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Are Apple Seeds Poisonous?

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How Poisonous Are Apple Seeds?

Apple seeds contain amygdalin or laetrile which, when ingested, releases the toxic chemical, cyanide. According to CDC, it takes chewing about 150 apple seeds to kill you, but mild poisoning can symptomize as dizziness, nausea, and even impotency. However, studies suggest that apple seed oil is safe and so is apple juice, if the fruit is juiced after careful removal of seeds.

Learning begins with the precious lesson that A is for Apple. True, apple deserves an A grade among fruits for the health benefits it offers. It has been proven time and again that apple a day can play a major role in reducing your risk of a variety of diseases and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.1

But get to the core of the apple and the game begins to change. Believe it or not, apple seeds are poisonous and can cause serious damage to your health if had in large numbers. Want to know all about it? Read on.

What Makes Apple Seeds Poisonous?

We know it’s highly unlikely that you would chew on apple seeds like they are candies. And it’s for a reason that apple seeds are bitter and inedible. They contain a compound called amygdalin, also called laetrile (sometimes, vitamin B17 though it’s not a vitamin),2 which, when comes in contact with our digestive system, releases the toxic chemical, cyanide. Even seeds of apricots and peaches are said to have amygdalin in them.3

Cyanide present in amygdalin can be lethal and deaths, though not many, have been reported from amygdalin ingestion from masticating pits.4 The symptoms of poisoning can vary from weakness and lightheadedness to seizures, impotency, and cardiac failure and sometimes even coma and death.

How Many Apple Seeds Make It Lethal?

It doesn’t mean you stop eating apples for fear of accidentally ingesting a few seeds. Swallowing one or two seeds is certainly not going to do you any harm due to the thick coating on the seeds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1-2 mg/kg is a fatal oral dose of cyanide for 70 kg/154 lbs human.5

Considering an apple seed has about 1mg-4 mg of amygdalin in it (depending on the variety)6, it takes thoroughly chewing more than 150 apple seeds to cause lethal poisoning in an adult weighing about 70kg. If we assume there are roughly 6-8 seeds in an apple, that is eating 18-20 apple cores to cause you serious harm!

Like we’ve mentioned already, swallowing whole apple seeds won’t have any effect on you. But chewing them fine or blending them with juices will. That takes us to the question, how about apple juice, then?

Is Apple Juice Safe To Consume?

In a study conducted by the University of Leeds to determine the amygdalin content in various forms of apple juice, from the whole fruit to just the core, it was found that the apple juice from the core contained 75 percent more amygdalin than the juice from the whole apple or apple flesh and skin. It was also found that amygdalin content in pure apple juice did not pose any problem to the health. Just remove the core and the seeds before juicing, and you will be fine.7

How About Apple Seed Oil?

Naturally, you would wonder if apple seed oil made from apple seeds and known for its many medicinal and cosmetic use is, after all, safe to use? One study to determine its suitability for food and medicinal use assessed its fatty acid composition, physicochemical, antioxidant as well as anticancer properties. It was found that apple seed oil was as good as any other edible oil and is a good source of natural antioxidants. It was also found to have anticancer properties.8 Another study found that the oil had a good potential for use in the food industry and pharmacy.9

It’s interesting, however, to note that amygdalin or laetrile was once used for cancer treatment. But it was banned in the US after reports of cyanide poisoning.10

Apple seeds are definitely poisonous. But only if you chew them thoroughly and in large numbers. That, however, should not stop you from eating apples.

References   [ + ]

1. Boyer, Jeanelle, and Rui Hai Liu. “Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits.” Nutrition journal 3, no. 1 (2004): 1.
2. All About Amygdalin, Open Chemistry Database.
3. Holzbecher, Michaela D., Michael A. Moss, and Herman A. Ellenberger. “The cyanide content of laetrile preparations, apricot, peach and apple seeds.” Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology 22, no. 4 (1984): 341-347.
4. Amygdalin toxicity in humans, NLM.
5. Cyanides, CDS.
6, 7. Bolarinwa, Islamiyat F., Caroline Orfila, and Michael RA Morgan. “Determination of amygdalin in apple seeds, fresh apples and processed apple juices.” Food chemistry 170 (2015): 437-442.
8. Walia, Mayanka, Kiran Rawat, Shashi Bhushan, Yogendra S. Padwad, and Bikram Singh. “Fatty acid composition, physicochemical properties, antioxidant and cytotoxic activity of apple seed oil obtained from apple pomace.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 94, no. 5 (2014): 929-934.
9. Tian, Hong-Lei, Ping Zhan, and Kai-Xiong Li. “Analysis of components and study on antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of oil in apple seeds.” International journal of food sciences and nutrition 61, no. 4 (2010): 395-403.
10. Complementary, PDQ Cancer, and Alternative Medicine Editorial Board. “Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ®).” (2015).