´Vitamin´ B-17: Separating Myth From Reality
On February 14th 2006 the Daily Mail ran a headline ´Cancer Cures or Quackery?´ under which six alternative practitioners recommended ´alternative´ cancer cures (their words not mine) to a reporter posing as a cancer sufferer. One therapy was ´B-17 metabolic therapy or laetrile´ (sic).
Two cancer ´experts´, Professors Ernst and Baum, respectively commented that there was ´no research to support B-17´, and that B-17 was used ´by a few unscrupulous practitioners across the border in Mexico´.
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Let´s get a few things straight immediately:
1. As people who have looked into this subject in depth (like Ralph Moss and Phillip Day) will tell you, there are at least five studies (three on animals, two with humans) that show some effect with B-17. Ralph Moss was a part of the team at Memorial Sloan Kettering that researched B-17. His attempts to push disclosure that benefits existed, saw him fired from his job.
2. The world famous Oasis of Hope clinic in Mexico uses a variety of therapies including radio- and chemotherapy. And it does use vitamin B-17 as a part of a package called Metabolic Therapy, which may also include pancreatic enzymes, ozone therapy, Intravenous vitamin C and more. (Please be aware that the owners of the Oasis of Hope have not been somehow chased out of America. Dr Francisco Contreras
M.D., the son of the founder Dr Ernesto Contreras M.D., and his hospital are in Mexico ... because they are Mexican.)
By April 14th the UK Food Standards Agency was getting in on the act. UK newspapers published warnings issued by the FSA thus: ´Cancer patients should be aware that Apricot Kernels - a suggested cure for the disease - can kill them´. Apparently, ´Reports from overseas say eating 20-30 could result in very serious health effects´.
None of the articles specified the origin and the detail of these ´overseas reports´.
The FSA suggested that 1-2 pips per day was a safe intake. One article went on to add, ´Bitter apricot pips are thought to contain high levels of B-17, known as laetrile (sic) - described as an immune system booster and even as a cancer treatment´. Cancer Research UK´s website states that, ´If simply eating apricot kernels could cure cancer no-one would be more delighted than us´.
3. Let´s correct some of this ongoing mythology with some actual facts:
(i). Apricot Kernels can contain up to 3 per cent B-17. In its natural form this compound is known as amygdalin (not laetrile).
(ii). Laetrile is the synthetically prepared form of B-17, and can thus technically be described as a drug and would be subject to drug approval.
(iii). B-17 is not a vitamin. Krebs (see below) described it as a vitamin, but there is little evidence of true vitamin properties.
4. Advocates of B-17 would counter Cancer Research comments by claiming that if apricot pips were a cure for cancer a $800 million charity in the UK would cease to exist causing, one suspects, very little delight in the workforce, and that of the pharmaceutical industry where cancer in the US alone is a $70 billion business.
Such ´conspiracy theories´ abound in the world of alternative cancer treatments. Readers by now will understand why total confusion exists. Whatever the merits of B-17, it is one of the battlegrounds for orthodox versus alternative cancer treatment advocates to attack and dismiss each other.
Our aim at CANCERactive is to try to sort out truth from mythology. We are not ´for´ alternative cancer treatments; we just try to get to the truth. With B-17 it is nigh on impossible.
More clarity please
In many articles there are lots of elements being jumbled up, ignorantly. Some I clarified above. Let´s add to these:
a) Apricot Kernels, seeds, pips, whatever you want to call them. Some people do eat these as a cancer prevention aid; some people with cancer also eat them.
b) Laetrile (the synthetic form of B-17) can be obtained in tablet form but is more usually administered intravenously.
c) The term Metabolic Therapy does not refer to B-17 treatment but to a package of therapies of which intravenous synthetic B-17 is just a part. (see later).
d) No practitioner in the UK has been allowed to prescribe or use synthetic B-17 since June 2004.
