About Hygiene, Ireland

What is Apricot Kernels and are they dangerous?

What are Apricot Kernels and why would people eat them?

Information available online suggests that bitter apricot kernels can be used as an alternative cancer therapy and products (kernels and powdered kernels) are freely available for sale. The sale of bitter apricot kernels or raw bitter almonds, when accompanied by medicinal claims, is illegal in the Republic of Ireland (under the medicines legislation). Despite this, these products are being sold on the internet and through other sources. These sources may recommend consumption of bitter apricot kernels and almonds at very high quantities, which can lead to considerable exposure to cyanide and consequent cyanide poisoning.

FSAI advises against the daily consumption of more than 1-2 kernels as doses above this could cause acute health risk for consumers.

What are these kernels used for? 

Apricot kernels and almonds (whether bitter or sweet) are used to flavour food and drinks including liqueurs (e.g. amaretto) as well as some biscuits and cakes. However, they are used in very low quantities and do not pose a risk to health.

More recently, bitter apricot kernels and sometimes bitter almonds have been wrongly promoted as having anti-cancer effects and this has led to some people consuming much larger quantities of kernels than normal. 

I have read that bitter apricot kernels and bitter almonds have an antioxidant effect and can be used as anti-cancer treatment?

There is no sound scientific evidence that bitter apricot kernels, bitter almonds or amygdalin are effective against cancer.Bitter apricot and bitter almond kernels should not be consumed for medicinal or natural health purposes.

What may happen if I eat them? 

The risk and severity of the poisoning can vary with the amount of product consumed and the concentration of amygdalin in it. Signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning include headache, dizziness, mental confusion, stupor, cyanosis (bluish colouration to skin and mucous membranes) with twitching and convulsions and, in severe cases, can lead to cardiac arrest, terminal coma and even death.

I ate bitter apricot kernels/bitter almonds and I am not feeling well. What should I do?

If you ate bitter apricot kernels or bitter almonds and are feeling unwell, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
You can also call the National Poisons Information Centre on (01) 809 2166 (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week).

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