“CANCER HAS BEEN DEFEATED,” declares a post on a Facebook page in Nigeria. “Cancer can be cured: Vitamin B17.”
It claims cancer was “defeated” decades ago, but “the truth has simply been concealed”.
“If there is cancer in one’s body, it is of utmost importance to intake big amount of B17,” it says.
“There are more and more people whose decease have been cured by raw sweet potato juice treatment. There are more and more people who manage to cure their decease by drinking raw sweet potato juice, it is said that cancer cells can be effectively controlled.”
The December 2018 post has had over a million views in the past three months, and been shared more than 43,000 times.
Could the deadly disease be cured by something a simple as the “vitamin B17” in sweet potato juice?
‘Vitamin B17’ isn’t a vitamin
Yet another name for “vitamin B17” and amygdalin is laetrile.
Laetrile is a partly man-made version of amygdalin, developed in the 1950s by Ernst T Krebs Jr, the son of a pharmacist who himself had no medical qualification. Krebs and his father initially patented it as a meat preservative.
Disproved as cancer treatment for decades
“Despite decades of research, dating back to the 1950s, there is no evidence that laetrile or amygdalin can treat tumours in animals or humans,” the Cancer Association of South Africa says in a fact-sheet. “Clinical trials in humans have failed to find any benefits.”
‘Vitamin B17’ contains cyanide
“Some people have had cyanide poisoning” after taking laetrile, says Macmillan Cancer Support, “and several people have died as a result.”
The side effects of taking amygdalin/laetrile are the same as those for cyanide, says Cancer Research UK. These include fever, sickness, headaches, dizziness, liver damage, drooping eyelids, a lack of oxygen to the body tissues, a drop in blood pressure, nerve damage causing loss of balance and difficulty walking, confusion, coma and, eventually, death.
In 2015 the Cochrane Library published a systematic review of amygdalin/laetrile as a cancer treatment. A group of experts gathered as much evidence as they could to work out whether it supported the claim that the substance cured cancer.
“The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data,” the experts concluded.
“There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.”
Banned substance sold on the internet
Laetrile is often sold on the internet, but Macmillan Cancer Support warns: “If you buy laetrile, there is no way of knowing what it contains, or if it is contaminated with other substances.”
Cancer Research UK adds: “Many websites promote laetrile as a cure for cancer. But no reputable scientific cancer organisations support any of these claims.
“Be cautious about believing this type of information or paying for any alternative cancer therapy over the internet.” – Mary Alexander
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