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Are Apple Seeds Poisonous? Facts About Cyanide in Apples

Marlene spends numerous hours researching solutions to common and sometimes obscure health and beauty issues. She shares her results here.

Are apple seeds poisonous?

Are apple seeds poisonous?

Can Apple Seeds Really Hurt You?

Apples have many health benefits; hence the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” These fruits are low in calories, providing approximately 50 to 65 calories (depending on size). They are also rich in dietary fiber, which aids in digestive health. They provide antioxidant protection and are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and iron.

Cyanide and Amygdalin in Apple Seeds

So, what is the downside? Apple seeds contain a type of cyanogenic acid called amygdalin. When mixed with digestive enzymes, amygdalin releases cyanide, which, when consumed in large amounts, is fatal.

What Happens When You Eat Apple Seeds?

When the seeds are chewed, their outer protective shell is opened, and your body is exposed to the toxins inside.

Accidental ingestion of a few apple seeds once in a while probably will not affect you. In fact, swallowed seeds normally pass through the body with your normal bodily function.

Which Seeds Contain Cyanide?

Be aware of other plants that contain cyanogenic acids. This poisonous compound can be found in the pits and seeds of cherries, peaches, plums, almonds, pears, and apricots. While it is highly unlikely that you will accidentally or purposefully chew into the pits and seeds of these fruits, it is likely that your pets and livestock may have an opportunity to ingest excessive amounts of cyanide if left unattended.

How Many Apple Seeds Will Cause Damage?

Research shows any amount of cyanide between 0.5 and 3.0 milligrams per liter of blood is harmful to the human body. This means you would need to consume about 40 apple cores in order to be affected negatively by the cyanide in their seeds.

What Is Cyanide?

The Center for Disease Control says that cyanide is a deadly chemical that is fast-acting and can be found in multiple forms. Cyanide can be colorless and odorless, so people may not be aware that they are exposed to cyanide.

“Cyanide is released from natural substances in some foods and in certain plants such as cassava, lima beans and almonds. Pits and seeds of common fruits, such as apricots, apples, and peaches, may have substantial amounts of chemicals which are metabolized to cyanide. The edible parts of these plants contain much lower amounts of these chemicals.” —The Center for Disease Control

Cyanide is known as the following:

  • Hydrogen cyanide (HCN)
  • Cyanogen chloride (CNCl)
  • Sodium cyanide (NaCN)
  • Potassium cyanide (KCN)

Cyanide gas is used in the military as a poisoning agent and is also known as the following:

  • Hydrogen cyanide (AC)
  • Cyanogen chloride (CK)

How Does Cyanide Work?

Cyanide is most harmful when ingested, either when eaten or inhaled into the lungs. Exposure can also happen through skin absorption if the chemical is physically touched. When it enters the body, cyanide binds to cells and prevents them from using oxygen. This sends the cells into an oxygen-starvation mode and ultimately kills them, causing the following symptoms.

Symptoms of Cyanide Poisoning

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning can range from mild, such as headache, dizziness, confusion, and vomiting; to severe, such as respiratory arrest, kidney failure, coma, and death.

Those who are exposed to large quantities of cyanide can die within minutes. If exposed to any amount of cyanide, the CDC recommends seeking medical attention immediately.

Growing Up With Apples

Growing up, fresh fruit and vegetables were a big part of my world. I remember my grandparents' garden and the trees grown along the neighboring yards. Among the trees were apple trees of all sorts. The trees were very productive, and neighbors invited us to pick fruit as much as we desired.

One thing that stood out in my mind was the overwhelming advice that we never chew or swallow the seeds. Some neighbors would even advise us to make sure our pets didn't get ahold of the seeds, either. I remember one neighbor repeating, "...and make sure you don't leave those apple cores around for your dog to chew on, Baby. You know those seeds are poisonous. They'll kill you if you eat too many."

Ultimately, this rumor is somewhat true; apple seeds can kill you if you eat too many. However, you'd have to eat a truly excessive amount.

Further Reading and References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 Marlene Bertrand