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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Cyanide Poisoning from Apples, Peaches, Cherries, Plums, etc.

By April 12, 2008

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The weather is nice, so I was out looking at trees and shrubs to add to my garden. I noticed the tags on trees from the Prunus genus (cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, almonds) carried the warning that the leaves and other parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested. That's true of other members of the rose family as well (large family which includes roses, but also apples and pears). The plants produce cyanogenic glycosides which can lead to cyanide poisoning in people and animals if enough of the compound is ingested. Some leaves and wood contain relatively high levels of the cyanogenic compounds. Seeds and pits from these plants also contain the compounds, though you need to chew several of the seeds to get a dangerous exposure. (This Letter to the Editor of American Family Physician cites references for fatalities from apple seeds and apricot kernels, in addition to other plants.) If you swallow the odd seed or two, don't be concerned. Your body is well-equipped to detoxify low doses of cyanide. However, consult poison control if you suspect your child or pet (or farm animal) has eaten several seeds. If you're out camping and want sticks for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, avoid using twigs from these plants.

Apple Seeds & Cherry Pits Are Poisonous | Drugs from Plants
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July 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm
(1) alice says:

Your citation does NOT mention cherries or plums. I am not impressed with your research. You might want to also check out:
“A natural flavoring extracted from the pits of sweet and sour cherries used in cherry flavoring for beverages, ice cream, and ices. No known toxicity.”

May 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm
(2) Cory says:

What are you smoking? Her citation? You don’t need to cite a plant tag, secondly, she didn’t, and thirdly, she mentioned cherries and plums in the second sentence.

September 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm
(3) Fatboy says:

Another article you had on apple seeds was overwhelmed by alternative medicine proponents, so I was hoping you’d be more likely to see and respond to a comment on this thread.

Do you have any idea of the number of apple seeds that would be dangerous to a healthy adult? Assume that the seeds would be chewed (because when you eat an apple whole, you pretty much chew up everything).

In your other article, you wrote, “Your body can detoxify small quantities of cyanide compounds.” So to clarify – this means that your body does get rid of the cyanide (similar to alcohol), and it doesn’t build up in your system like some other toxins (such as heavy metals). How long would it take to metabolize an apple’s worth of cyanide?

January 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm
(4) Robb says:

Okay… I’ve been on a diet for over a year. I’ve eaten an apple every day for the better part of that time. The ONLY thing on the apple I do not consume is the stem. Core, seeds, skin, meat and the little flower part on the bottom of the apple. At no time have I felt ill. My guess is that if you eat 15 apples a day, every day for 30 years, you might get sick. So no worries!

September 12, 2010 at 10:52 pm
(5) sqgl says:

> “American Family Physician cites references for fatalities from apple seeds and apricot kernels”

No it doesn’t. Not a single fatality is referenced.

October 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm
(6) Appley says:

Hello. I just ate an apple along with its 10 or so seeds, and after doing so, I remembered that this might be dangerous, so I googled it.

Your other article frightened me; particularly because it was ambiguous on the point about how many seeds it takes for a harmless apple to become a health hazard. Why is this such a difficult question to answer?

You say “too many” is dangerous, but how many is too many? 10? I’m freaking out here!

So I’ve just written a note and put it in my pocket — “if I die, it’s because I ate 10 apple seeds, so tell Dr. Anne Helmenstein that 10 apple seeds was fatal for me.”

September 18, 2011 at 10:42 pm
(7) Justin says:

In the ‘letter’ accessed from the link, above, the following statement is made:

‘Potentially Fatal Natural Remedies

TO THE EDITOR: The “it can’t hurt me” attitude many people have toward botanical remedies is widespread,1 yet the medical literature records more than 100 fatal encounters with herbs (Table 1).’

One thing to remember is that there are always people may be allergic to certain compounds that others aren’t bothered by (i.e. my son is allergic to strawberries, my brother-in-law is allergic to bee stings, my wife allergic to pinto beans). Sometimes people just over do it. This certainly accounts for deaths of people world over by natural food.

Of course, the letter fails to mention how many people die from prescription drug intake each year. I believe the statistics show 100′s of thousands of deaths are caused every year from them.

