George Krucik, MD, MBA
Some cancer patients turn to nutritional "cures" or treatments in an effort to treat their disease. Some consider vitamin B-17 one such possible nutritional cure, and some manufacturers make claims that cancer patients can cure their diseases by using it. However, little to no evidence indicates that B-17 cures cancer, and it can lead to significant and deadly health consequences. Always talk to a physician if you need medical advice about B-17 or other dietary supplements and self-purported cancer cures.
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Vitamin B-17 is not really a vitamin at all, but the name given to the chemical compound amygdalin, or its purified form, known as laetrile, according to the National Cancer Institute. Amygdalin is found naturally in some foods, especially fruit pits such as apricot and peach pits. While early users of amygdalin used the substance as a cancer treatment in the late 19th century, subsequent users determined the substance was too toxic and unsafe. Amygdalin contains sugar and produces cyanide in the body, which many researchers consider to be amygdalin's active ingredient.
While some proponents of vitamin B-17 might claim the substance is a cancer sure, almost no evidence supports this claim. According to Dr. Benjamin Wilson, writing for QuackWatch, the National Cancer Institute conducted several studies of laetrile's effectiveness as a cancer treatment. One study examined 178 cancer patients who took laetrile. Not a single patient receiving the compound was cured, nor did any of them see their cancer stabilized. In those still alive after seven months, their tumors actually had increased in size.
The National Cancer Institute says laetrile has side effects that are very similar to the symptoms of cyanide poisoning, including minor symptoms such as headache, dizziness and nausea, and more serious side effects such as low blood pressure, liver damage, nerve damage, coma and death. Orally administered laetrile produces more severe side effects than injected laetrile.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is responsible for ensuring that all drugs sold in the U.S. meet safety standards, and must approve any cancer treatment before manufacturers can sell it. The FDA has not approved amygdalin or laetrile as a cancer treatment, nor as a treatment for any other medical condition, though it is legally available in Mexico.