Problems Associated With Swallowing Fruit Seeds

You remember the warnings from childhood. "A tree will grow in your stomach and kill you!" "You can be poisoned by peach pits!" "Swallowing apple seeds will put you in the hospital!" You learned to spit them out and throw them away. But how much is fact, and how much urban legend?

Cyanide

Many fruit seeds, including apples, cherries, peaches and apricots, contain amygdalin, a compound of cyanide and sugar. Amygdalin breaks down into the deadly poison hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when digested. The risk of cyanide poisoning from accidentally swallowing apple and cherry seeds is very low. The amount of cyanide ingested when eating a single apple or a handful of cherries is low enough that your body will simply detoxify the substance and pass it harmlessly out of your system. Additionally, these seeds have a thick coating which protects them through the digestive process. You'd have to chew them up to make contact with the amygdalin. Peach and apricot pits contain amygdalin in more dangerous amounts, but those seeds are too large to swallow accidentally. And you'd have to pry open the pit to get at the cyanide-bearing kernel in the first place.

Choking Hazard

Parents should be especially careful not to give their babies fruit with seeds inside. Even snack foods like sunflower or pumpkin seeds can be problematic. It's too easy for a baby to inhale the seed or choke on it. Play it safe and don't give your baby seeds until age 3.

Intestinal Injury

Swallowing seeds whole presents a small risk of intestinal injury. Sharp edges, such as the pointed ends of apple and pear seeds, have the potential to tear or perforate the intestines. Swallowing a large number of seeds can result in intestinal blockage or obstruction. These aren't common problems, but if you experience fever, nausea, vomiting or severe abdominal pain after swallowing seeds, seek medical help immediately.

Appendicitis

The common belief that swallowing seeds can cause appendicitis is factual, but incidents are vanishingly rare. A study discussed by an article in the Medical Journal of Australia found that among 1,409 diagnoses of acute appendicitis between 1972 and 1997, only one involved a fruit seed in the appendix.

Debunked Myths

If you grew up believing the scare story about a tree in your tummy, you can breathe a long-overdue sigh of relief. According to Dr. Gordon Rogers, the environment in your stomach is inhospitable to seed germination. Seeds need oxygen to sprout, and there's none to be had in your stomach. Also, germination takes three to five days, by which time you've already passed the seed out of your body.. Rest assured, swallowing seeds won't turn you into a walking greenhouse.

Keywords: swallowing seeds, amygdalin, hydrogen cyanide, appendicitis

About this Author

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little is a freelance writer, blogger, and web designer from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a graduate of the professional SF/F workshop Viable Paradise (2006). Recent published work appears at TwilightTales.com and Pangaia.com, with a short story forthcoming at Ideomancer.com (March 2010).