- Laetrile (amygdalin or vitamin B17)
- What laetrile is
- Why people with cancer use it
- How you have it
- Side effects
- Research into laetrile as a cancer treatment
- How much it costs
- A word of caution
- Vitamin B17 Sources and Reasons To Not Skip Them
- Amygdalin: Safe for Cancer Treatment?
- Can Amygdalin (Vitamin B17) Beat Cancer?
Laetrile (amygdalin or vitamin B17)
Laetrile is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment. There is not enough reliable evidence that it works.
- Laetrile is a man-made form of amygdalin, a plant substance found in some nuts, plants and seeds of fruit.
- Claims that laetrile or amygdalin can treat cancer are not backed up by research.
- It contains cyanide, a poison and can cause serious side effects.
What laetrile is
Laetrile is a partly man-made (synthetic) form of the natural substance amygdalin. Amygdalin is a plant substance found in raw nuts, bitter almonds, as well as apricot and cherry seeds. Plants lima beans, clover and sorghum also contain amygdalin.
Some people call laetrile vitamin B17, although it isn’t a vitamin.
Why people with cancer use it
Laetrile has been used as an anti cancer agent since the 1800’s. It is used either on its own or as part of a programme. This might include following a particular diet, high dose vitamin supplements and pancreatic enzymes.
Although, more recent studies have shown that laetrile can kill cancer cells in certain cancer types there is not enough reliable scientific evidence to show that laetrile or amygdalin can treat cancer. Despite this, it still gets promoted as an alternative cancer treatment.
People who use laetrile believe it might:
- improve their health, energy levels and wellbeing
- detoxify and cleanse the body
- help them to live longer
How you have it
Laetrile is available as:
- an injection (intravenously)
- skin lotions
- a liquid to put into the back passage (rectum)
Taking laetrile as tablets has more side effects than having it as an injection. This is because our digestive system breaks down the laetrile and releases cyanide. Cyanide is a type of poison.
Laetrile contains cyanide. So the side effects of laetrile are the same as those of cyanide. These include:
- liver damage
- drooping eyelids
- a lack of oxygen to the body tissues
- a drop in blood pressure
- nerve damage, causing loss of balance and difficulty walking
- confusion, coma and eventually death
Avoid eating other foods containing amygdalin if you take laetrile as tablets. This may include foods :
- raw almonds
- bean sprouts
- beans – mung, lima, butter and other pulses
- flax seed
- high doses of vitamin C
- crushed fruit stones or pips
These foods are safe to eat when you’re not taking laetrile because the levels of amygdalin in them are low.
Laetrile may cause further damage to your liver if you have liver problems.
Research into laetrile as a cancer treatment
Most of the websites or magazines promoting laetrile base their claims on unsupported opinions and anecdotal evidence. There isn’t any scientific evidence that laetrile is an effective treatment for cancer or any other illness.
The Cochrane Library published a systematic review in 2015. This means that a group of experts gather all the evidence about a particular subject and go through it to work out whether there is any evidence to support it.
This review said that the claimed benefits of laetrile are not supported by controlled clinical trials. It also found a risk of serious side effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after taking it by mouth.
How much it costs
No one can sell laetrile in the UK or Europe. There is not enough reliable scientific evidence that it works. It also has serious side effects and is banned in the USA by the Food and Drugs Agency (FDA).
A word of caution
It is understandable that you might want to try anything if you think it might help treat or cure your cancer. Only you can decide whether to use an alternative cancer therapy such as laetrile.
You could harm your health if you stop your cancer treatment for an unproven treatment.
Many websites promote laetrile as a cure for cancer. But no reputable scientific cancer organisations support any of these claims. Be cautious about believing this type of information or paying for any alternative cancer therapy over the internet.
Vitamin B17 Sources and Reasons To Not Skip Them
Sushmita Sengupta | Updated: April 11, 2017 15:21 IST
Vitamin B17, the much hyped vitamin hailed as an antidote to cancer cells, was banned by the FDA of United States of America in the 80’s as a potential cancer treatment, however, a bunch of alternative medicine practitioners still consider the vitamin, also known as Amygdalin or Laetrile, as a ly cure to the deadly disease. The vitamin is found abundantly in the seeds of plants of the prunasin family apricots and apples. Considered as a nitriloside, a natural cyanide containing substance, its extract Laetrile is a popular supplement. Laeterile is touted to prevent cancer development through the production of hydrogen cyanide, however, the theory still stands to be one of the most debated ones in the world.
Its anti-cancerous properties aside, Vitamin B17, especially if derived from natural food sources instead of supplements, can bring in a bevy of health benefits. They include:
- Regulating Hypertension: Vitamin B17 can help regulate hypertension issues due to the formation of thiocyanate, instrumental in lowering high blood pressure.
- Boosts the Immune System: Vitamin B17 is also known to work wonders for the immune system. Dr. Anju Sood, a Bangalore based-nutritionist, hails the biggest benefit of the vitamin to be its potential to increase white blood cells, which improve immunity.
