Overview

The apricot kernel is a small but powerful seed that has been linked to possible cancer treatment. It’s found inside the center of an apricot stone.

The first use of apricot seeds as a cancer treatment in the United States dates back to the 1920s. Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Sr., claimed to have used oils extracted from apricot kernels to achieve “substantial results” for people with cancer. However, the treatment was found too toxic for general use. His son later found a safer and nontoxic formula in the 1950s. This formula was also extracted from apricot kernels.

Is this alternative treatment safe and effective? Read on to learn more.

What nutrients do apricot seeds contain?

Apricots share many similar properties and uses with almonds. Apricot kernels are made up of:

  • 45 to 50 percent oil
  • 25 percent protein
  • 8 percent carbohydrates
  • 5 percent fiber

They’re also loaded with healthy fats that help to lower “bad” cholesterol. The kernels contain essential fatty acids (omega-6s and omega-3s). These help fight heart disease, improve mental health, and have a host of other benefits.

What are the claims?

Apricot kernels also contain the chemical compound amygdalin. This has been previously linked to cancer-fighting claims. Laetrile is the patented drug name for amygdalin.

Krebs’ son called laetrile vitamin B-17. He claimed that cancer was caused by a vitamin B-17 deficiency and that supplementing with it would stop the development of cancer cells.

Under its various names, amygdalin has been claimed to hold various cancer-fighting benefits, even now. There isn’t currently any credible scientific research to back up the claims. But many amygdalin-endorsing websites rely on supporting assertions from people with cancer.

Another theory suggests that because amygdalin is converted into cyanide in the body, the cyanide works to destroy cancer cells within the body. This is said to prevent the growth of tumors.

What are the warnings?

It’s this very conversion to cyanide that makes claims about the benefits of apricot seeds dangerous.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Poisonous Plant Database notes the link between apricot kernels and cyanide poisoning. Multiple cases showed that ingestion of high amounts of apricot kernels led people to experience symptoms such as “forceful vomiting, perspiration, dizziness, and faintness.”

The FDA doesn’t approve of amygdalin (or laetrile, or vitamin B-17) as a form of cancer treatment. It has reversed a previous decision that allowed for “the importation of laetrile for the treatment of terminally ill cancer patients through a physician’s affidavit system.”

What does the research say?

A 2015 review published by the Cochrane Library noted that because of the possible cyanide poisoning associated with consuming large amounts of amygdalin, all forms of laetrile are dangerous.

“There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion,” the authors wrote. “The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.”

However, another study, published in 2016, observed the effects of amygdalin on the growth of prostate cancer cells. It found that a dose of the chemical (specifically, 10 milligrams per milliliter) “exhibits significant antitumor activity.”

Subsequent research has found that the maximum acceptable dose of amygdalin through apricot kernels is 0.37 grams (or three small kernels) for an adult. Higher doses, or even less than one-half of a large kernel, could exceed the maximum acceptable dose and be toxic for adults.

However, the vast majority of research and reviews have rejected claims that apricot seeds, and amygdalin or laetrile, have cancer-fighting benefits.

A 2006 peer review study observed 36 reports of the use of laetrile to fight cancer. The authors concluded that “the claim that laetrile has beneficial effects for cancer patients is not supported by sound clinical data.” They also wrote that none of their case studies “proved the effectiveness of laetrile.”

Success rate in treating cancer

Despite anecdotal claims, there has been no verified research that has linked apricot seeds with cancer treatment success. Don’t be fooled by phony cancer treatments.

The takeaway

Though they do contain nutritional benefits that improve heart and brain health, the use of apricot seeds as a natural cancer treatment is still largely unsubstantiated. The presence of amygdalin (known also as laetrine or vitamin B-17) within the seed can have adverse health effects.

Ingesting laetrine can result in symptoms of cyanide poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include:

A high dose of laetrine can even lead to damage of the heart, brain, and nerves, and may even result in death.

Talk with your doctor before beginning any alternative therapies for cancer treatment. Although apricot seeds haven’t been proven to treat cancer, there are other promising treatments that may work for you. Talk to your doctor about your options, as well as any alternative treatments you want to try. A licensed nutritionist may also be able to make dietary recommendations to complement your treatment.