A 67-year-old Melbourne man was found to have given himself cyanide poisoning as a result of apricot kernel extract usage, according to a new entry in a trusted medical journal.
Yep. Apricot kernels. The typically inedible centre of your secret favourite stonefruit.
BMJ Case Reports notes the patient, who was in remission from prostate cancer, presented for some minor surgery. While under anaesthesia, it was found his red blood cells were carrying far less oxygen than they should.
The surgery was a success, but during his recovery, doctors asked the man about potential contributing factors. As a non-smoker who rode his bike up to 80km weekly, it was all a bit of a mystery – until he mentioned his usage of apricot kernel extract.
Here’s the thing: apricot kernels contain amygdalin, which our bodies handily convert into immensely poisonous cyanide. The man said he ingested tablets of the extract and his own home-made kernel concoctions in a bid to keep his cancer at bay, and it was found the levels of cyanide in his blood were more than 25 times the recommended limit.
The report notes that despite being warned about the risks of his continual apricot kernel extract consumption, the man continued to dose himself with the cyanide-causing seed.
Dr Alex Konstantatos of Alfred Hospital told HuffPost that since cyanide is so deadly, the effects of sub-lethal dosages – like those experienced his patient – had never been rigorously studied.
But Dr Konstantos did cede that there’s a very small difference between cyanide dosages that result in low blood oxygenation, and dosages that can seriously and irreparably damage the brain and heart.
The report notes “this case illustrates how chronic dosing of complementary medicines can result in harmful toxicities, which may carry potential for serious consequences”.
Read: consult your physician whenever you take on a new batch of alternative medicine, no matter how innocuous it seems. Oh, and maybe follow Food Standards Australia and New Zealand‘s recommendations of ingesting no more than two apricot kernels a day, yeah?
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