It’s found in nuts, berries, leafy greens, sprouts, tubers, and in abundance in the pits of fruits like apricot, peach, and cherry. There are a couple of reasons you’ve never heard of vitamin B17—number 1: it’s illegal to sell as a supplement in North America.
Amygdalin is the active compound of vitamin B17; its synthetic (manufactured) form is called laetrile. Laetrile was used as an alternate cancer treatment until 1980 when it was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This compound contains cyanide, which is a known poison—that’s why the FDA made it illegal to sell as a dietary supplement.
In the 1970s before its ban, laetrile was a subject of interest at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Ralph Moss was its Assistant Director of Public Affairs during this time and has since become a vocal author and lecturer on alternative therapies for cancer. In an interview, he talks about what he learned while at Sloan Kettering:
“Shortly after I went to work [at Sloan Kettering], I visited the elderly Japanese scientist, Kanematsu Sugiura, who astonished me when he told me he was working on Laetrile (B17). At the time it was the most controversial thing in cancer, reputed to be a cure for cancer. We in Public Affairs were giving out statements that laetrile was worthless, it was quackery, and that people should not abandon proven therapies. I was astonished that our most distinguished scientist would be bothering with something like this, and I said, ‘Why are you doing this if it doesn’t work?’ He took down his lab books and showed me that in fact Laetrile was dramatically effective in stopping the spread of cancer…We were finding this and yet we in Public Affairs were told to issue statements to the exact opposite of what we were finding scientifically.” (1)
Dr. Moss’ exposé generated controversy around laetrile and expanded to include the natural form of amygdalin found in plants, vitamin B17. His position (after being fired from Sloan Kettering as the result of statements like these) is that the medical establishment was suppressing research into natural treatments for cancer.
Other investigators have come to similar conclusions, such as G. Edward Griffin—an author, film-maker, and advocate for natural cancer treatment. In his book World Without Cancer with Dr. John Richardson, Griffin wrote:
“Every Laetrile study had been tarnished with the same kind of scientific ineptitude, bias and outright deception… Some of these studies openly admitted evidence of anti-cancer effect but hastened to attribute this effect to other causes. Some were toxicity studies only, which means that they weren’t trying to see if Laetrile was effective, but merely to determine how much of it was required to kill the patient.” (Ibid.)
The cyanide content of amygdalin is in the form of a cyanogenic glucoside of the nitriloside family of water-soluble sugar compounds found in plants. Science has studied this substance and found that it inhibits cancer cell growth and causes cell apoptosis (death) in kidney, breast, and prostate cancer cells. (2, 3, 4) Cancer cells contain an enzyme called glucosidase at three thousand times the level in a healthy cell.
When this enzyme comes into contact with a nitriloside, a chemical reaction breaks down the nitriloside into hydrogen cyanide and benzaldehyde. The cyanide kills the cell. A healthy cell doesn’t contain enough glucosidase to release the cyanide.
In essence, amygdalin is toxic only to abnormal cells, leaving the healthy ones intact.
We eat foods that contain amygdalin all the time, so apparently small amounts of cyanide aren’t harmful or you’d drop dead after eating a handful of blueberries.
Bitter almonds are rich in amygdalin. The trees from which they grow are illegal in the United States, although the seeds (almonds of any variety are actually seeds and not nuts) can be used to make essential oil extracts. Sweet almonds (bitter almonds’ cousin) also contain high amounts of amygdalin—they are illegal to be sold raw in the United States:
“In 2007, the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] mandated that all U.S. grown almonds be pasteurized (heated) or, for non-organic almonds, gassed with the toxic gas propylene oxide (PPO), a probable human carcinogen. Almonds treated with PPO are banned in Canada and the European Union but allowed, even encouraged by the ban, in the US. Don’t be fooled if you’ve seen U.S. almonds labeled ‘raw’. The USDA allows almond growers and processors to label almonds as ‘raw’ even though they’ve been pasteurized or gassed…Pasteurization destroys enzymes and valuable phytonutrients and lowers vitamin E content.” [emphasis added] (5)
The seed with the highest content of B17 is the apricot. The seeds are sold and safely eaten in other countries for their health benefits, not the least of which as a protectant from cancer. It’s easy enough to buy a bunch of apricots, break open the pits, and eat the seeds. While too much of this nutrient can tax the liver, you’d have to eat fifty or sixty a day every day for it to have any negative effect.
If you choose to add apricot seeds to your diet as a cancer preventative or treatment, you’d better stock up now before apricot trees become illegal, too.
Number 2 reason you’ve never heard of B17: it kills cancer.
Because vitamin B17 is still a source of controversy in the Western medical community as a cancer treatment and the FDA has already banned it, very little money is put into further research. Mainstream media have dismissed its medicinal use as quackery.
Elsewhere in Griffin’s book, he remarks:
“I think it’s important for people to understand that government, in most cases, is not the solution; it’s the problem. As long as people think that the government is supposed to take care of them and protect them and that they can trust their politicians–as long as they think that, they’re in deep trouble. And, in fact, we are all in deep trouble because of that kind of thinking.” (6)
Food for thought.