I know of no-one who claims that Apricot Kernels, or B-17
is a cancer ´cure´
e) Of the practitioners who used to use B-17 and metabolic therapy in the UK, or people still using it around the world, like Contreras, I know of no-one who claims that Apricot Kernels, or B-17 is a cancer ´cure´, not even Contreras, the expert.
At CANCERactive we believe that there is quite simply no such thing as a ubiquitous cancer ´cure´; not B-17, vitamin D, Herceptin or Temozolomide. But lots of compounds can play a part.
The word cure, in my experience, is only ever used by the press, or by dubious websites who don´t really understand cancer. Again these sites may be staunch advocates of alternative therapies or Skeptic twaddle sites. Neither is helpful to the cancer patient.
Cancer is a multi-step process. There may be as many as 20 steps (according to John Boik of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas). In my book, ´The Rainbow Diet - and how it can help you beat cancer´, I have assigned foods and natural compounds to each of the steps, but only where there is scientific research that they have an anti-cancer step activity. I know of no compound that is active against all 20 steps.
So, no drug cures all cancer cases all of the time. Why expect it, or claim it, for a vitamin, or B-17?
f) Finally, all drugs have side-effects. Those of Tamoxifen are well documented. The lack of proper research on B-17 caused almost entirely by these petty squabbles of advocates and skeptics has meant no detailed research exists. Eating too many Apricot Kernels, or too much beetroot, or too much Asparagus, or drinking too much water will cause negative effects in the body.
So from this point on, when reading this article, at least put B-17 and Apricot Kernels into a proper perspective.
So what is B-17?
Every area of the world supporting vegetation has such plants
B-17, or amygdalin, is a naturally occurring compound. In fact it is slightly wrong to think of it as a single entity like, say, vitamin C. There is a group of approximately 14 compounds that are water-soluble and found naturally in over 1,200 species of plant in the world. Every area of the world supporting vegetation has such plants.
The active ingredients are often described as nitrilosides or beta-cyanogenetic glucosides and there are at least 800 foods common in worldwide diets that are nitrilosidic.
Nitrilosidic foods include:
- alfalfa sprouts, bamboo shoots, mung bean sprouts
- barley, buckwheat, maize, millet
- blackberries, currants, cassava, cranberries, gooseberries
- loganberries, quince, raspberries, strawberries, yams
- brown rice, fava beans, lentils and many pulses like kidney beans, lima beans and field beans
- flax seed, linseed
- pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews, walnuts
- watercress, sweet potato
- almonds and the seeds of lemons, limes, cherries, apples, apricots, prunes, plums and pears.
In fact all the foods we don´t eat too much of these days!!
The consumption of barley, buckwheat and millet have given way to refined wheats, while pulses like lentils, which accounted for 30 per cent of our protein in 1900, now account for only 2 per cent.
Primitive tribes around the world still base their diets around B-17-rich foods. Cassava, papaya, yam, sweet potato in the tropics; unrefined rice in the Far East; seeds and nuts in the Himalayas; the salmon-berry eaten by Eskimos, or the arrowgrass of the arctic tundra feeding the caribou.
So why all the interest?
This absence of cancer seemed to be due to the difference of nutrition
Nutritionist and scientists alike studied the various tribes. Sir Robert McCarrison in the 1920s and John Dark MD twenty years later failed to find a single case of cancer amongst the Hunzas, the tribes of West Pakistan. V Steffanson found the same with the Eskimos and wrote "Cancer: Disease of Civilisation" as a result. Dr M Navarro of Santo Thomas, University of Manilla, noticed the same with the Philippine population who ate cassava, wild rice, wild beans, berries and fruits of all kinds. Dr Albert Schweitzer noted the same in Gabon. ´This absence of cancer seemed to be due to the difference of nutrition in the natives compared to the Europeans. Their diet was centred around sorghum, cassava, millet and maize´.
Studies of the consumption of B-17 varied from Dark´s finding that the Hunzas consumed at least 150-250mgs per day, to Dean Burke, head of the cytochemistry department of the National Cancer Institute in the USA in the seventies writing that the Modoc Indians in North America consumed over 8,000 mgs per day! (Dean Burke actually gave amygdalin the name B-17).
