Thursday, June 12, 2014

B17: The Killer Vitamin

What is a vitamin? I don't mean the different types of vitamins or the shops where they can be bought. I mean, what makes something a vitamin? Perhaps a vitamin is only a useless chemical that serves no purpose, and is therefore called a vitamin to make it seem useful when it really isn't. I prefer to think of a vitamin, however, as an essential chemical that our body needs to grow and survive.

Unfortunately, the former definition is sometimes the more accurate one; in fact, some of the vitamins being sold today do nothing good for the human body. One example of this is vitamin B17.

Laetrile was named a vitamin in the 1900's when Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. wanted to get around the restrictions on drugs by selling laetrile as a nutritional supplement. Some say that Krebs was a medical doctor, but he never even got a doctoral degree, except for an honorary degree from a school not accredited to award advanced degrees. In reality, Krebs was just a chemist that wanted to make money.

Apricot kernels contain amygdalin,
a precursor to laetrile.
The laetrile Krebs sold was a cyanogenic glycoside formed by chemically modifying amygdalin, another cyanogenic glycoside extracted from apricot kernels and naturally present in apple seeds.

A glycoside is formed by bonding a particular chemical with a sugar, rendering the chemical inactive. When the chemical is needed, the sugar is broken off, and the chemical can be used. A cyanogenic glycoside is a glycoside containing cyanide; because the cyanide is inactive, it is harmless – until ingested. Then, the stomach metabolizes the chemical and breaks the sugar off, so the cyanide is released.

Laetrile is a cyanogenic glycoside, so if enough laetrile is ingested and is metabolized to produce enough cyanide, the result is death. This has happened to multiple people. Because of its toxicity, it is now illegal to ship laetrile on interstates in the U.S.

Sadly, many people don't seem to realize how dangerous vitamin B17 is, and take laetrile as a cancer supplement. I have seen 500 mg pills sold on Amazon in bottles of 100 for more than 80 dollars a bottle, with a reviewer rating of almost 5 stars. Of course, laetrile can certainly kill cancer, but it also kills the rest of you as well. Meanwhile, some people wonder why B17 isn't manufactured in the U.S.

The most frustrating part is that some people don't WANT to know the truth about laetrile. They appear to have the attitude that believing makes it true, and whenever anybody tells them what they don't want to hear, they just ignore it. This is more common than you might think, and in psychology is often referred to as the belief-bias effect. I saw a funny 1-star review on Amazon that basically explained the toxicity of vitamin B17; it had been voted down by 4 other Amazon users. When I tried to inform inquisitive Amazon members about the dangers of taking laetrile as a supplement, other reviewers immediately began posting aggressive comments in response. They just wouldn't listen to reason.

To their credit, there are some good arguments for laetrile. There were a few doctors who did research on the effects of laetrile on rats, and sometimes the study results seemed to suggest that laetrile could be beneficial to a persons health (or a rat's health, as the case may be). In most of these studies, the methods used were not fool-proof, and were replicated to show ineffectiveness.

But some of the positive study results are very hard to ignore, even though they've been discounted. These studies, however, involved injections of laetrile into the bloodstream, not laetrile taken orally. Laetrile does not release cyanide when it is taken intravenously, and the subjects of those studies were not harmed. Because those studies involved injections of laetrile, they don't support the oral B17 pills sold online. And yet those studies are still referenced by the quacks marketing the stuff.

It's a sad world we live in. People will believe anything as long as it sounds good, and then they die as a result. Well, at least they can't say I didn't warn them.

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