Amygdalin and Cancer

What’s the deal with Amygdalin and cancer treatment? Claims that the cyanide found inside the pits/seeds of various fruits can fight cancer contrast greatly with claims that it will kill you or make you sick. From testimonies all over the internet to an alleged FDA conspiracy, how are we supposed to know the truth? Have sufficient unbiased studies been conducted? Where is the truth? Often times proponents of this cancer treatment are called crazies or scammers, simply because they oppose the word of FDA. Is that fair?

It would be great to hear your thoughts/research/knowledge.

Sam, MA

I did a report for a Public Health class in College on Amygdalin (Laetrile).

This was back in 1973. Amygdalin has been around for a long, LONG time.

Here are the facts I learned then, with all my research:

(1) Apricot pits DO contain cyanide. Cyanide is a compound composed of Carbon and Nitrogen, normal products that plants require to grow. Other plant seeds contain some cyanide, but there is a greater concentration in apricot pits.

(2) Consuming too many apricot pits, or a great deal of Amygdalin will make you sick. That’s because cyanide is POISON. Cyanide is the gas used to kill prisoners in the gas chamber, it’s not an ingredient associated with good health.

(3) The biology of HOW and WHY Amygdalin works is flawed. The inventor had a rather unique concept of how cancer develops, and figured that all cancer was essentially the same. Since cyanide kills cells, he decided cyanide kills cancer.

(4) The origin of cancer was supposedly something that happened in the developing embryo, in the first few days of life after conception. Migrating cells from the outer layer of the embryo lodged in the body “somewhere” and would one day “wake up” and grow into cancer.
If you’ve taken any beginning chemistry and biology classes, you’d know that these premises are far fetched. Cancers are NOT the same. They have different causes. What treats one cancer may be completely useless in treating another.

People who were told their cancer was inoperable, or people who had an extreme fear of cancer, were the ones who sought alternative treatments, such as Laetrile. Laetrile reached out to people years and years ago, who viewed cancer as a death sentence. For many people it was: the cancer was often undetected until it was untreatable. And years ago, we didn’t have the vast array of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that target a specific cancer.

There were scientific studies done with Laetrile which showed little or no effect on cancer. Reputable cancer treatment facilities do not use it. Doctors who diagnose cancer and provide Laetrile to their patients are prosecuted in the United States. Laetrile was outlawed in the US, and federal law prohibited it from being transported across state lines.

Cancer is one of the diseases that makes people vulnerable to quackery. They are scared, they have been told their disease is a death sentence, and they are desperate for any type of hope. Laetrile and other alternative treatments robs these people of two things: participation in conventional treatment which might give them a longer and better-quality life, and their money.

The desperate people now travel to Mexico or overseas to clinics which can offer Laetrile.

And they die.

Amygdalin is a cyanide/sugar compound that breaks down into hydrogen cyanide in the body. The human body can handle small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, so eating a couple of apple seeds won’t hurt you. Eating an entire bowl full of apple seeds at once though isn’t recommended (as far as I am aware that has been at least one recorded fatality from doing exactly that).

While amygdalin is poisonous, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing for fighting cancer. A lot of modern cancer treatments basically try to kill the body with something bad (chemicals or radiation), with the idea that the cancer cells die a little easier than the healthy cells. These treatments are not exactly pleasant for the patient since it often means getting them as close as possible to death without killing them for the treatment to be effective.

So on the surface, using a poison like amygdalin to treat cancer might not be a bad idea. So, they tried it. What they found out was that amygdalin doesn’t preferentially kill cancer cells much faster than it kills regular cells, so it isn’t very effective at killing cancer until it gets to the point of killing the rest of the patient as well. That makes it a fairly bad chemical to use to treat cancer. Either you don’t use enough of it and it’s not effective against the cancer, or you do use enough of it and it kills the patient too. That’s not exactly an ideal cancer fighting drug.

Anyone who promotes amygdalin as a treatment either doesn’t understand that it doesn’t work, or does understand that it doesn’t work. Some of the people in the former group are crazies, others are people who just don’t have enough education on the subject or possibly are influenced by fear, and probably shouldn’t be called crazies. The latter group most certainly should be called scammers though.

On an unrelated note (sorry for the hijack), cyanide was once a treatment for sickle cell anemia. I read something on that 30 or 40 years ago, but haven’t read any follow-ups. What’s the latest on that?