An apricot seed is the small kernel inside the hard pit at the center of the apricot, a relative of the peach. There are more than 20 varieties of apricots, which are thought to have evolved from species in the Himalayas and Northern China. The purported effectiveness of apricot seeds in treating cancer has been controversial for decades, with alternative health advocates passionately touting its value, and others arguing that eaten in large amounts, apricot seeds can be poisonous, even lethal.
Nature of Seeds
Apricots, Prunus armeniaca, distantly related to the rose, is a drupe, meaning it has a "stone" at its center. When pressed, the center of these stones (the apricot seed), yields an oil similar to that found in peach kernels and almonds. Besides oleiin, a glyceride of linoleic acid, the kernel contains amygdalin, a transparent crystalline compound that is chemically indistinguishable from the oil of bitter almond.
The French make a liqueur from apricot seed called Eau de Noyaux.
Oil from apricot seed has skin-softening properties and is often used to make cold cream, hand creams, soaps and perfumes. Manufacturers of cosmetics often mislabel it as almond oil.
The Chinese have long used oil from apricot seeds as a cough suppressant and expectorant and to treat emphysema and bronchitis.
Alternative Health Use
Alternative health advocates assert that cancer is a metabolic reaction to poor diet, best combated by amagdylin, named B17 by Dr. Ernest Krebb, a biochemist who discovered its reputed benefits in 1952. Krebb discovered that amagdylin could be found in 1,200 plants worldwide. He discovered that amagdylin, which he further dubbed laetrile, could be extracted by softening and purifying the pits of apricot seeds.
Laetrile proponents argue that enzymes in laetrile destroy beta-glucosidase, an enzyme found in cancer cells. This they argue, results in an 85-percent cure rate among cancer victims foregoing treatment by traditional medicine. Some Mexican clinics report a 100-percent cure rate.
Laetrile also releases enzymes of cyanide, but the body allegedly neutralizes these by combining them with sulfur.
Advocates assert that denial of the effectiveness of laetrile is a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry defending the profits of their patented medicines working in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration.
Alternative Health Dosage
Alternative health proponents say that five to seven apricot pits should be eaten daily to prevent cancer. Those who already have cancer should eat two or three times that many or one seed each day for every 10 pounds of body weight. After they are cured, they should return to eating five to seven a day.
Alternative health advocates concede that eating too many apricot pits can cause nausea or dizziness, but claim there have been no deaths reported.
John M. Taylor, director of the enforcement section of the FDA, says, "There are no published clinical studies that demonstrate that laetrile is safe and effective and cancer patients who take it sometimes forgo conventional therapies to their detriment." The FDA and the U.S. Department of Justice have been prosecuting websites selling laetrile as a cancer cure and websites encouraging people to adopt laetrile as treatment to the exclusion of traditional medicine.
In a 1982 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers ran a clinical trial of the effectiveness of laetrile on 178 cancer patients. The researchers found that several patients experienced "symptoms of cyanide toxicity or by blood cyanide levels approaching the lethal range. Patients exposed to this agent should be instructed about the danger of cyanide poisoning, and their blood cyanide levels should be carefully monitored. Amygdalin (laetrile) is a toxic drug that is not effective as a cancer treatment."
Researchers at the universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the Britain reviewed 36 studies of the benefits of laetrile to combat cancer and did not find a single controlled clinical trial.
The Food Standards Agency in Britain has advised people to take no more than two apricot kernels a day. Higher doses could be dangerous for human health.