Cancer patient gets cyanide poisoning from apricot kernels

A cancer patient nearly died from cyanide poisoning because of his burning passion for apricot kernel extract.

The unidentified man, 67, consumed two teaspoons of the ‘complimentary medicine’ each day, in the belief it would keep him in remission.

He was also taking three tablets of Novodalin – a commercially made herbal fruit kernel supplement daily for the same reason.

But his habit eventually caught up with him, a case study reveals. He was beginning to become starved of oxygen – which is how cyanide kills.

Doctors found him to have 25 times above the safe limit of the toxin in his body – an amount that can have serious side effects.

The unidentified man, 67, consumed two teaspoons of the ‘complimentary medicine’ each day, in the belief it would keep his cancer in remission

His serious condition was spotted during a follow-up examination of his prostate by experts at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne.

They noticed that he had abnormally low levels of oxygen in his body, also known as hypoxia, when he was under anaesthetic.

In this situation, hypoxia can be a ‘potentially life-threatening condition’, the medic wrote in BMJ Case Reports.

Blood tests then showed cyanide toxicity, formed when amygdalin in apricot kernels is ingested in the body. 

The patient told doctors he had been taking two teaspoons of home-made apricot kernel extract and three tablets of Novodalin every day for the past five years.

Apricot kernels: The health fad 

Apricot kernels have been a popular complimentary medicine since the 1970s as it is claimed they can stop cancers. Hollywood actor Steve McQueen even tried laetrile – also known as amygdalin – in his battle against terminal cancer. 

The craze even prompted a Government warning over the health fad last summer. Officials said 30 stones is enough to kill someone. 

Tests revealed the patient was consuming almost 17.32mg of cyanide every day. Just 1.5mg per kg of body weight is enough to kill a fully-grown man. 


The seeds, pips and stones of many varieties of fruit contain small amounts of cyanide. 

It can also be found in smoke from fires and cigarettes, or car exhausts. 

Cyanide is a poisonous chemical gas that prevents your body from absorbing oxygen 

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include stomach cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting, and can culminate in cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, coma and death. 

A fatal dose for humans can be as low as 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. 


After three days of not taking the supplement the patient’s condition returned to near normal, doctors reported.

Experts made the man aware of their concerns about his fruit kernel diet, but he nevertheless opted to continue with it. 

The dangers of such medicines 

Doctors warned that this case illustrates the dangers of patients using unregulated complementary medicines over many years.

Dr Alex Konstantatos, who treated the patient, said that efficacy and safety of such medicines can never be assured.

He added: ‘Many extracts lack quality control in production and are not subject to extensive testing applied to standard medicines.’

Dr Konstantatos pointed to figures that showed nearly a third of Britons to be fans of complimentary medicines, such as apricot kernels. 

Are apricot kernels safe? 

He added in the UK the safe levels of apricot kernel intake was set at just one to two kernels per day – the equivalent of 0.6 teaspoons. In Australia it is two kernels.

Most cyanide poisoning cases come from attempted murders, however, this isn’t the first time doctors have issued a warning about fruit.

In July, it was reported that Matthew Creme, a 29-year-old father-of-three nearly died eating cherry stones because he didn’t realise they contain cyanide.