We leave these foods aside at our peril. The World Health Organisation has, after all, confirmed that in their view a large percentage of all cancers could be prevented by simple changes in diet.
B-17 as a cancer treatment?
Amygdalin was first isolated in 1830 and used as an anti-cancer agent in Russia as early as 1845. But it was reborn by the father/son team Ernst Krebs senior and junior by 1955 had who isolated a purified form of the active ingredient (calling it laetrile) and, with others in the late fifties to seventies, sought to explain its action.
A seek and destroy missile?
Cancer cells differ in a number of ways from normal cells. One difference in that the mitochondria, or power stations, which normally produce energy in healthy humans (by burning carbohydrate in the presence of oxygen) switch off. Cancer cells do not use oxygen to produce energy, nor do they use the normal twenty something step process called the Krebs cycle. Rather they use only four steps inside the cytoplasm and have a whole different energy production system and different set of helper chemicals (enzymes).
B-17 is a seek and destroy missile
In a cancer cell one of these enzymes, glucosidase, is present at 3000 times the level found in normal, healthy cells. Glucosidase has a unique action with B-17, breaking it down into hydrogen cyanide (which kills it) and benzaldehyde, (an analgesic).
However, in normal cells where glucosidase is virtually non-existent, a completely different enzyme, rhodenase which is involved in the normal oxygen burning process, actually renders the B-17 harmless, converting it to thiocyanate, a substance which helps the body regulate blood pressure, and vitamin B-12. So, the proponents argue, B-17 is a seek and destroy missile.
I have read B-17 is dangerous - it contains cyanide
As we explained above - the B-17 molecule, if broken a certain way, can produce cyanide. But the main enzyme that can do this is really only found in a cancer cell.
Also, frankly, it is rather a daft argument; rather like saying the glucose molecule contains carbon monoxide and that can kill you!
Skepti-twaddle about B-17 often refers to people dying of B-17 and cyanide but Contreras, who treats more people with B-17 than probably all other doctors in the world added together, knows of no cases.
Then there is the fact that ´containing cyanide´ could be claimed for many food groups (for example, isothiocyanates, or anthocyanins). These food groups actually play important roles in your health, including in cancer prevention.
Next, doctors regularly inject vitamin B-12 to enhance energy levels; you can buy vitamin B-12 on the high street. This common form is cyano-cobalmine. A layman can tell you this ´contains´ cyanide.
Vitamin B-12 is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the healthy body, a deficiency is known to be linked to increased cancer risk. The more natural form of vitamin B-12 is methyl-cobalmine. If a compound containing cyanide is so bad, what is the medical profession doing it injecting it into lethergic pop stars and athletes?? If it contains cyanide and that is dangerous, why don´t doctors use the methyl version?
Nobody in their right mind would tell you not to consume B-12. So, steer clear of anyone who uses this palpably ignorant argument against B-17.
So why the controversy?
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The use of synthetic B-17 is controversial because the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has not approved it. The FDA state simply that laetrile (not amygdalin or B-17) is a synthetic therapy and, as such, needs approval like any drug. There are no randomised, controlled phase III clinical trials on laetrile so it is definitely not going to be approved. Yet people around the world do prescribe and use it. QED, they must be quacks. Well, that´s the official view.
Has there been any research on B-17?
Three quarters of 80 cancer test patients had seen their cancer tumours go or reduce in size
Well yes, actually there has. Ralph Moss and Phillip Day seem to be the experts here and they both record that there have been three animal studies and two human studies.
Following the Krebs´ work in 1955 a Senate Committee (often accused of being biased presumably because of drug industry connections) seemed unimpressed by evidence presented that three quarters of 80 cancer test patients had seen their cancer tumours go or reduce in size.
There was a stab at a clinical trial in the USA and this officially reported no effect with B-17. Moss was the Press officer in the team and showed his disgust at the public hearing, implying that the team had actually found a positive response and the powers that be were mispresenting the findings. He was fired.
