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Karen Kirkpatrick is happy to talk to anyone about vitamin B17 on 01483 423235 (UK) 9am-5pm Monday-Friday. This is a private telephone number and she may not always be able to answer, but keep trying.

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No information from anticancerinfo.co.uk may be construed as medical advice or instructions. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and wellbeing.

A Kernel of Hope

by Emma Keyne Add Lib Magazine, Spring 2006 (reproduced here with permission)

Like cancer, scurvy was believed to be incurable. Then in 1747 it was discovered that it was simply caused by a lack of vitamin C. Today, many people believe that eating apricot kernels, a food source rich in a vitamin called B17, can protect against, and maybe even help to cure, cancer. Add Lib investigates the controversial claims behind B17 and asks, is it possible that it may be to cancer what vitamin C was to scurvy?

Being diagnosed with cancer is one of our biggest fears - and with good reason. The statistics of getting cancer and dying from it how that the problem is getting worse, much worse. Every day in the UK, 740 people are diagnosed. One in three of us will get it at some point in our lives. One in four of us who gets it will die and precious few of us will go through life without being affected by it in some way. Despite this, the thought of cancer and its promise of suffering strikes fear into our hearts and many of us prefer not to think about it. We just go on hoping it won't happen to us. But since so few cancers can be completely cured by treatments offered by conventional medicine (despite the billions being spend on drug development), wouldn't finding a way to prevent cancer be just as wonderful as a cure? Advocates of a vitamin called B17, aka amygdalin, believe that it is the answer.

Cancer is a chronic metabolic disease, and in history, these - scurvy, rickets, pellagra, beriberi - have only ever been conquered by a change in nutrition. "We work on the premise that the human body becomes the sum total of what it absorbs," says one former NHS doctor (who wishes to remain anonymous) who now runs a clinic specializing in a nutritional approach to the treatment of metabolic disease. "Many of today's serious disorders are caused primarily as a result of dysfunctional diet and the way the body processes what we put into it." B17 therapy plays a key role in cancer treatment at the clinic. Patients are intravenously given laetrile, the concentrated form of amygdalin extracted from apricot kernels. Metabolic Therapy can also work alongside chemotherapy and according to the doctor, is "known to reduce the toxicity and debilitating side effects often experienced with this kind of treatment."

Apricot kernels are the richest source of B17, but it is also found in many other foods including bitter almonds, apple pips, grape seeds, millet and broad beans. The kernels have a bitter, marzipan taste, which some people enjoy but many simply tolerate, in the belief that they are safeguarding themselves against cancer. However B17 does contain a poison - one of its constituents is cyanide. "Hearing this, people tend to panic," says Sue Cannon, founder of anticancerinfo.co.uk, a website that provides information on B17. "But the cyanide is held so that it is inert. Think of sodium chloride, the compound more commonly known as salt. It is essential to our bodies but it too has a poison locked insider - chlorine. If you ate too much salt, you'd be ill. The same is true for amygdalin although it is less toxic than both salt and sugar."

Cancer is the name given to any illness resulting from one of our body's own cells growing out of control. Normally the immune system can deal with this but at times of stress or in a particularly weak part of the body, or under extreme or regular exposure to carcinogens, the multiplication can become too great to handle and cells can turn cancerous. "When B17 comes into contact with a cancer cell with a cancer cell, an enzyme in the cancer cell breaks it down and releases cyanide, which destroys the cancer cell," says Cannon. "Normal, healthy cells have a different enzyme, which breaks down B17 in a different way, releasing food for the cells." Apricot kernels are said to be highly nutritious, rich in fibre and effective in lowering blood pressure. However, B17 is the subject of much controversy.

"B17 has been shown to halt the growth of, and kill, cancer cells," says Phillip Day, author of a number of books on B17 including Cancer: Why We're Still Dying To Know The Truth. So why doesn't everyone know about it? "Cancer drugs are a multi-billion-dollar industry," he explains, "but B17 can't be patented because the active ingredient is a natural substance." For this reason, he says there has been no funding to back research. Day is not alone in this opinion.

After using it to treat his own lymphatic cancer, the late David Horrobin, a prolific scientific researcher who founded the drug company Scotia, wrote about B17 in 2004's Lancet. He said that the absence of trials on B17 and other natural therapies, "has nothing to do with the scientific rationale behind their use. It is simply that they cannot be patented, and without patent protection there is no financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to test such remedies."

But Cancer Research insists this is not the case. "It is not in the interests of drug companies - or the drug development division of Cancer Research UK - to ignore potential new treatments," says Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK. "If laetrile or amygdalin had any therapeutic benefit, drug companies would have developed it into a potential treatment long ago."

