Ask Larry:

Your Question: A friend of mine went to Mexico and came back with a suitcase full of Vitamin B17. What the heck is Vitamin B17? Is it safe? What would someone use it for?

Larry’s Response: Vitamin B17 (aka, amygdalin or laetrile) isn’t actually a vitamin. It is a partly man made (synthetic) form of the natural substance amygdalin, which is a plant substance found naturally in raw nuts and the seeds of many fruits, particularly apricots. It is also present in plants such as lima beans, clover and sorghum.

Our digestive bacteria, and the enzymes in the food we eat, break down laetrile and release cyanide, a poison, the side effects of which include; nausea, headaches, dizziness, liver damage, reduced oxygen to the body tissues, a drop in blood pressure, drooping eyelids, fever, nerve damage, loss of balance, difficulty walking, confusion, coma and death.

There haven’t been any randomized controlled clinical trials using laetrile, yet, some people take it because they believe it might improve their health, increase energy levels, and bring on a sense of well being. Some sellers promote its use for detoxifying and cleansing the body.

It is reported that eating 50 to 60 apricot kernels, or 50 gm of laetrile, can be fatal.

If you take laetrile as tablets, it is very important that you avoid eating other foods that contain amygdalin such as raw almonds, celery, apricots, peaches, bean sprouts, carrots, high doses of vitamin C, many forms of beans (legumes), flax seed, and nuts.

These foods are safe when you eat them without laetrile because the levels of amygdalin in them are low. It is also important for anyone with liver problems to know that laetrile may cause further damage to their liver.

Because of the lack of evidence that laetrile works, and the serious side effects it has, it is not authorized for sale in the European Union. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has also banned it.

I am not convinced of the health benefits of laetrile, though I know people who use it without difficulty and are happy they do so. Until I know more I will not suggest anyone use vitamin B17, laetrile, or amygdalin. I think the risks outweigh the potential benefits, regardless of what the sellers say.