Cancer and Vitamin B-17: Is the cure for cancer in almonds?

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Recently, you may have received a message or a video on WhatsApp claiming that cancer is a hoax and is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B17, otherwise called Amygdalin. Just load up on some B17, and you’re cured! Seems a bit too good to be true, if you think about it. But is it true? Today, we dig deeper into cancer, almonds and apricot seeds to see what they are, how they work and if it will heal you or harm you. 

What is Cancer?

First and foremost, we need to understand what cancer is. The word itself scares the daylights out of anyone who hears it, and many people think it’s a deadly disease that is definitely going to kill you. Yet others believe there’s a sinister conspiracy behind it which is being used to keep us sick and the pharmaceuticals industry rich. We’ll come back to that last one in a bit. 

You’ve probably heard of the many different names that cancer has and the various organs in which it happens. What if I was to tell you that each one of those is a different type of cancer. In fact, there are over 100 forms of cancer that affect humans, and each of them can even be considered a different disease. So cancer is not one disease, it’s a group of disorders. 

But there is one thing that is common among all the different types of cancer: it’s when cells lose the ability to die. I know that sounds like a fantastic superpower - to be immortal - but it really isn’t. When cells like this start reproducing more of their own, they start using up the nerves, blood and oxygen supply and all the nutrition in the area and depriving healthy cells. And as it grows, it keeps gobbling up more and more until they suffocate the entire region and start spreading to other organs. When cancer spreads like that it’s called Metastasis. And that’s usually one of the last stages. Then, multiple organs start shutting down, and the end draws near. 

The body, however, doesn’t let this go unchecked. Even now, your body has lots of cancerous cells in it that the immune system gets rid of on a regular basis. It’s only when they outsmart the immune system that they gain a foothold.

The Usual Treatment

There is a wide range of treatments for cancer, each depending on the type of cancer and how far it’s progressed. The most common ones are:

  • Chemotherapy: a cocktail of medicines that are meant to kill and/or slow down cancer. It usually has extreme and unfortunate side-effects, but the benefits greatly outweigh the harms.

  • Radiation Therapy: Which targets specific types of intense radiation to the cancerous tissue to kill the cells directly.

  • Surgery: This is when the cancer is surgically removed from the body. The patient will usually go through radiation and/or chemotherapy to clean up any remaining bits of tissue that could still be cancerous.

  • Bone Marrow Transplants: In the case of blood cancer or some other types, large portions of the bone marrow of a person can be replaced.

These are just of the more common treatments for this. There are more options, but they are beyond the scope of this article. You can find out more about cancer here

Alternative Treatments

Cancer is always referred to by many who sell alternative medicines as it’s the holy grail of medicine to be able to treat cancer without adverse side-effects. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) practitioners and companies often use this to leverage their treatments. How many times have you seen or heard that such-and-such treatment “… reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system and can even fight cancer”? 

The problem with CAM is that there is no alternative medication out there that has shown any promise to treat cancer. There are many examples of people who have tried to treat cancer through diets or alternative therapies and have unfortunately failed, with fatal consequences. 

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Vitamin B-17

Now finally down to what you’ve been waiting for. Many people are drawn to a message that says a horrible disease(s) like cancer can be treated by something as simple as apricot pits. Who wants to go through months or even years of gruelling cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation when a cure could be this simple, and so seemingly harmless. 

First, just because something is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Arsenic is natural, but also a poison, as is Botox, which comes from the bacteria which causes botulism, one of the deadliest diseases on the planet! Given, Botox is used in plastic surgery, but that’s only in minuscule quantities and that too to give a fuller look to a face because of all the extreme swelling it causes. Another natural poison is hydrogen cyanide. Why is this important? Because when you consume amygdalin in the form of almonds, peach pits or apple seeds, the process of digestion breaks the amygdalin down to form cyanide. Yes. THAT Cyanide - that world-renowned poison that every action movie uses to kill people. 

Haven’t we learned from the time we were children that apple seeds contain enough poison to kill an elephant? It may be exaggerated, but apple seeds are poisonous indeed. That is also the reason why almonds are always soaked or roasted before eating. This neutralises the amygdalin or nullifies its effects.

Remember: Natural doesn't mean harmless

The History of Amygdalin

Amygdalin was first discovered by two French scientists in 1830. It was soon thrown out as a treatment for cancer as it proved to be too poisonous. In 1950, Dr Ernst T Krebs Jr. isolated laetrile, the trade name for laevo-mandelonitrile-beta-glucuronoside. Yeah, laetrile is easier to pronounce.

Do note that this gentleman was neither an actual doctor nor a doctorate. He was given the title of “Doctor of Science” by an evangelical Christian college called American Christian College. Dr Benjamin Wilson, MD, (a real doctor) in his excellent article on laetrile says this so-called college was

“a small, now-defunct Bible college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The school, founded by evangelist Billy James Hargis, had no science department and lacked authority from Oklahoma to grant any doctoral degrees.”

The history of Amygdalin has other connections to fundamentalist Christianity, which we'll come to a bit later.

Dr Benjamin Wilson describes how laetrile got turned into vitamin B17:

They (Krebs and his institute) claimed that cancer tissues are rich in an enzyme that causes amygdalin to release cyanide which destroys the cancer cells. According to this theory, noncancerous tissues are protected from this fate by another enzyme which renders the cyanide harmless. After enforcement agencies began trying to ban Laetrile as a drug, the Krebs claimed that amygdalin is a vitamin (B17) and that cancer is caused by a deficiency of this vitamin. None of these theories is valid.

Claims for Laetrile effectiveness have also shifted. At first, it was claimed to cure cancer. Later it was claimed to "control" cancer. When the "vitamin" theory was developed, it was touted as a cancer preventive.

Steven Novella, MD, academic clinical Neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, in a Science-Based Medicine blog describes how Eric Hovind, a Christian evangelist, was selling amygdalin under the name Vitamin B17 for a while until the US’s Food & Drug Administration forced him to shut it down:

Hovind’s God Quest, Inc, doing business as Creation Today, until recently was selling laetrile as a cancer cure. Laetrile was given the fake name, “vitamin B17” to make it seem more natural when of course it is not a vitamin at all. Hovind was selling amygdalin, raw bitter apricot seeds (which contain amygdalin) and the quack book, World Without Cancer, which promotes both laetrile and the conspiracy theory that the medical establishment is hiding a cure for cancer.

I said that Hovind was selling this snake oil until recently because he had to stop due to FDA action. They sent him a letter, which itself is very revealing, citing him for selling laetrile with illegal health claims. In the US the claims make the drug – in other words, part of what defines a substance as a drug under FDA control is that it is claimed to treat an actual disease. Hovind was careful not to make any explicit disease claims on his website, as you can see above. He implies claims, but never says that laetrile treats cancer.

As you can see, Krebs kept trying to shift the terms for the use of laetrile, not because he cared whether it worked or not, but rather so that he could continue selling it somehow, regardless of how it affects those that take it. This is something that really pisses me off. He obviously knew that there was something very wrong about his claims, but he stuck to his story and kept promoting this snake-oil under some guise or another, with not a care of the people he was poisoning.

The Proof of the Poison

A Cochrane systematic review (one of the gold standards of research) in 2015 of all the clinical studies of Laetrile that had been done to find if it was a treatment for cancer stated:

“The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.”

This has been corroborated by numerous studies done on this chemical and none of them has shown an ounce of evidence that laetrile or amygdalin have any value in any aspect of cancer or any other ailment. However, the dangers of consuming it have been shown many times.

That’s why you need to stay as far away from this as possible.

MainStream Medicine

Despite all this, the popularity of amygdalin and laetrile has been growing with the market for alternative medicine. People who are particularly biased towards CAM feel automatically drawn to amygdalin too.

However, this whole thing is pure fiction. Amygdalin has never shown any positive effect on anyone for any reason since it was first discovered. The only people promoting it are the ones who are benefiting from selling it.

Now, you might think that mainstream pharmaceutical companies and doctors are only selling cancer treatments because they are the ones benefitting from it. However, it’s not just Big Pharma that has conducted tests on this. Independent laboratories across the world have tested the effects of laetrile and have found only poisonous results. Government organisations have verified this and have banned the substance across many countries. That may be one of the reasons the WhatsApp message is being read out by an automated voice so that no one can identify the seller. 

Adding to this, the pharmaceutical industries are not the evil, malicious organisations most people think. Yes, they are in it for profit. Yes, they have done some greedy things, and they continue to do so. But there are many other parties involved in the process of getting drugs on the shelves and into hospitals, like:

  1. Independent researchers in colleges or laboratories, who have to do years of testing going from Petri dishes to animal tests to double-blinded, controlled, peer-reviewed human trials. And it’s not just one lab involved - it’s many of them working on different aspects of various methodologies, writing multitudes of papers which are then replicated by other labs to see if their experiments actually work or not.

  2. Regulatory bodies who need to see reliable evidence that a certain drug is relatively safe and has all its potential side-effects found and listed.

  3. Doctors, who may be influenced by pharmaceutical companies but have an obligation to use what works for their patients.

Medicines have a long, tough journey from discovery to the shelf of a drug store. Sometimes bad ones get through, but they are usually thrown out as soon as they are noticed to be harmful to patients.

Even if there was some sort of conspiracy to stop more effective cancer treatments from being used, it would fall apart considering the tens of thousands of people, even millions, who are active in the realm cancer research.

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Conclusion

When it comes to cancer, there is a tremendous amount of money being pumped in by governments, NGOs and private citizens to find more reliable and safer treatments. If a lab discovers a safe, side-effect free way to cure cancer, it will be tested by other institutes to see if it works. If it does, the scientists who discover it will get Nobel prizes, tons of grant money, patent revenue and the admiration of the entire scientific community and millions of cancer patients worldwide. No organisation is capable of hushing millions of people or keeping secrets for decades at a time.

Even with today's treatment regimes, thanks to the scientific contributions of all the cancer researchers and oncologists till date, cancer is no longer the death sentence it used to be. There are millions of cancer survivors living full, healthy lives today. They are a testament to the fact that cancer treatments are already being used and being made more effective with each passing day.

If you or someone you care about has cancer, there’s no need to be scared for your life or to start eating raw almonds, apple seeds or peach pits. Modern medicine does work wonders, without the need for alternatives.

And if you don’t have cancer, get screened on a regular basis. That's the most effective way to catch a developing cancer before it grows uncontrollably. Also, eat well, and eat healthily. The stronger your body is, the better it can fight cancers and infections.

Till next time, stay healthy, and question everything.

Do you have questions about this article? Do you think vitamin B17 is legit? What do you feel about alternative medicines? Tell me in the comments. 

And follow this blog for more articles like this.

Dig Deeper

If you want to dig deeper still, here's an excellent video that describes the science behind the amygdalin issue. Professor Stick has made another video about this and the link is given under the video on YouTube. Check it out.

  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/laetrile-vitamin-b17#section1

  • https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/cancer-vitamin-b17-deficiency/

  • https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/laetrile

  • https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/55517/is-cancer-caused-by-vitamin-b17-deficiency

  • https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-news-supplements/vitamin-b17-not-vitamin

  • https://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Cancer/laetrile.html

  • https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/faith-and-supplements-b17