- Great Antioxidant: Some experts also claim the ability of the vitamin to associate with other powerful antioxidants vitamin A, C and E to break down and eradicate toxic cells from our body, thus aiding a natural detox process and promoting overall health.
- Pain Reliever: Vitamin B17 also works as an effective pain reliever.
Sources of Vitamin B17Dr. Anju Sood says, “Identified in early 1800’s, vitamin B 17 belongs to the category of Vitamin B complex. Scientists identified the component Amygdalin, which is responsible for raising the count of white blood cells.”Dr. Sood further says, “As far as cancer is concerned, to put it in layman’s term, the agenda is to curtail the metastasis, which is the proliferation of cancer cells at the expense of normal cells. While the entire medical and science circuit is still racking its brains to come up with a cure to this condition, as nutritionists we are limited to work on hypothesis. The first hypothesis is to increase the intake of antioxidants, which may inhibit the growth of these cancer cells at the onset itself and help healthy cells to grow, or increase the intake of Vitamin B 17, to increase your white blood cells count and boost your immunity.”Speaking of the sources, she said, “The sources are usually bitter in taste, which makes them an unpopular choice among people. The potential benefits of Vitamin B17 were identified through apricot seeds, which were traditionally considered as the seed that brings down metastasis. Other rich sources are bitter almonds and strawberry seeds. Again, these benefits are all hypothesis.”Here is a list of Vitamin B17 sources that should come handy to you, if you are looking to maximise on the benefits of this nutrient –
Many seeds and kernels of various fruits are rich in the vitamin, apricot kernels and seeds being on top of the chart. Other seeds loaded with goodness of vitamin B17 are apple seeds, plum seeds and pear seeds. Tiny seeds of berries, grapes, strawberries and raspberries. Flax seeds, squash seeds, millet seeds and buckwheat seeds are also found to contain this vitamin in adequate amounts.
(Also read: How to Eat Flax Seeds? Health Benefits, Tips and Recipes)
Raspberries, elderberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and wild berries contain the vitamin in pretty abundant quantities.
(Also read:7 Incredible Blueberry Benefits: From Being a Powerful Antioxidant to Regulating Blood Sugar)
3. NutsDid you know that the bitter variant of almond was used in abundance traditionally by the Chinese, Egyptians and Pueblo Indians? In around 1802, it was identified that distilling the water from bitter almonds releases hydrocyanic acid, which could be purified to form Amygdalin. Macedemia nuts and cashew nuts follow next after bitter almonds in terms of vitamin B17 content.
4. Grains and Millets
Load up on sorghum, buckwheat, barley and millet from your kitchen pantry to optimise on the nutritional benefit of the vitamin.
5. Eucalyptus Leaves
Leaves of Eucalyptus are found to contain moderate amounts of vitamin B17. Even spinach leaves are said to have traces of the vitamin.
Bamboo sprouts or bamboo shoots boast of a high content of the vitamin, followed by the sprouts of alfalfa, fava beans and mung sprouts. Whole green gram sprouts also contain the vitamin but in very moderate amounts.
(Also read:10 Best Sprouts Recipes: From Salads to Jalfrezi and More)
Please note: Include these sources to load up on the goodness and nutritional benefits of Vitamin B17. However, if the consumption is inducing toxic and allergic reactions vomiting or headache, stop the intake immediately and consult your doctor.
About Sushmita SenguptaSharing a strong penchant for food, Sushmita loves all things good, cheesy and greasy. Her other favourite pastime activities other than discussing food includes, reading, watching movies and binge-watching TV shows.
Amygdalin: Safe for Cancer Treatment?
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Amygdalin is a compound found in the pits or seeds of apricots, apples, peaches, plums, red cherries, and other fruits. It's also in bitter almonds.
A partly man-made, purified form of amygdalin, known as Laetrile, was patented in the 1950s and became a popular alternative cancer treatment during the 1960s and '70s. It's now banned by the FDA and hasn't been available in the U.S. since 1980.
Many websites tout the benefits of amygdalin (also called nitriloside, purasin, and vitamin B17) for cancer. Though these sites post stories of personal successes after using it, the scientific proof simply isn't there.
The way your intestines break it down makes cyanide, which supposedly kills harmful cancer cells.
Some people have also suggested that it teams up with enzymes in cancer cells to destroy them.
Others say the cancer was caused because you didn't have enough “vitamin B17.” But there's no proof that amygdalin acts a vitamin in your body or that you even need it. Calling it a vitamin is a way to get around regulations for drugs.
Animal and lab studies of amygdalin have mixed results. Several found no benefit, while others suggest the chemical has a slight effect on certain kinds of cancer cells. It might help relieve pain.
To date, there haven't been any “controlled clinical trials” on amygdalin. This means scientists haven't compared people who receive the treatment to people who don't.
The most obvious reason is that amygdalin can cause cyanide poisoning. Your blood pressure could drop very low, you may damage your liver, or you might go into a coma. In the worst-case scenario, high doses — 50-60 apricot kernels, or 50 grams of Laetrile — can kill you.
Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include:
These problems are usually worse when you swallow amygdalin rather than injecting it.
You're more ly to have a bad reaction if you also take high doses of vitamin C or eat foods :
- Raw almonds
- Crushed fruit pits
- Beans such as butter, lima, and mung
- Bean sprouts
Because amygdalin isn't FDA-approved, it could have dangerous ingredients. Products from Mexico, the main supplier of amygdalin, have been reported with bacteria and other harmful substances in them.
Amygdalin is an unproven treatment that could hurt you.
Talk to your doctor about any alternative or complementary therapy you think might help.
Food Chemistry: “Amygdalin Content of Seeds, Kernels and Food Products Commercially-available in the UK.”
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Quantification of amygdalin in nonbitter, semibitter, and bitter almonds (Prunus dulcis) by UHPLC-(ESI)QqQ MS/MS.”
National Cancer Institute: “Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ®)–Patient Version: Overview,” “Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ®)–Patient Version: Questions and Answers About Laetrile/Amygdalin.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Amygdalin.”
Cancer Research UK: “Laetrile (amygdalin or vitamin B17).”
CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians: “Laetrile: A Lesson in Cancer Quackery.”
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Holistic Care
Can Amygdalin (Vitamin B17) Beat Cancer?
Morsa Images / Digital Vision / Getty Images
Vitamin B17 is a commonly used name for a chemical called amygdalin. Typically sourced from apricot pits and bitter almonds, amygdalin is used to make laetrile (a compound said to aid in the treatment of cancer). Although they're frequently referred to as “vitamin B17,” neither amygdalin nor laetrile is truly a B vitamin.
Laetrile is often claimed to treat cancer naturally. It is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
Some proponents of laetrile suggest that cancer occurs as a result of a vitamin deficiency. Such proponents claim that consumption of the so-called vitamin B17 can reverse this deficiency and, in turn, aid in the treatment or prevention of cancer.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states there is no evidence that laetrile is needed by the body or that laetrile can act as a vitamin in animals or humans.
Amygdalin is found naturally in raw nuts and in the pits of many fruits. It's also present in plants lima beans, clover, and sorghum.
Amygdalin produces cyanide, which is a toxic substance. Cyanide is thought to be a primary cancer-fighting component of laetrile and amygdalin. It's said that the cyanide released into the body by these substances can kill off cancer cells.
Developed in the United States in the 1950s, laetrile is claimed to act as a nontoxic form of amygdalin. Still, laetrile has been found to trigger a range of side effects similar to those of cyanide poisoning.
Use of laetrile is associated with the following side effects: blue coloring of the skin, confusion, difficulty walking, dizziness, droopy upper eyelids, headache, liver damage, low blood pressure, nausea, nerve damage, and vomiting. Cyanide poisoning can be life-threatening and may result in death.
According to the National Cancer Institute, use of laetrile is associated with increased risk of coma or death.
There's concern that vitamin C may boost the amount of cyanide released from laetrile in the body and, as a result, lead to increased risk of toxicity.
Claims that laetrile or amygdalin can benefit cancer patients are not supported by sound clinical data, according to a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2015.
For this report, scientists analyzed 69 previously published studies evaluating the supposedly anti-cancer effects and possible adverse effects of laetrile and amygdalin. However, none of these studies was found to be sufficiently rigorous to meet the reviewers' criteria.
In their conclusion, the report's authors note that consumption of laetrile or amygdalin carries a considerable risk of serious adverse effects resulting from cyanide poisoning.
To that end, the authors state “On the basis of the available data, there is neither scientific nor ethical justification for clinical trials with laetrile or amygdalin in the management of cancer at the moment.”
In several preliminary studies published in recent years, researchers have observed that amygdalin may possess some anti-cancer properties. These are seen in vitro, (in cell lines) or in animal models.
One example is a study published in Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology in 2013, for instance, indicates that amygdalin may protect against cervical cancer. In tests on human cells, researchers observed that amygdalin may combat cervical cancer by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).
Further research is needed before amygdalin can be recommended for the prevention or treatment of cancer.
While there's no known way to prevent cancer, certain practices may help lower your cancer risk. These practices include avoiding smoking and tobacco use, getting screened for precancerous conditions, following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you're thinking of using vitamin B17 for the prevention or treatment of cancer, it's crucial to consult your physician first. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.
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National Cancer Institute. Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ)—Patient Version. Updated April 5, 2018.
National Cancer Institute. Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ)—Health Professional Version. Updated October 25, 2019.
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Song Z, Xu X. Advanced research on anti-tumor effects of amygdalin. J Cancer Res Ther. 2014 Aug;10 Suppl 1:3-7. doi:10.4103/0973-1482.139743
Chen Y, Ma J, Wang F, Hu J, Cui A, Wei C, Yang Q, Li F. Amygdalin induces apoptosis in human cervical cancer cell line HeLa cells. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2013 Feb;35(1):43-51. doi:10.3109/08923973.2012.738688