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Monday, September 13, 2010

Apple Seeds and Cyanide

Apple Seeds and Cyanide

I offhandedly posted a comment that I eat apples...cores, seeds, and all. I chew on the stem until it tastes and feels like a used toothpick, and then I spit it out.

Several responses to my post have given me cause to examine closely my preferred method of eating apples. I'd heard that apple seeds contain a small amount of cyanide, but I'd also heard that it's harmless unless one were to eat an immoderate amount of apples, much more than a person could stomach in one sitting.

But I didn't really have any research to support either position: Are apple seeds poisonous or healthy?.

So I went searching.

One hour's worth of time spent searching the internet has given some interesting, semi-scientific, good-enough-for-me evidence that eating an apple's worth of seeds a day, or even three or four apple's worth, is not harmful. At worst, it may introduce a tiny amount of cyanide into my body, at a level which my body can easily detoxify. At best, it provides a tiny amount of cyanide into my body which may help guard against cancer.

Cyanide occurs naturally in many plants as a part of sugars. (www.atsdr.cdc.gov)

Wikikpedia explains that natural cyanides appear to defend plants against herbivores. (wikipedia.org, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lethal dose for hydrocyanic acid (HCN) is 50 milligrams.

I couldn't find a reputable source for how much cyanide is in an apple seed. That highly classified information is contained in several scientific documents which would cost me upwards of $30 or more to download, and the question just isn't that important to me. (www.sciencedirect.com, www.informaworld.com)

However, I did find an interesting, but not scientifically supported, article entitled: How To Kill Yourself With Apple Seeds. jarvissa.blogspot.com

According to Jarvissa, one gram of dry apple seed contains 0.6 milligrams of HCN. This calculates to around 85 grams of dry apple seeds...around half a cup.

That's a lot of apples.

Cyanide is only a very small portion of a natural substance found in plants from the Prunis family, which includes apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, almonds, millet, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo, and cassava root (used in tapioca). This natural substance is called amygdalin. Enzymes in our body breaks amygdalin into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. (chemistry.about.com)

Raw amygdalin and a modified version, called Laetrile, are widely promoted as alternative cancer treatments. (www.cancer.org)

The U.S. National Library of Medicine posted several instances of toxic effects suffered by people ingesting Laetrile in massive quantities as treatment for cancer. One woman experienced fever, headache, cramps, eye irritation, and big words for "sick" following a regimen of 1500 milligrams of Laetrile daily. A man experienced muscle and nervous system weakness after a daily dose of 500 milligrams of amygdalin. In both cases, symptoms disappeared when the drugs were discontinued. (toxnet.nlm.nih.gov)

I have no intention of eating more than two or three apples a day. In actual use and practice, I eat one apple, seeds and all, only about three times a week. One apple has about five seeds. Even if I eat three apples for every meal, every day, that's only 15 seeds per day...maybe a spoonful?

Everytime I eat an apple core and chomp the seeds and swallow them down, I envision an ugly, voracious herbivore being scared to death of taking a bite out of me.

And that's a good thing!

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