Is It Safe to Eat Sunflower Seed Shells

Sunflower Seeds are a good source of protein and other nutrients. They contain essential fatty acids, vitamins A, B6, C and E and minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc.

The seeds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Some believe they may even prevent cancer or reduce the risk of developing it. Sunflowers were first cultivated in China around 3000 BC. Today, there are over 300 varieties grown worldwide.

In the United States, sunflower seeds are one of the most popular foods. They’re eaten fresh or dried and ground into flour or added to baked goods. There’s no shortage of recipes for them online; here are just a few:

You might think that eating sunflower seeds would be safe because they don’t contain any harmful substances. But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunflower seeds are not considered “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the agency. That means they’re probably unsafe to consume in large amounts, but you won’t get sick from consuming small amounts of them.

If you want to avoid getting sick from eating sunflower seeds, don’t eat too many at once. Most people can eat up to 10 seeds at a time without any problems.

Types of Sunflower Seed Poisoning

You might be wondering what types of sunflower seed poisoning actually exist. There aren’t actually that many, but it’s important to know about them so you know whether you have been poisoned or not after eating sunflower seeds. If you start to experience any of the following symptoms after eating sunflower seeds, you should consult a doctor immediately or go to the emergency room:



Stomach pain, often severe

Seizures or tremors

Difficulty breathing or stopped breathing (respiratory depression)

Coma or unconsciousness

Increased heart rate (tachycardia) or decreased heart rate (bradycardia), sometimes with fainting

How Can You Make the Poisoning Less Severe?

In addition to seeking medical attention immediately, there are several things you can do to make the sunflower seed poisoning less severe. First of all, don’t panick. Second of all, call your doctor or emergency room and tell them exactly which sunflower seeds you ate and how many. (Most doctors won’t have heard of sunflower seed poisoning before, so they need to know this information. It will also help them know what treatments will work best for you.) If you have anything in your house that contains chloral hydrate (a sedative), you should let the doctors and emergency room personnel know. The antidote, physostigmine, should be given to you if you need it.

What is Physostigmine and How Does It Work?

Physostigmine is an antidote for sunflower seed poisoning. It is a drug that is used in very limited medical situations. In very large doses, it can be used to cause muscles to contract in order to be able to breat able during surgeries. In smaller doses, it can counteract the action of the toxins in sunflower seeds and allow your muscles to relax.

How Physostigmine Is Administered

Physostigmine is typically given by intravenous (IV) injection or inhalation. It can also be given in pill form. The type of administration will usually depend on how severe your poisoning is and what other drugs you are being given.

Keep in Mind

If you think that you or someone else has ingested a large amount of sunflower seeds and might have toxic levels of sunflower seed poisoning, it is still best to call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. You can call this number whether or not you give the sunflower seeds to yourself or someone else, whether you are drunk or sober, and whether you are adult or child.

Do not wait to see if the poisoning gets worse before calling. The doctors will want to know how much sunflower seed is still available so they can tell you whether you need other treatments in addition to the physostigmine. It is very important that the emergency room or doctor knows exactly how much you ate.

How Physostigmine Works

When you have too much sunflower seed poisoning, the muscarinic and nicotinic acetylcholine receptor sites in your body become blocked by acetylcholine and other nicotine-related substances. By blocking these receptors, acetylcholine can no longer affect your muscles. Since acetylcholine is what causes muscle contractions, without it your body cannot contract any of your muscles. This is very bad since it causes your breathing muscles to no longer function normally.

When you intubate (put a breathing tube down your throat so that you can breathe) an individual with sunflower seed poisoning, you are effectively putting a tube down a non-functioning “diaphragm.” So the sunflower seed victim needs a machine to keep the lungs inflated.

Physostigmine works by being able to unblock these acetylcholine receptor sites. By doing so, acetylcholine can then block the receptor sites normally, allowing your muscles to function again. Since your breathing and other muscles were not severely damaged, this means that you will be able to keep the airway open by yourself and no longer need a machine to breathe for you.

What Are the Disadvantages of Physostigmine?

There are some disadvantages to using physostigmine, and you may not even get it. This is especially true if the sunflower seed poisoning is not too severe and your muscles are still functioning enough for you to breathe. In these cases, the doctors may decide that the risks of using physostigmine are too great for you. The drug does have some notable side effects.

Sources & references used in this article:

Sunflower seed dispenser and shell diposal container by L Hogan – US Patent App. 10/762,677, 2005 – Google Patents

Colonic sunflower seed bezoar by VM Tsou, PR Bishop, MJ Nowicki – Pediatrics, 1997 – Am Acad Pediatrics

Measurement of Plumpness for Intact Sunflower Seed Using Terahertz Transmittance Imaging by X Sun, J Liu – Journal of Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves, 2020 – Springer

… infection and quality deterioration of sunflower seeds as affected by temperature and moisture content during storage and the suitability of the seeds for insect or mite … by NDG White, DS Jayas – Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 1993 – NRC Research Press

Preparation of an uncooked sunflower seed foodstuff by JM Douglass – US Patent 4,859,486, 1989 – Google Patents

Hypersensitivities to sesame and other common edible seeds by A Patel, SL Bahna – Allergy, 2016 – Wiley Online Library

The effects of refining on the chemical composition of Turkish sunflower seed oil by A Karaali – Fette, Seifen, Anstrichmittel, 1985 – Wiley Online Library