Laetrile or the B17 therapy is one of the most controversial alternative treatments for cancer. While more alternative medical practitioners firmly believe and silently practice the laetrile therapy, the FDA has strictly banned its use for the treatment of cancer. Laetrile was first discovered by a British doctor, Sir Robert McCarrison way back in 1921. It was based on an observation, where he found that a certain tribe of West Pakistan, known as the Hunzas, was almost free from cancer. However, when this tribe was relocated to another area, even they fell prey to cancer after some time, and this was due to a marked change in their diet. The main ingredient that went missing from the diet of the tribal population was apricot kernel seeds. These seeds are one of the richest sources of amygdalin – a substance known to prevent cancer. Laetrile is made after amygdalin is extracted from the apricot kernel seeds.
Several studies conducted before 1970, all indicated a positive effect of laetrile and cancer therapy. On the other hand, during 1970, studies published by the National Cancer Institute stated that laetrile is not safe for human consumption and can have toxic effects due to its cyanide content. However, one of the most striking features which was missed during research is that, cyanide is only released by the enzymes present in the cancer cells and therefore it only destroys those cells and not the healthy cells. This did not deter the FDA from banning laetrile as an alternative method to treat cancer.
Amygdalin is a naturally occurring substance which cannot be patented and due to its complex metabolism within cells, producing a synthetic alternative is futile for drug companies. So its comes as no surprise by the year 1980, laetrile was completely withdrawn from the open market, making its purchase and use absolutely illegal.
The positive effects of laetrile therapy in cancer treatment could not stay under cover for long and the past decade again witnessed a rise in the availability by alternative cancer clinics and compound pharmacies. The mode of action of amygdalin is subtly intriguing. When laetrile reaches the cancer cells, it breaks down into several molecules – 2 molecules of glucose and 1 molecule each of benzaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. During the initial days of research, it was thought that hydrogen cyanide is the one that is known to destroy the cancer cells. However, current research suggests that benzaldehyde is the molecule responsible for killing the cancer cells. Cyanide is toxic to the human body, but not in doses when received through plant food sources. Moreover, the byproducts of cyanide component are readily detoxified by the liver enzyme, which leaves little or no room for cyanide poisoning to occur. When hydrogen cyanide is released in the cancer cells, it readily diminishes the amount of cysteine available to the cancer cells for their growth and proliferation. This would in turn also significantly diminish the supply of glutathione, making the tumor cells vulnerable to other alternative treatment methods. Therefore, the laetrile therapy adopts a 2 way process – its components kills the cancerous cells and also makes them susceptible to destruction when exposed to ozone therapy or a vitamin C rich diet.
Amygdalin, being a plant source is abundantly found in apricot kernels, grape seeds, peach kernels, strawberries and blueberries, macadamia nuts, blackberries, lima beans and bean sprouts. For cancer patients, laetrile is either injected intravenously or is given through pills. If the patient is solely put under the treatment of laetrile therapy, then they are given a specialized diet rich in vitamin C. Laetrile can also be optimized when given with other enzymes that are present in foods such as papaya or pineapple.
All the positive effects of laetrile therapy point towards its potential of helping cancer patients. Had it not been banned by the FDA during 1970s more lives could have been saved and more quality years added to the lives of cancer patients.