An apricot kernel is the seed of an apricot. It is known for containing amygdalin, a poisonous compound. Together with the related synthetic compound laetrile, amygdalin has been marketed as an alternative cancer treatment. However, studies have found the compounds to be ineffective in the treatment of cancer, as well as potentially toxic or lethal when taken by mouth, due to cyanide poisoning.
Apricot kernels can cause potentially fatal cyanide poisoning when consumed. Symptoms include nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, increased thirst, lethargy, nervousness, various aches and pains in joints and muscles, and a drop in blood pressure.
In 1993 the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets tested the cyanide content of two 220 gram (8 oz) packages of bitter apricot kernels imported from Pakistan that were being sold in health-food stores as a snack. The results showed that each package, if consumed entirely, contained at least double the minimum lethal dosage of cyanide for an adult human; the product was removed from stores. There was one reported case in the medical literature of cyanide toxicity from apricot kernels from 1979 to 1998 in the United States, a non-fatal poisoning by purchased apricot kernels.
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