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Apricot Kernels: When Fruit Becomes an Illegal Supplement


Apricots are a popular summer fruit, but as a dietary supplement they can also be the pits. Acquiring banks, payment providers, advertising platforms, and others should be aware that the kernels found inside the pits of fresh apricots can contain something quite unexpected: cyanide. Some supplement merchants advertise these products as a health cure, which presents health risks for consumers and regulatory risk for payment and advertising platforms.

Certain types of apricot kernels — specifically bitter ones — contain a compound called amygdalin, which has the potential to release cyanide when ingested. This is why bitter apricot kernels have been subject to government safety warnings around the world. Sweet apricot kernels, however, do not pose the same risks.

LegitScript has been monitoring merchants selling bitter apricot kernels since 2012, and typically classify such products as “Red Flag” because even when used as directed, they are inherently unsafe. Whether marketed as a supplement or food, bitter apricot kernels are considered high-risk since even consuming a small amount can lead to poisoning symptoms. If you are doing business with a merchant or advertiser who is selling apricot kernels, be advised that the bitter variety are often considered unlawful because of the significant health risk.

Regulatory agencies have repeatedly warned against marketing or ingesting these products. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany (BfR) warns that, during digestion, the emerging cyanide can lead to severe acute poisoning with convulsions, vomiting, and shortness of breath. In high doses death can occur through respiratory paralysis. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand reported “a number of cases of cyanide poisoning related to consumption of apricot kernels, with some consumers eating them believing they can help cure or prevent cancer, although there is no credible evidence that is the case.” The FDA also issued a recent warning letter calling out bitter apricot kernel/amygdalin products for making cancer claims.

Staying informed is important because even something as unassuming as an apricot can carry significant risk. Make sure you proceed with caution the next time you come across a merchant selling bitter apricot kernels.