Friday, January 10, 2014

Foods That Contain Cyanide

     Cyanide is a poison which kills by starving cells of oxygen, mainly cardiac cells.  Specifically, compounds with cyanide inhibit an enzyme necessary for cells to produce energy.  Although cyanide is considered dangerous, and has been used for ages as a means of doing away with one's enemies, many edible plants naturally contain cyanide, presumably to defend themselves against grazing animals.  Any chemical with CN in its formulation is one of the cyanides;  hydrogen cyanide is one of the most dangerous because it's a gas, delivering a lethal dose quickly when inhaled.
     If you have a diet like mine, you probably get cyanide in your diet every day.  Foods known to contain cyanide are:

     soy beans
     lima beans
     kidney beans
     bamboo shoots
     apple seeds
     pits from apricots and peaches

     Cyanide is also present in tobacco smoke and combustible engine fumes, so toxicity can accumulate through daily inhalation of small amounts.  Because certain plastic products contain cyanide, released when the plastic is heated, it's best not to put plastic containers of food in the microwave unless you're sure they aren't made from acrylonitrile, a precursor to cyanide.  Acrylonitrile is present in styrofoam-type plastics that are widely used, for instance, as packing material.  If styrene products are heated above eighty degrees, cyanide can be released.  Most plastic manufacturers are not required to label their products (with the recent exception of BPA), so it's a good idea to use only glass or ceramic dishes for heating food in the microwave, not plastic.
     The foods listed above, though they contain cyanide, or perhaps because they contain it, are considered, oddly, to be healing foods, not toxins.  The soft nuts inside the pits of apricots and peaches, contain amygdalin, also known as laetrile, a substance that has been used for treating cancer patients, mainly in Mexico (the FDA banned laetrile in 1977). Almonds are good sources of laetrile, too.  Laetrile is broken down into cyanide in the body, and therefore can lead to cyanide poisoning if the amounts ingested are too large to metabolize.  It has been documented that people who eat diets high in natural laetrile, like the Hunza, have very low rates of cancer.  Bitter almonds, which contain more natural laetrile than other foods, are used as a source of laetrile, but can be eaten raw and are considered by some to be an anti-cancer food.  Amounts larger than a bitter almonds or apricot pits a day may be toxic.
     Throughout the history of medicine, both eastern and western, substances known to be toxic in large doses have been used to cure disease in small doses.  Hence Aristotle's dictum:  "All things in moderation."  It's seems likely that life and nature include toxins in otherwise palatable foods because sometimes they are good for us--and perhaps we can extend this phenomenon to experiences and people that are unpleasant, even toxic, people who make us want to run for cover.  If it's not too much of a stretch, I might even include people like my prosecutors and those FBI agents, who may have been dosed into my life in (barely) tolerable quantities, like cyanide, because they're somehow good for me, extending my awareness of the workings of society, which is the matrix within which most of us live, so that I will respond to it the way the human body responds to natural cyanides, by getting stronger, by using it to heal deeper ills both in myself and in the world around me.  The evils of the world, like cyanide, are natural to the world.  They occupy their positions, we learn to relate to them, and in the process we change both ourselves and the world.

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