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Uses of Vitamin B17 for Cancer

author image Carole Anne Tomlinson
Carole Anne Tomlinson is a registered nurse with experience in rehabilitation, nutrition, chemical dependency, diabetes and health problems related to the elderly. Tomlinson holds a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice and is presently working on her master's degree in nursing. Her screenplays have been viewed by Merchant Ivory, Angela Lansbury and Steven King's associates.
Uses of Vitamin B17 for Cancer
B-17 comes from amygdalin, found in the seeds of apricots and other fruits, vegetables and nuts. Photo Credit: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Vitamin B-17 is misnamed, as it is not actually a vitamin. Vitamins are necessary substances for normal growth, development and maintenance of the human body. Vitamin B-17 is not essential for healthy body functioning and is in actuality, a substance more commonly known as laetrile. Laetrile comes from amygdalin, a plant compound -- found in the seeds of produce such as apricots, almonds and peaches -- that produces cyanide. Laetrile can be purchased as a supplement that claims to prevent and treat cancer, high blood pressure and arthritis.(Reference 1, 2, 3)

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A Warning

Before you decide on your course of action in cancer treatment, please note that B-17 is not an approved treatment for cancer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, proponents of the use of laetrile offer anecdotal evidence that suggests it may have efficacy as a cancer drug. Current research is not sufficient to confirm or deny these claims. In addition, if you choose to use laetrile as a treatment for cancer, be aware that most B-17 is obtained from Mexico. It is vital to note that there are different standards of production and thus, what you receive may not be consistent in content and purity. If you consider this alternative treatment, work closely with your medical provider, search out a reputable supplier and seek immediate medical attention if you develop side effects.(Reference 1,2)

Why Supporters Believe in Laetrile

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are several theories of how laetrile works to kill cancer cells while being non-toxic to normal body cells. It should be noted the ACS is simply reporting these theories and does not endorse the use of this substance as a cancer treatment option. One claim by supporters of laetrile as a cancer treatment is that cancer cells have an enzyme that causes the laetrile molecule to split and release its cyanide. The cancer cell then dies from cyanide poisoning, while the normal cells contain an enzyme that renders laetrile impotent. Another theory is that cancer is actually a vitamin deficiency and that B-17 is the missing vitamin that can cure this deficit.(Reference 1)

Limited Research

The American Cancer Society reports the research on laetrile is limited. The most current is a meta-analysis completed in 1991 that analyzed all studies conducted on laetrile up to that point and starting in the mid-1950's. This analysis found no evidence that laetrile had benefits against tumors in animals. Some proponents of this treatment state that they have treated about 30,000 cancer patients in promising drug studies. Unfortunately, these studies have not been reviewed or replicated by the scientific medical community. Clearly, up-to-date, credible research is needed and would be beneficial in making such an important health decision. (Reference 1)

Side Effects

If, after careful consideration and consultation with your doctor, you choose to use laetrile as a cancer treatment, monitor yourself carefully for side effects. The biggest danger is that laetrile can be converted to cyanide. Therefore, side effects are similar to cyanide poisoning and include headaches, dizziness, lack of oxygen to body tissue, drop in blood pressure, liver damage, fever, and drooping eyelids. Worsening symptoms may include nerve damage, confusion, and coma. Since cyanide is a poison, death is also a possible consequence. .

Increased Risk

According to the Cancer Research UK website, consuming 50 grams of laetrile -- approximately 50 to 60 apricot kernels -- can cause death. This does not mean, however, that less than 50 grams is considered safe. There is no established safe intake level for laetrile. In addition, there are factors that may increase the side effects of B-17. These include taking laetrile orally instead of injecting, consuming foods that contain amygdalin such as almonds, apricots, bean sprouts, fruit pits, peaches, carrots and flaxseeds and ingesting high doses of vitamin C. You have choices on how to deal with cancer and laetrile may be part of your plan. Due to the high risk of negative consequences, be sure to educate yourself, be aware of your body and any changes, and work closely with your provider. (Reference 3)

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