Looking for vitamin B17 supplements? These pills are banned in the U.S. and carry serious side effects. Laetrile, their active compound, occurs naturally in the seeds of apples, apricots, plums and other fruits. What you might not know is that it's highly toxic and has no proven benefits.
Vitamin B17 is banned in the U.S. Some manufacturers sell it on the black market, but its risks outweigh any potential benefits. Loss of consciousness, seizures, dizziness, nerve damage and coma are all common adverse reactions.
What Is Vitamin B17?
Vitamin B17, or laetrile, was heavily promoted as a cure for cancer back in the '80s. This compound is also referred to as amygdalin. However, laetrile and amygdalin are not the same, according to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Each substance has a slightly different chemical composition, but they're both converted to hydrogen cyanide, a dangerous toxin.
Amygdalin and laetrile, its synthetic version, are found in the seeds or kernels of several fruits, especially apricots. None of them is an actual vitamin. In fact, hydrogen cyanide — or prussic acid — was a key component of the toxic gas used in Nazi concentration camps, as the ACSH notes.
The reason why you won't find vitamin B17 for sale is that this so-called nutrient doesn't exist in the first place. Some manufacturers, though, sell laetrile or amygdalin tablets illegally on social networks and other online platforms. These products have been banned by the FDA. Yet, they continue to be marketed as safe, natural remedies for cancer and other ailments.
Apricot kernels are not the only source of amygdalin. This compound also occurs naturally in clover, raw nuts and some types of beans, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). After ingestion, it's broken down into cyanide. Proponents say that cyanide exhibits anti-cancer properties, although there is little evidence to support these claims.
The so-called vitamin B17 is available in tablet and injectable form. Sometimes, it's used in combination with other dietary supplements. To reiterate, however, its side effects outweigh any potential benefits.
Vitamin B17 Supplements and Cancer
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. It's estimated that over 38 percent of Americans will develop this disease sooner or later. According to a report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians in January 2019, about 505,880 men and women will die from cancer this year. Lung cancer alone will claim approximately 142,670 lives.
The same source states that 37.7 percent of women and 39.3 percent of men are likely to be diagnosed with invasive cancer. Lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancers are the most common forms of the disease. Despite medical advances, few treatment options have been developed over the past years.
Considering these facts, it's not surprising that "miracle" pills like vitamin B17 gain popularity. The black market is flooded with laetrile supplements, amygdalin tablets and other natural remedies with no proven benefits.
As the NCI points out, current research doesn't support the role of laetrile in cancer treatment. In two studies, cancer patients treated with benzaldehyde — an organic compound derived from laetrile — experienced improvements in their symptoms, but the effects were temporary.
The NCI mentions two clinical trials assessing the efficacy of amygdalin. This compound has been proven safe at the prescribed doses, but its effects lasted only during treatment.
A research paper published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in April 2015 confirms that laetrile or amygdalin are ineffective for cancer treatment and may cause adverse reactions arising from cyanide poisoning. Oral ingestion poses the greatest risk.
Proponents say that vitamin B17 supplements may prevent and cure arthritis, reduce blood pressure, cleanse the body and increase lifespan. However, these claims lack scientific proof. Its side effects, on the other hand, are well-documented.
Laetrile Side Effects
As the NCI points out, laetrile may cause mild to severe reactions, including nausea and vomiting, nerve damage, fever, coma and even death. Furthermore, it may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels and reduce oxygen in the blood. It becomes even more harmful when combined with vitamin C, crushed fruit pits and certain fruits or vegetables.
In August 2017, the journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine described the case of a woman who came to the ER after taking amygdalin tablets. Her symptoms included abdominal pain, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, dizziness and altered level of consciousness. Her blood pressure decreased from 116/61 mm Hg (systolic/diastolic) to 61/38 mm Hg in as little as one hour. These side effects were due to the ingestion of vitamin B17.
According to researchers, there are approximately 30 milligrams of cyanide in 500 milligrams of amygdalin. When ingested, this substance is 40 times more potent compared to the injectable form. It takes just 50 milligrams of cyanide to kill a person. The case described in the above report involved the ingestion of 1.5 grams of amygdalin, which contains about 90 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide.
A recent review published in Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports in July 2018 analyzed several case studies involving amygdalin and laetrile. Patients who ate foods containing amygdalin or took laetrile tablets experienced seizures, heart palpitations, decreased blood pressure and peripheral neuropathy, among other side effects.
For example, a 32-year old woman who took vitamin B17 supplements developed diabetes insipidus, a rare condition characterized by frequent urination and extreme thirst. A 41-year old man who swallowed 30 apricot kernels showed signs of toxicity within 20 minutes. Other symptoms of cyanide poisoning may include edema, shortness of breath, anxiety, drowsiness and cardiovascular events.
Are There Any Health Benefits?
Some studies suggest that amygdalin and laetrile may benefit cancer patients. However, these tests were performed in vitro (an artificial environment, such as a test tube or plastic vessel). Therefore, the results may not apply to humans.
A February 2018 review featured in the journal Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology assessed the effects of amygdalin in vitro. This compound has been shown to induce cancer cell death and prevent metastasis. Furthermore, it may reduce inflammation, which is a major risk factor for cancer. Note, though, that the clinical tests cited in the review didn't involve humans or animals.
Several other studies support the beneficial effects of vitamin B17, but most are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. Under these circumstances, it's hard to determine their accuracy.
One thing is sure: health organizations worldwide advise against the use of amygdalin, laetrile and other over-the-counter supplements that claim to prevent or cure diseases. Stay on the safe side and consult your doctor before taking any drugs or natural remedies.
- ACSH: "Laetrile, Amygdalin, Vitamin B17: Different Names, Same Poison"
- NCBI: "Effects of the Gut Microbiota on Amygdalin and Its Use as an Anti-Cancer Therapy: Substantial Review on the Key Components Involved in Altering Dose Efficacy and Toxicity"
- FDA: "Illegally Sold Cancer Treatments"
- FDA: "Warning Letter"
- National Cancer Institute: "Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ®) – Patient Version"
- National Cancer Institute: "Cancer Statistics"
- CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians: "Cancer Statistics, 2019"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Laetrile Treatment for Cancer (Review)"
- Case Reports in Emergency Medicine: "Physician Beware: Severe Cyanide Toxicity From Amygdalin Tablets Ingestion"
- Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports: "Effects of the Gut Microbiota on Amygdalin and Its Use as an Anti-Cancer Therapy: Substantial Review on the Key Components Involved in Altering Dose Efficacy and Toxicity"
- NIH.gov: "Diabetes Insipidus"
- Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology: "Molecular Mechanism of Amygdalin Action in Vitro: Review of the Latest Research"
- National Cancer Institute: "Chronic Inflammation"