Without the weight of science behind them, success stories for B17 as a cure for cancer remain anecdotal. However, according to Cannon, supporters are keen to get the message across that B17's most vital role is in prevention. "If we could just raise awareness so that people started eating the kernels, cancer could become a rare anomaly like scurvy," she says. Isolated tribes around the world are used to support this theory. The Abkhazians, the Hopi and Navajo Indians, the Eskimos and the Karakorum are all known for their exceptional health and marked absence of degenerative disease. And all eat a diet rich in vitamin B17 from various food sources including cassava, caribou and salmon berries. But for the ultimate testimony to B17's preventative powers, supporters refer to the remote Himalayan tribe of Hunza. Here a man's wealth is measured by the number of apricot kernel trees he owns. Apricot kernels are eaten abundantly with the kernels also pressed for cooking oil and fuel. The traditional Hunza diet also includes buckwheat, millet, alfalfa, broad beans and sprouting pulses, all of which contain B17. This diet provides an average of 50 - 75mg of B17 a day, which is more than the average Western ingests during a year. Hunzas commonly live to beyond 100 and, up until very recently when new roads allowed a glut of novelties such as sugar and junk food to reach its people for the first time, Hunza had never had a single case of cancer in its 900-year existence. It remains virtually unheard of.

Devotees do not claim that B17 alone is enough. It is not touted as a magic formula to cancel out the cancer risk that comes with an unhealthy lifestyle. Smoking is inadvisable, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is essential and restriction of processed foods, red meats and dairy is recommended. However, for those already leading a relatively healthy life, B17 is said to be the single most important thing one can do to protect oneself against cancer. Dr Ernst T Krebs Jr., the biochemist who first 'discovered' B17, said that if a normal healthy adult were to eat ten to twelve apricot kernels a day for life, they would be unlikely to get cancer. The Food Standards Agency however, has recently issued a warning about the possible risks of excess consumption of apricot kernels, due to their cyanide content and is currently recommending a maximum dose of two kernels per day. "They could be potentially lethal in high doses," says an FSA spokesperson. B17 has been banned in both the USA and in Australia, ostensibly for this reason.

But according to Cannon, many people are regularly eating the kernels without any adverse side. "I know countless people who have been eating ten to twelve kernels per day for years without any problems," she says. "In fact many people have noticed a marked improvement in their general health and wellbeing." In the second edition of his book World Without Cancer, author G. Edward Griffin says that in the 20 years since the first edition, he had met two people who claimed to have contracted cancer after regularly eating kernels. However, he says it is unknown how many kernels they ate, whether they smoked or were exposed to other carcinogens - but in one case the diet was known to be 'atrocious'." Griffin admits it is not 100% perfect but asks "would you accept 99%?"

"B17 helped me survive bladder cancer"

76-year-old John Holmes is a retired engineer who lives in Chattam, Kent. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2000 but refused conventional treatment in favour of vitamin B17 therapy. This is his story.

In 2000, someone anonymously sent me an audiotape by Phillip Day from his book Cancer, The Winnable War. It arrived in a hand-written envelope with no note or return address. Intrigued, I listened to it. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

A couple of weeks later, I began to pass blood in my urine. I went to my GP who immediately referred me to the senior urologist at a nearby hospital. After many scans and tests, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The tumour had not yet spread but the doctor advised the immediate removal of my bladder and also one of my kidneys and part of my prostate as a precautionary measure. For the rest of my life I would need a bag to collect my urine. I refused the operations and told the doctor I was going to pursue alternative therapy. His response was, "I believe that would work for you."

I contact Phillip Day who referred me to a clinic which specializes in Metabolic Therapy. For three weeks, I traveled there every day and was intravenously given B17 along with other vitamins and Dimethyl Sulfoxide, which helps the B17 penetrate the cells. It made me smell terribly of beetroot! I was also put on a strict detox diet. I had to eat mostly green stuff, which was a bit stringent. But this was a route I had chosen so I had to put my faith in it.

After a few weeks I returned to the hospital with my wife, as I'd been told it was standard practice to speak to a family member of a cancer patient. This time another doctor was sitting in with the one I'd seen before. When we sat down, my doctor proceeded to read me the Riot Act. He said that choosing alternative therapy was suicide, that it was all mumbo jumbo and that the cancer would spread through my body and kill me. The only conclusion I could come to was that an another doctor was present, he wasn't allowed to condone alternative treatment as it wasn't 'the done thing'.

Following my treatment at the clinic I continued with B17 tablets and the detox regime. After 6 weeks, I had lost 2 stone and reached my ideal weight. I then decided I wanted a scan. But I was refused one on the grounds that I'd be wasting hospital time, as I was not following their recommended treatment. So I went private, which cost £500. The scan showed that the tumour had shrunk a fair bit. From then on I continued under the clinic's guidance and had scans at six-monthly intervals. 2 years after my diagnosis, I was declared clear.

I continue to eat apricot kernels every day. I also follow a diet free from dairy and red meat. I often think that if it hadn't been for that tape, I would have undergone those operations - I simply didn't know any different. To this day I still don't know who sent it but whoever it was, I'd love to meet them so I could thank them for saving my life.

Further information

  • anticancerinfo.co.uk
    Information resource and free helpline 01483 423235 (9am - 5pm, Monday - Friday)
  • credence.org
    Independent health research organisation 01622 832386
  • food.gov.uk
    The Food Standards Agency

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give any medical advice or instructions. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and wellbeing.

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