Bitter apricot kernels can lead to poisoning

Bitter apricot kernels are sold in health food stores and, more recently, to an increasing degree on the Internet. In some cases it is claimed that they can help to fight cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to back this claim. Quite the contrary: bitter apricot kernels have a high natural level of amygdalin. During digestion hydrocyanic acid is released from the glycoside which can lead to severe, acute poisoning. At high doses it can even prove fatal. Hence, bitter apricot kernels may involve health risks. Eating just a few kernels can already lead to the onset of acute poisoning symptoms. Consumers should not, therefore, eat more than one or two bitter apricot kernels a day or even none at all for precautionary reasons. "At all events, consumers should be informed about the dangers of poisoning through warnings on the packaging", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, BfR President. Unsubstantiated health claims, which could encourage desperate sick people to buy them, are irresponsible. Products to treat cancer may not be sold as foods but must be authorised as medicinal products.

Bitter apricot kernels are sold as foods, also for immediate consumption. The packs on sale differ in size and only some carry information about health risks. In recent months some food control authorities of the federal states have banned the sale of products which were not adequately labelled. However, bitter apricot kernels are also sold on the Internet. It is difficult for the official food control authorities to control this distribution channel.

BfR recommends to consumers that they should not eat more than one or two apricot kernels a day or not eat any at all. This is because of the naturally high amygdalin content of the kernels. The highly toxic hydrocyanic acid is released from the glycoside, amygdalin, during digestion. It can lead to symptoms of acute poisoning like cramp, vomiting and respiratory distress. At high doses it can even lead to a fatal respiratory paralysis. BfR, therefore, believes that warnings on the packages are urgently needed.

Some distributors of bitter apricot kernels claim that their products can help to fight cancer. This claim is misleading because this action has not been scientifically proven. Any products used to treat cancer must go through a marketing authorisation procedure for drugs. Amongst other things, efficacy must be proven. Products of this kind may not be sold as foods.

Measures to regulate the direct consumption of bitter apricot kernels are currently being discussed on the European level in order to reduce the risks for consumers.

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