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11-01-10 What is Vitamin 'B-17'?

Question of the Week
What is “Vitamin B-17”?
“Vitamin B-17” is a label used to promote the use of amygdalin as an alternative “treatment” for cancer. Amygdalin is a naturally occurring cyanogen that is found in the seeds or pits of certain fruits like cherry pits, apricot pits, apple seeds, etc.  After ingestion of the amygdalin, enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract cause a cyanide molecule to be released from the amygdalin structure. The cyanide is then absorbed and causes the expected severe systemic toxicity. If the amygdalin is given intravenously, then the same enzymes are not available to release the cyanide and less systemic toxicity occurs.
The reason amygdalin was labeled as a “vitamin” was an attempt by one of its original promoters to circumvent the federal regulation of drugs. If given the title of “vitamin”, then amygdalin would be considered a dietary supplement and would not be under the jurisdiction of the FDA.  Despite the absence of data for the efficacy as an antineoplastic agent, amygdalin can be found via internet sources as amygdalin, apricot extract, or Laetrile (a semisynthetic version of amygdalin).
Question prepared by: Saralyn Williams, MD  Medical Toxicologist