I would like to coin a new word, cyanophobia, unreasonable fear of cyanide. Such fear turns up again and again in the public discussion about health. Bitter almonds would be dangerous, pips from apples and apricots kernels as well, even crushed linseeds were recently getting their reputation soiled by cyanophobia.
This anticyanide propaganda does still instil undue fear with many people.
While cyanide can be a deadly poison, a little cyanide in the right form is good for the health and not dangerous at all. Indeed, cyanide from natural foodstuffs will never reach a dangerous level unless you are grossly overdoing it. Extracts or preparations do, however, so beware of these unless you are very sure of what you are doing. But eat a handful of (whole) linseeds every day, the pips of apples and kernels of apricots you eat anyway, a few bitter almonds, etc. - in my opinion, the cyanide they contain is good for your health. In fact, in theory it might contribute to the prevention of cancer. I suspect that it has other, still undiscovered, positive functions as well. It might even be justified to count it a vitamin, something you need on a daily basis. Indeed, some people already consider it a vitamin, vitamin B17, amygdalin, or laetrile. It's a very controversial substance but shouldn't be offhandedly disregarded.
There were reports lately, suggesting that linseeds may be dangerous. They contain a substance, linamarin. In the body it can be transformed to hydrogen cyanide. For that reason authorities in some places have warned against linseeds - especially crushed linseeds, from which more linamarin is released in the body.
Let's set this straight. Crushed linseeds, if bought in that state, are dangerous. But the reason for that is mainly that the fatty acids become rancid 10-15 minutes after the crushing. The linamarin in linseeds, crushed or whole, does not pose a risk unless the amount of seeds consumed is very large. So, eat whole linseeds.
The cyanide we are discussing here is the same as we get from bitter almond, apricot kernels, and apple pips, the same that might possibly kill cancer tumours. It is beneficial, not normally dangerous, if it comes in moderate amounts. It might even be one of the several factors making a regular intake (preferably daily) of a small amount of whole (chewed) linseeds so beneficial for the health.
A few individuals are especially sensitive to cyanide. If you are one of them, you will feel sick if you eat any substance containing it. If you do, don't eat it again! That goes for all food. If your body reacts badly to something, it is not good for you, no matter how good it is for the average human.
My recommendation: Do indeed eat linseeds. Eat them whole and chew them well. A couple of tablespoons per day is a good rule of thumb. But don't overdo it. More is not better, and the cyanide might pose a risk if you exaggerate your intake beyond common sense.
As for amygdalin, the molecule contains cyanide, a deadly toxin even in relatively low doses. But the cyanide is bound in the molecule and not easy to release. Without something unlocking the binding, it remains inactive.
The enzyme beta-glucoronidase activates and releases the cyanide. Healthy cells contain very little of this enzyme. Moreover, they contain another enzyme, rhodanese, which neutralises the cyanide and makes it harmless.
A cancer cell, however, contains approximately a hundred times as much betaglucoronidase (compared to a healthy cell), and totally lacks rhodanese. It will be fully exposed to the toxic effects of the cyanide, which is released in ample amount.
Rhodanese is a mitochondrial enzyme, and there are no mitochondria in cancer cells. Without mitochondria, no rhodanese and no neutralisation of cyanide. The cancer cell has no defence against this attack. Ideally, it dies.
In theory, this can be used for treating (or preventing) cancer, although the effect has been widely questioned. But very high doses of amygdalin, taken therapeutically, should always be administered under the supervision of a competent physician, since the heart and other organs can be negatively affected.
Moderate amounts are not risky and can be used to reduce the risk of getting cancer, as a preventive measure. But it should be noted that cyanide, even when bound in amygdalin, can become dangerous if the amount is excessive.
Rhodanese protects your healthy cells to an extent – but beta-glucoronidase is not totally absent. Even a too large consumption of bitter almond can kill you! So don't take this lightly. It all depends on the right dosage. More is not always better, so if you do not know exactly what you are doing, search professional help before you use this substance beyond a moderate consumption of natural amygdalin-containing foodstuffs.
Don't fall for the cyanophobia of massmedia and the public discussion. The fear is not justified. Natural foodstuffs containing cyanide, as the ones discussed in this article, are good for the health, perhaps necessary for optimal health. There is no reason to fear or shun them if you take them with common sense. It all depends on the dosage. That goes for everything, even essential things as water and oxygen are deadly if the intake is too high.
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