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Amygdalin is a phytochemical derived from the seeds of various fruits, including apricots and bitter almonds. The breakdown of this compound releases cyanide. It has been used in cancer treatment at various times since the 1800s, but its use today is highly controversial. United States agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute, consider it ineffective at treating cancer and dangerous to use. Proponents, however, consider it an alternative cancer treatment.
There is some confusion between amygdalin and laetrile®. In the United States, laetrile® is a molecule that contains part of the structure of amygdalin. By contrast, in Mexico, laetrile is a different substance, composed of amygdalin that has been isolated from apricot pits.
At one point, it was claimed that amygdalin was a vitamin, known as Vitamin B17. There are two theories for this. One was that cancer develops due to a lack of Vitamin B17, but there is no data for this theory. The other hypothesis was that being labeled as a food supplement allowed the compound to avoid the scrutiny given to drugs by the United State’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA has not approved the use of laetrile®, and will prosecute vendors who sell it. Clinical trials of amygdalin have suggested that this compound is ineffective at curing cancer and has toxic side effects. For example, in 1982, there was a trial of 178 patients. The tumors grew larger in all of the patients. Also, several patients suffered from cyanide poisoning as a side effect of the treatment.
Adherents of laetrile questioned the methodology of this study. They also questioned the financial motives of the study, and remain convinced that laetrile is an effective treatment. There are clinics in Mexico that offer this treatment to cancer patients from other countries.
There are several different ways in which laetrile can be administered. It can be taken as a pill, an injection, or intravenously. All can have side effects, but taking it in pill form is thought to pose the highest risk of cyanide poisoning. Side effects include vomiting, nausea, dizziness, headache, liver damage, and coma. People have died from taking amygdalin pills, which are especially dangerous to take with high doses of Vitamin C.
Promoters of laetrile as a cancer cure claim that the cyanide released specifically targets cancer cells. This has been found to be untrue in laboratory studies. Cyanide was found to affect both normal cells and cancer cells in the same manner. Amygdalin appears to be one of nature’s plant toxins.
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