to all at almost no cost.

I am also quite concerned, after ready Wilson’s article, about the dodgy credentials of the people involved in the whole laetrile/Amydalin affair.

I am confused about the evidence concerning cyanide, since the site claims that the cyanide is only produced within cancer cells, and therefore does not destroy healthy cells. This is not what is said elsewhere.

Go for it if you think a complementary therapy will help you, but be safe, and keep an objective mind, examining both sides of the argument.

Best wishes