However, talk to the experts that use B-17 and they will tell you that researching B-17 in a clinical trial is not the issue anyway. None doubts its efficacy, but several felt it was not as potent as other ingredients such as Intravenous, high dose vitamin C. ´B-17 only ´helps´ and is not a ´cure´ per se´, seems to be the general view. The issue, they argue, is to research the whole ´metabolic therapy´ package. The authorities have never done this. The people who use and advocate it simply cannot afford to conduct a full scale clinical trial. Impasse.
Why might it be more important to research the whole package? Cancers are clever and often form protective protein coats around the tumour to ward off the immune system. Various cancer clinics have thus developed their metabolic therapy packages to counter defences like these (metabolic therapy packages can contain bromelain, from pineapple and papain, from papaya, because they supposedly break down the protein coat). Other unique factors occur with cancer cells, so the metabolic therapy package may contain vitamins A, E and B complex, plus high dose intravenous vitamin C, high dose minerals, and pancreatic enzymes, each targeting a specific issue.
The difficulty then becomes "which bit worked?"
Having personally talked to leading B-17 practitioners in the USA and Europe a few actually answer, ´who cares!´? Actually, I do.
Frankly, this is quite important but the answers are unsatisfactory if you are a cancer patient. On different pages we have reviewed the use of intravenous vitamin C megadoses and pancreatic enzyme treatment as used by Dr Gonzalez in his clinic in New York. They do seem to have, albeit limited, effects on their own, so I suppose it is possible that using all of them could have a greater effect. But, be clear, there is NO FORMAL RESEARCH on the metabolic therapy package and in reality it doesn´t even exist as different clinics use different concoctions.
Metabolic therapy packages could be working in several ways,
but there´s no research
Finally, laetrile has shown effectiveness against cancer cells in vitro, and in rats and mice. Interestingly, even the National Cancer Institute in America (which is negative about laetrile´s abilities), reports that by the late seventies over 70,000 cancer patients had been treated with laetrile and that there are copious individual case histories on its effectiveness. (Notwithstanding this, modern medicine demands a phase III clinical trial and there is none).
Krebs recommended eating ten apricot seeds per day for life (the seeds or kernels of apricots have the highest levels of B-17; up to 3 per cent); cancer treatments use four to six 500mg tablets of laetrile per day or intravenous injections.
So, can it kill me?
While there may not actually have been deaths from synthetic B-17 use, there is an issue with overdosing. Excess B-17 and cyanide by-products have been known to build up in the liver of cancer patients. Each of us has different capacities to deal with such by-products but a cancer patient has an already impaired liver. A healthy liver has an enzyme, glucorinide that can detox the by-products, but in a cancer patient, this enzyme may be depleted. So, cyanide poisoning can result if excess is consumed. 1gm is the maximum recommended to be taken at any one time.
With the natural form of B-17, the US Nutrition Almanac recommends a maximum of 35 seeds per day; no more than five kernels at any one time in a 90 minute period. And they conclude that all cancer treatments using B-17 (synthetic, natural, or apricot kernels) should be properly supervised. Certainly, I have seen several prostate cancer patients who looked decidedly yellow all because they were trying to consume 50 kernels for breakfast!
Subjectivity and objectivity
As readers know, I travel the world giving speeches on cancer. I have interviewed a number of the world´s experts who use B-17 and metabolic therapy, including ´The Mexicans´, although maybe I met the wrong ones as these certainly were not unscrupulous!
I will say that on a totally subjective note:
a) I have seen many people, especially men with prostate cancer, who claim Apricot Kernels are the single reason their PSA scores have reduced.
b) Contreras himself claims that metabolic therapy can ´have a significant effect´ on some cancers - though not all. He is quite clear that there is no effect with Brain Tumours, Liver Cancer or Sarcomas.
I have seen overdosing with my own eyes. Be very, very careful.
c) As I said above, I have seen overdosing with my own eyes. Both men in their 60´s, both prostate cancer sufferers and both trying to eat 50 Apricot Kernels for breakfast. Both had gone a sort of yellowish-grey. Be very, very careful.
