Sunday, February 18, 2018

My totally unbiased experience with bitter apricot kernels

You will quickly understand why I felt the need to say I was unbiased, but let me first demonstrate how much unbiased I was: I went into this raw fruits store, with an errand from the wife, and wanted to get something from me. Usually I like the caju and macadamia nuts, but I didn't want to have the conversation about why did I spent so much on something I eat out of boredom, so I looked around to get something else. And here they were, packaged and sold just like any other dried fruits or nuts: bitter apricot kernels. So I bought a 200 g bag.

Back in the office, I opened the bag up and I started eating. They were bitter as hell, but I didn't mind it much. I was eating some of them, then switching to candied ginger (which I'd absolutely love if it weren't so sweet), then back again. After a while, though, I'd had enough. About half of the bag in, I couldn't really find a reason to keep eating them. My colleagues had all refused to eat (and spit) more than half of one. But I was curious what they were actually for. People who love bitter tastes, maybe?

So went on the Internet and KABOOOM! mind blown. Just for scale, try to look for yourself at the dimensions of the can of worms I'd just opened: apricot kernels.

Turns out that the "active ingredient" in the apricot kernels is amygdalin, a substance that turns to cyanide in the gut. Yes, you've heard that right: I had just bitten the tooth, dying for the motherland before I could spill the beans. Google had already failed miserably, by serving first a page that explained how Big Pharma and governments conspired to keep this wonder drug from the public. The second page was Wikipedia, then every single conspiracy nut site, sprinkled with the occasional very dry scientific study that bottom lined at "we don't really know".

But I am getting ahead of myself. At this point I was already severely biased and I first need to describe my earnest experience to you. Short story: accelerated heartbeat, fever, terrible headache and nausea that lasted for half a day. Also, didn't die, which was good.

Back to my rant. So, some guy looked at the chemical structure of amygdalin and thought it looked like a B complex vitamin, so he named it vitamin B17. It was quickly marketed as a cure for cancer, despite numerous trials to show that it wasn't. And no, it's not a vitamin for humans either. It is not made in the human body, but it's not needed, either. The bag was not labeled anything dangerous, because it came from the outside of the European Union, which has a law regarding this. Here is some advice for both the EU and the US. Turkey was OK, though, so it only said "great for cancer, eat 5 to 8 seeds daily, not all at once".

So how fucked was I after eating about one hundred of them? A European Food Safety Authority article said that eating three kernels exceeds the safe level for adults. A toddler could do that from just eating one. An article from Cancer Council Australia detailed the child fatalities due to ingesting apricot seeds. Another article was telling me of an adult who got poisoning, but he was both stupid and extreme (he was taking a concentrated extract) and didn't die anyway. A thousand other sites were telling me how amazing my health will be after I had just eaten ten times the daily dosage they suggested.

Drowned in the sea of controversy regarding apricot kernels I've decided to look for the chemical and medicinal treatment for cyanide poisoning. Step 1: decontamination. It was kind of too late to go to the toilet and do the anorexia thing. Step 2: take some amyl nitrite (and then some intravenous things). Wait, that's a party drug. I could maybe get one in a sex shop. There was no home remedy and most of all, even if the amyl nitrite seems to work, no one seems to know exactly why other than the vasodilating effect it obviously has. Another possible antidote is (ironically) hydroxocobalamin, also called vitamin B12a. In the end some vitamin C and a headache pill did wonders, just in case you eat a bunch of apricot kernels and feel awful. Obviously, if it were a serious condition I would have died at the keyboard, trying to wade through the marketing posts and the uselessly dry official reports. Also, not enough easily available party drugs, I dare say.

So, days later the bout of shaky hands, fever and the horrible headache that only blood oxygen deprivation can bring, I decided to write this post. I doubt people will find it with Google, but maybe just my immediate friends will know not to eat this crap.