Cyanide is deadly, but the dose makes the poison, so don’t fear for your apple cores.
A German scientist dissolving fruit seeds in water discovered cyanide in 1782. It’s a useful industrial chemical - you can use it to make paper, plastic, metal, and ink. Cyanide is also a deadly gas: it prevents your cells from using oxygen. Cyanide gas was utilized as a chemical weapon by the likes of Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein.
Does it pose a danger to you? Unless you crawl under the tent of a house that’s being fumigated for pests, probably not. Apple seeds and peach cores contain a chemical called amygdalin - it’s a cyanide molecule attached to a sugar molecule. Digest those seeds, and your body will separate the sugar from the cyanide, creating a trace amount of cyanide gas in your gut.
The important word in that last sentence is trace. The amount of cyanide gas created when you digest an entire apple seed is really, really small; your body, moreover, doesn’t digest the whole seed - some of it passes out in your stool. To get a lethal dose of cyanide, you’d have to take approximately 18 apples, crush up their seeds (around 200) into a fine powder, and eat it.
There are no documented cases of someone accidentally dying from cyanide poisoning after eating too many apple seeds. Ever. The same can be said for the pits of plums, peaches, greengages, and other fruits. It’s theoretically possible, but were it to happen to you, you’d probably make it into the New England Journal of Medicine as a medical and scientific first.
There’s some weak scientific evidence that amygdalin - also called vitamin B17 - can be used in cancer treatment. South Korean scientists were able to induce cell death in prostate cancer cells by exposing them directly to amygdalin. This isn’t entirely surprising - cyanide deprives those cells of oxygen. A similar effect has been shown with brain and bladder cancers, although lung and breast cancer studies have not produced the same effect.
These investigations are about direct exposure of the tumors to amygdalin. To fight cancer with cyanide, you have to inject it into the site of the tumor. It’s not a good idea to eat purified amygdalin - it’ll produce cyanide gas in your gut and do more harm to your digestive system than any cancer you might have.
Possible short-term side effects
- cyanide poisoning can cause:
- bodily weakness
- bizarre behavior
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain