Does vitamin B17 cure cancer?

An article shared thousands of times on Facebook since it was published on August 6 assures that “there is no disease such as cancer, since it is only a vitamin B17 deficiency”, also known as laetrile or amygdalin. According to the digital portal Al Día Utah , in which the article was published, “although the cure for cancer has existed for a long time, it has not (been) made known for the simple reason that it fills the pockets of the pharmaceutical industries ”.


The discussion about this method has been going on for decades, despite the fact that different scientific investigations have shown that its use is ineffective and presents risks. Promises of a miracle cure find their way into natural health blogs, with allegedtestimoniesfrom patients healed atclinicsnot supervised by health authorities.     

A search of The New York Timesarchiveshows that thecontroversy(1) dates back to the 1970s.      

Scientific studies

study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1982 concluded after an investigation with 178 cancer patients treated with amygdalin (laetrile) that “no substantial benefit was observed in terms of cure, improvement or stabilization of the cancer, relief of symptoms related to cancer or extension of life expectancy. The risks of the therapy were evident in several patients who reported symptoms of cyanide toxicity or levels of cyanide in the blood approaching the lethal range. Patients exposed to this agent should be instructed about the danger of poisoning. Amygdalin (laetrile) is a toxic drug that is not effective as a cancer treatment ”.

According to a 2015 report, the benefit-risk balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a cancer treatment is “unequivocally negative”, say professors from the University of Exeter (UK) and Paracelsus Medical University (Germany), who conducted the research , published by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 

International control against laetrile

Last year, the FDA, responsible for policing the US food and drug market,warned 14 companiesthat they were illegally selling “more than 65 products that fraudulently promise to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure cancer.”   

The European Food SafetyAuthority (EFSA) also established its position on the toxic effect of amygdalin.For its part, theFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO) reiterated that “laetrile is not a vitamin, as some claim, but a poison that can lead to death.”Health Canada, the ministry of health of the North American country, pointed out that the products labeled as B17 and amygdalin are “potentially dangerous” and “are not authorized as a treatment to cure cancer” in that country.In Colombia, theNational Institute for Food and Drug Surveillance         (Invima) included amygdalin in a list of products without health registration, which contain undeclared ingredients, adding that “ingesting high doses (of vitamin B17) can be fatal.”

Although products made with this supplement are no longer found in the Amazon online sales portal in the United States, in Latin America they can be easily obtained online.

According to the NCI, laetrile treatments “are offered in Mexicoand in some clinics in the United States.”Sometimes it is administered “in combination with a metabolic therapy program (special diet, high doses of vitamins and pancreatic enzymes),” says the body.  

After decades of conflicting opinions among opponents and defenders of laetrile, to date no evidence supported by recognized scientific bodies allows us to ensure its efficacy in curing cancer. On the contrary, international authorities warn about the risks to which a patient is subjected when replacing conventional treatments with one based on this product.

The origin of the so-called vitamin B17

The notion of “vitamin B17” was born to Ernst T. Krebs Junior, son of Dr. Ernst T. Krebs Sr., a physician who patented laetrile in the 1940s and was arrested several times in the years since for using the chemical and violated state law, according to Nate Hendley’s book The Big Con: Grat Hoaxes, Frauds, Gifts, and Swindles in American History and New York Times archives . In an effort to bypass the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) controls, laetrile began to be sold as a vitamin. Ernst Krebs Sr. was a physician and pharmacist with a long history of selling home remedies. His son claimed to have received an honorary doctoratefrom the American University, but later it became known that the degree had been awarded by the American Christian College, a small Bible school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

So far, the “vitamin B17” designation has not been approved by the nomenclature committee of the American Institute of Nutrition, according to a report from the Physician Data Query (PDQ), the comprehensive source of information from the American National Cancer Institute (NCI). .

The NCI explains the confusion between the different appeals. Amygdalin, another designation for laetrile or vitamin B17, is “a bitter substance found in the seeds of fruits such as“ apricots, raw walnuts, lime beans, clover and sorghum ”that, when consumed,“ produces hydrogen cyanide. that turns into cyanide ”. It is precisely because of this particular characteristic that the duality of its effectiveness is understood. On the one hand “it is believed that hydrogen cyanide destroys cancer cells”, but it can also cause poisoning , especially when “laetrile is taken orally, since intestinal bacteria and some commonly consumed plants contain enzymes that activate the release cyanide, ”cautions the NCI .

The book A World Without Cancer: The Story of Vitamin B17 by G. Edward Griffin possibly fuels the myth about laetrile. He is cited in most of the pages defending this alternative treatment and conspiracy theories around the pharmaceutical industry.