Should I be worried about the cyanide in apple seeds?
January 25, 2014 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I eat a lot of apples--perhaps 2 or 3 a day on many days. Recently I've been eating the whole apple, aside from the stem. Is this a bad idea? I have done a little research about this, and it seems like it's okay, but I just wanted to make sure. I know, from experience, that eating the apple seeds from a couple apples in one day isn't going to kill me dead right away, but is there a significant risk of build-up over time?
posted by overglow to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No one appears to have found out how many apple seeds it takes to kill someone, or an animal, so it would seem to require more seeds than anyone would ever accidentally eat.

If you want to be extra safe, don't chew them and you will not be exposed to the inside of the pip where the actual toxins reside.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:20 PM on January 25, 2014

This got discussed before I bought a Vitamix and asked about it here. I don't think you have much to worry about.
posted by supercres at 12:20 PM on January 25, 2014

The seeds of apple, cherry, peach, apricot, plum, jetberry bush, and toyon contain cyanognetic glycosides such as amygdalin that release cyanide on digestion. The fatal dose of these seeds varies from 5 to 25 seeds for a small child. They are only dangerous if the seed capsule is broken.

--From Handbook of Poisoning - a Lange medical book, which I bought many years ago because I was using sprays for fruit trees, and wanted to know their relative toxicity. It also has detailed information on poisonous plants and animals, household chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, etc. Soon afterwards I became an organic gardener. Apricot kernels are sold in some health food stores and Asian markets. I think people are crazy to consume them.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:35 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

IANAPharmacokineticist, but according to this CDC document (pdf), the plasma half-life of cyanide is 20 min - 1 hour, meaning if you wait four hours, you probably have at most 6% of the maximum concentration of cyanide in your blood. Given that one set of apple seeds hasn't killed you, it seems reasonable to assume that if you space the apple seeds out by four hours, there's no chance of multiple apples killing you (of course I think you are probably far from a dangerous dose in the first place).

There may be other issues relating to lipid solubility of the cyanide compounds in apple seeds, or other concerns that I'm not qualified to address, though.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2014

Anecdote: my grandfather always ate the entire apple. He had at least an apple a day, from the earliest time I can remember. They had a few apple trees on their property, so he had much more than that in the autumn. He lived into his eighties. Of course, he may have had some mutant cyanide-processing ability, or grown mutant no-cyanide apples, so this is not medical advice, etc.
posted by tllaya at 2:24 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If eating apple seeds were particular dangerous we would all be dead by now.

weapons-grade pandemonium's quote is lumping apple seeds in with, say, apricot pits. Now consider the size and density of an apricot or plum pit when compared to an apple seed. Yeah.

And like Salvor Hardin says, the plasma half-life of the compounds in question is very short. They do not build up over time.
posted by Justinian at 4:49 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, fwiw you'd have to grind up and consume something on the order of 150 apple seeds in one sitting to kill yourself. Maybe more if you weigh a lot. And that's not just swallow those seeds since they don't break down in your stomach, you'd actually have to grind them up first.
posted by Justinian at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2014

(note: there are only a few seeds per apple, so we're talking dozens of apples worth of seeds here)
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on January 25, 2014

Anecdote: I've been eating apple cores/ seeds for 25+ years with no ill effects I've seen. ...nor have I developed an immunity to cyanide, which was my original idea.
posted by RainyJay at 1:16 AM on January 26, 2014

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