Vitamin B-17 is also referred to as amygdalin or laetrile and is rumored to have anti-cancer abilities. How much scientific proof is there behind these claims, and what are the potential vitamin B-17 benefits? This article explores the facts behind this supposed alternative cancer treatment.
What Is Vitamin B-17?
First of all, vitamin B-17 is a misnomer, because there is no vitamin B-17. The drug laetrile is made up partly of amygdalin, a substance found in many beans, nuts, and plant seeds like apricot seeds.
It came to notice in the mid-20th century due to claims that this substance could help treat cancer patients, but clinical trials provide very skimpy scientific evidence to back up this claim. Moreover this drug is banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States due to a lack of reliable data and its close relation to cyanide. So how did it come to be known as vitamin B-17, and why was it ever promoted as a cancer treatment?
The Origin of Vitamin B-17 and Laetrile
The term “vitamin B-17” was coined and patented by Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. in 1952 to describe the drug laetrile, but the term was never approved by the Committee on Nomenclature of the American Institute of Nutrition Vitamins. The basis of this drug’s use for cancer treatment came from his father, Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Sr., who derived amygdalin from apricot kernels and almonds, natural substances that can release cyanide, a lethal toxin to living organisms.
Dr. Krebs, Sr. theorized that this lethality could be used to kill cancer cells. Dr. Krebs, Jr. worked extensively throughout the 1970s to tweak his father’s formula and prove that it could treat cancer, but the results simply were not there.
He also claimed that all cancers were caused by vitamin deficiency, which is not true, hence the name chosen for vitamin B-17. This was not the first time the father-and-son duo had attempted to invent a vitamin. They also created what they called vitamin B-15 (pangamic acid, also derived from apricot pits), which they claimed could cure many different diseases. Those claims were found to be without merit as well.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that there is no evidence of the substance being useful in the fight against cancer or that it’s a vitamin of any sort. Moreover, they pointed out that so-called vitamin B-17 leads to cyanide production in the human body, which can be lethal.
Does Amygdalin Produce Cyanide?
If amygdalin is the main ingredient in vitamin B-17, and that drug can lead to cyanide toxicity, then why aren’t nuts and seeds giving you cyanide poisoning? Let’s run through the foods that contain natural amygdalin.
The substance can be found in:
- Seeds: Buckwheat, millet, and flaxseeds.
- Nuts: Raw nuts like macadamia nuts, raw almonds, and bitter almonds.
- Fruit pits: The pits of cherries, pears, plums, apples, and apricots.
- Vegetables: Butter beans, bean sprouts, celery, mung beans, lima beans, and carrots.
No doctor is going to tell you that eating beans, nuts, fruits, and seeds is unhealthy, so where’s the disconnect between amygdalin and vitamin B-17?
Laetrile is a synthetic, man-made form of amygdalin, and while the original claim from Dr. Krebs stated that it was nontoxic, it has nevertheless been shown to trigger effects similar to cyanide poisoning, thus making it inappropriate for cancer therapy, or for any use by humans at all.
When vitamin B-17 and other forms of laetrile enter the human body either via pill or injection, they’re converted to hydrogen cyanide, which can suffocate (deny oxygen) to cells, killing them. While there is some thought that this is what could cause an anti-cancer effect (much like chemotherapy is toxic to both cancer and its human host alike), the scientific evidence is insufficient to merit the risk of poisoning.
Possible Vitamin B-17 Benefits
You may hear “cyanide poisoning” and stop listening right away, because what benefits could outweigh the risk of that? How many spy movies have you seen where someone has a cyanide suicide pill in a necklace or a false tooth so they can die immediately before they are questioned by the enemy?
Still, having been used and studied for years, there actually are some recorded benefits associated with amygdalin, including in the areas of pain relief, immunity strength, and blood pressure levels. We’ll include them here, followed by the risks posed by this banned substance, so you have a systematic review of the available information.
Lower Blood Pressure
The breakdown of vitamin B-17 (aka laetrile) produces three substances in the body: prunasin, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. It’s the hydrogen cyanide that is responsible for the health benefits, and the main agent thought to fight cancer cells. It’s also the ingredient that makes this so-called treatment so dangerous.
The body is able to convert some hydrogen cyanide molecules into a less toxic substance known as thiocyanate. Thiocyanate has been used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) in the past, though it, too, is no longer used because of its toxifying effects.
However, one study showed that the natural amygdalin in apricot seeds helped lower the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of 72 participants over the age of 40 by at least 25% when consumed alongside vitamin C.
There are animal studies that have found that natural amygdalin may reduce pain by lowering inflammation levels, though there are no human studies in this area to confirm this link.
Immune System Support
This laboratory study found that natural amygdalin boosts the efficacy of immune cells adhering to prostate cancer cells—at long last some evidence of positive cancer interaction! However, this is still only one study, done in a test tube and not a living animal or human subject, with non-synthetic amygdalin only.
Spurious Claims of Vitamin B-17’s Cancer Treatment
Now that you’ve seen the scientifically backed uses of amygdalin, here are the theories concocted around vitamin B-17’s supposed ability to cure cancer. They are pretty flimsy, but they are as follows.
- Cancer cells may kill themselves with this cyanide pill. This theory presented by the Krebs family suggests that cancer cells are full of enzymes that can convert vitamin B-17 into cyanide, and that by breaking down the substance, they poison and kill themselves. There is no evidence that cancer cells contain such enzymes.
- Cancer is caused by vitamin B-17 (amygdalin deficiency). Not only is vitamin B-17 not recognized as a vitamin, but amygdalin isn’t either. Moreover, amygdalin is not found naturally in the body, and so there is no such thing as an amygdalin deficiency. You’re just as likely to be deficient in the fictional substance unobtainium.
- Hydrogen cyanide will cause cancer cell death. Hydrogen cyanide causes cell death, that is true, but it does not differentiate between cancer cells or healthy cells in the body, which is why it’s so dangerous.
The Deadly Side Effects of Vitamin B-17
There is no evidence in existence showing that “vitamin B-17” can treat cancer. There is, however, evidence that the effects of laetrile can bring about disastrous consequences due to hydrogen cyanide poisoning. Those side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and dizziness
- Bluish skin due to lack of oxygen in the blood
- Liver damage
- Excessively low blood pressure
- Ptosis (droopy upper eyelid)
- Trouble walking due to nerve damage
If It Quacks Like A Duck…
Vitamin B-17, or laetrile treatment for cancer, has been dubbed quackery by the greater scientific community. The supposed cancer-fighting logic behind its use for alternative cancer treatment in the first place was shallow at best and toxic from the get-go.
With benefits attributed only to the natural form of amygdalin and not the synthetic form, plus the risk of poisoning and death that accompanies the synthetic form, this controversial so-called cancer treatment should be avoided at all costs.