* Never take more than 5 in a 90 minute period.
* Never take more than 35 per day.
* Please tell your doctor, and have someone monitor your liver health.
So does B-17 work?
Firstly, having read the original research on B-17 treatments and spoken to users first hand, I find the ´evidence´ both for and against B-17 almost non-existent. I am not a staunch advocate, nor a critic. I just don´t know, even though I have tried to find out more.
Whilst we understand the issue that laetrile is synthetic and used intravenously so needs ´drug approval´, some things are more than just confusing: For example, why has a US Government Health Authority, the FDA, moved to ban the interstate shipments of apricot kernels and the planting of bitter almond trees? This just feeds the conspiracy theories! I noticed that my mother´s Asda "iced log" (a cake) contained 11 per cent apricot kernel paste! Presumably this cannot be moved between California and Nevada!
The logic on B-17 seems reasonably sensible and certainly pharmaceutical companies are devoting significant resources to targeting the unique properties of a cancer cell. The ability to break down B-17 is just another feature, to my mind. But I don´t think any single entity is a ´cure´ for cancer - and that goes for B-17 too. Could it play some or other role in the total package? Experts like Contreras are adamant it can.
And if you eat too many Apricot Kernels, especially if you are a cancer patient with an impaired liver, you may well make yourself ill. There is logic and biochemistry to this too - it may be dangerous where there is an impaired liver.
B-17 - even eating too many apricot kernels - can be dangerous
if your liver is impaired
Does it work though? Well here is the $64,000 question. There is logic to ozone therapy; logic to PDT, logic to Herceptin but none of these works 100 per cent of the time. In the case of ozone therapy, the delivery systems are still lacking; for Herceptin about half of HER-2 positive women just don´t seem to respond.
Are Herceptin and Tamoxifen actually ´cures´ for cancer? Do they finish the job off, one hundred per cent of the time? No. Yet they are widely praised.
So, an important ingredient in your cancer treatment package? Or are the Skeptics right on this one and it´s a con. It´s hard to tell.
With Apricot Kernels, for me there is a different issue. I believe everybody should include nitriloside foods into their diet. I put five kernels with my home-made muesli each morning, but then I eat copious amounts of food off the list above anyway. I do not doubt the logic of the biochemistry at all. Personally, there could well be a preventative element at work.
Unfortunately, the apricot pips don´t come with formal packaging, let alone a health warning. Unscrupulous vendors do overclaim; cancer patients desperate for a cure misinterpret, don´t read or listen carefully enough and then try to consume 50 seeds for breakfast.
Isn´t it rather sad that we just don´t know the reality from the myth? That some ´experts´ dismiss B-17 out of hand without detailing the biochemistry?
But isn´t it rather sad that some dismiss B-17
out of hand?
I remember Prince Charles a few years ago delivering a speech in which he said a lady friend of his had treated her breast cancer with only the Gerson Therapy and was alive and thriving seven years on. He simply asked that these ´alternative therapies´ were properly researched so that patients might know the truth.
Cancer expert Professor Baum jumped on him then saying that if these therapies did not submit themselves to the rigours of a clinical trial then it was their own fault they remained outside the mainstream.
But who is to pay for the clinical trial? Which patients will forgo their orthodox treatment to just have the alternative? Can you get sufficient of each - the test group and the control? Etc. Etc.
So, B-17 "Cancer cure or quackery?" There may well be an argument for including apricot kernels in your anti-cancer programme, but synthetic B-17 as an out and out cancer ´cure´? I don´t think so. Sorry, but that´s the honest, and hopefully objective, truth.
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| If you are thinking of buying Apricot Kernels, you might like to see what is available as the Natural Selection Product of Choice. You can do this by clicking here.|
Readers might also like to read "Cancer: Why We´re Still Dying to Know the Truth" - by Phillip Day
2005 edition ISBN 0-9535012-4-8
Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building an Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.