Where did sensibleness go?

January 8, 2012 at 5:12 pm
(8) puppy dog care says:

You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I�ll try to get the hang of it!

April 3, 2012 at 10:53 am
(9) Ben Dover says:

As far back as I can remember I have always eaten the entire apple, seeds and all.

I currently eat two or three apples daily. Consuming “several seeds” will not make you sick or kill you.

April 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm
(10) lindosland says:

This probably isn’t about allergy, as cyanide is a simple compound, but it is about ability to detoxify by converting to a harmless product. Many toxins are dealt with by the P450 enzyme system, which is complex and involves many stages. This means that loading it with one substance can block detoxification of others, a problem that is particularly linked with the genetic condition Acute Intermittent Porphyria. People with this get very ill when triggered by a build-up of ALA and PBG which results from one stage running too fast for subsequent stages. Most people with gene defects for Porphyria (possibly 1 in 100) are asymptomatic, but that’s not to say they may not be acutely sensitive to pips and stones. A major trigger for AIP is fruit – especially peaches and plums. Never assume we are all the same!

August 9, 2012 at 3:36 am
(11) Mike says:

I just checked that letter to the editor that you have linked and I can’t find one single citation that references fatalities from poisoning by apricot kernels or apple seeds. Have you personally checked these references, Anne? Does it bother you, at all, that you could potentially help spread the word that the compounds in these seeds prevent and destroy cancer cells, but instead you write crap that I believe you know is incorrect. Why do I believe that you know it’s incorrect? Because there’s just too much info out there about it at this point. I’m not going to cite all the Nobel Prize-winning doctors who confirmed that amygdalin kills cancer cells without killing the host, because you’ve already been exposed to that material. I don’t want any more “references” about the toxicity of apple seeds and apricot kernels because I already know that legitimate ones don’t exist. You’re either highly corrupt or blind to what’s happening here. If you’re blind, then open your eyes and start actually helping people – you’re intelligent and you hold a PhD. If you’ve been corrupted, then I just hope you can live with yourself, years down the road, when you realize what you’ve done.

November 3, 2012 at 1:12 am
(12) Ken says:

I’m very interested in this topic…though the other article was overwhelmed by comments from hundreds of people seemingly on a serious manic episode. My main question … Can anyone provide one clear citation for an apple seed related death? At this point I’d be happy even with a veterinary medicine citation. My research reveals nothing, but maybe I’m not using the right search terms.

October 10, 2013 at 2:22 pm
(13) mark zmysko says:

I wanted everyone to know that I ate about 10 apple seeds daily for a year and I felt fine

November 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm
(14) finding freedom says:

found out that alcohol poisoning causes more deaths per year than those who eat the non-fruit parts of plants. What about the number of deaths per year from exclusive McD’s food or white bread foods??

I’m thankful for the internet in providing information that led me to learn about the positive benefits of eating the turnip greens, dandielions and lambs quarters from my garden.

Of course…..this is how we should always try new substances to our body that we are unsure of. Try a little bit for flavor on one day and then WAIT three days and take note on how your body reacts.

I am sure the apple seed in small quantities does as minimal of damage as an everyday hearbal treatment. Excessive dose of anything (alcohol, aspirin to apple seed) is deadly. Just use normal common sense.

December 5, 2013 at 9:40 am
(15) Boomer says:

apple seeds , peach seeds, etc ,,, poison ???
Chocolate , is much worse. Eat 10 pounds or more a day and make out a will.
There is such a thing as “OVER INDULGING”

December 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm
(16) PrintsOfWhales says:

Some chemicals are known to act as accelerants or retardants when combined with another. No one can predict the effect of multiple chemicals in the myriads of combinations in food we are digesting. It is possible that some combination of apple seeds and some other foodstuff results in an accelerated toxic effect. Similarly the presence of a particular foodstuff in a certain quantity (or lack of) may result in enhancing or decreasing anti-cancer effects. I am not aware of any studies in this area which is an extremely complex one. It is possible that a rare combination could explain spontaneous human combustion.
Fortunately most combinations are harmless. However the unnatural chemicals added to processed food could explain the rapid increase in people suffering from allergies.

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