What Is Vitamin B17?

It's not a vitamin at all

Vitamin B17 is a commonly used name for a chemical called amygdalin. It is used to make a chemical called laetrile. Vitamin B17 is sourced from apricot pits and bitter almonds.

Although they're called "vitamin B17," amygdalin and laetrile are not B vitamins.

Amygdalin is used to make laetrile—a compound that some people claim can treat cancer naturally; however, there is little evidence that it works or is safe.

This article will go over what vitamin B17 is. You will also learn about the claims made about amygdalin and laetrile, as well as the side effects and safety concerns linked to them.

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What Is Vitamin B17 Used For?

Some people claim that laetrile is an effective natural cancer treatment and that it can also protect against high blood pressure and arthritis. However, little scientific evidence supports any of these uses.

Laetrile is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any use, including as a cancer treatment. In fact, in 2019 the FDA issued an import alert for laetrile based on a lack of evidence for its effectiveness and its status as an unapproved drug.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that there is no evidence that our bodies need laetrile or that it acts as a vitamin in animals or humans.

How Vitamin B17 is Claimed to Work

Claims that B17 vitamin is a natural cancer fighter rests on a mechanism called apoptosis, which is a type of cell death that takes place because a cell is cancerous or infected, or because it is time for new cells to replace it. Apoptosis is one of the ways your body keeps itself healthy.

Some people claim that laetrile releases a chemical called cyanide in the body causing apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. The idea has been promoted for several types of cancer, including:

Some scientific evidence has suggested that laetrile might have some anti-cancer activity, and the findings have renewed interest in its potential effects.

However, the evidence is still preliminary and needs more follow-up research to find out the true effects of laetrile and the potential risks of using it.

Some people have claimed that cancer is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B17. They argue that consuming laetrile can reverse the deficiency and, in turn, aid with the treatment or prevention of cancer. However, there is no evidence that the body has any known uses for vitamin B17.

How Did Laetrile Get Popular?

Laetrile's popularity has been bolstered by conspiracy theories. For decades, people have claimed that laetrile is proven to be safe and effective or that it's the target of a government cover-up of inexpensive cancer treatments.

Despite the FDA ban that went into effect in 1987, many people still take laetrile for cancer. You can get laetrile online and in some stores.

However, the products cannot legally be marketed as a cancer treatment. Still, with false claims all over the internet, people still learn about laetrile and seek it out.

What Research Says About B17 Vitamin

Vitamin B17 could be worth studying more, but the research so far has only been done on cells in a petri dish or on animals.

While this type of research can lay the foundation for clinical trials with people, we are not at that stage yet.

Promising Research

Some research on laetrile and amygdalin as cancer treatments has been published in reputable journals. For example:

  • In 2021, researchers said that they uncovered the mechanisms by which amygdalin induces apoptosis: it appeared to increase one cellular protein and reduce another. They also saw other beneficial actions at the cellular level, stating that "amygdalin possesses anticancer properties and induces apoptosis," and that "amygdalin can act as a multifunctional drug in cancer therapeutics."
  • In August 2020, researchers said they demonstrated that amygdalin can kill certain breast cancer cell lines and that amygdalin may prevent those cells from spreading through the body. They also stated that it was not toxic to healthy skin cells.
  • In June 2020, researchers combined amygdalin with an enzyme called beta-glucosidase (ß-glu), which enhances amygdalin activity. They found that the combination led to the death of prostate cancer cells. They also noted that while the treatment had some impact on heart and liver function, it did not appear to cause organ damage.

Inconclusive Evidence

The studies that have been done have not been clear about whether amygdalin could be more effective against certain types of cancer than others.

The scientists doing the studies have said that there is a need for more research to determine what role amygdalin might play in cancer treatment.

For something like laetrile to be an effective cancer treatment, it needs to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells. There are also other important considerations, such as:

  • It needs to be delivered in appropriate and consistent dosages—which have not yet been established and likely are not possible to get through diet or unregulated commercial products.
  • It needs to be able to survive the digestion process and the body's other protective mechanisms until it can get into the bloodstream and tissues in amounts high enough to be therapeutic.
  • It should combine with or be broken down by the body's enzymes and other substances in ways that make it useful rather than inactive or harmful.
  • How a person responds to it could be influenced by the makeup of their gut microbiota (the mix of bacteria in the digestive system).


A review of research evidence on amygdalin published in 2016 highlighted some of the key criticisms that are important to keep in mind. For example, the researchers said that:

  • Several aspects of amygdalin use "haven't yet been adequately explored, making further investigation necessary to evaluate its actual therapeutic potential."
  • Claims that laetrile or amygdalin can benefit cancer patients are not supported by sound clinical data.
  • None of the previous studies evaluated were high quality enough to meet the reviewers' criteria. They concluded that the consumption of amygdalin carries a considerable risk of serious adverse effects resulting from cyanide poisoning. The authors of one review concluded that "due to the risk of cyanide poisoning, the use of laetrile or amygdalin should be discouraged."

Food Sources of B17 Vitamin

If you want to get more amygdalin naturally, there are some food sources to consider adding to your diet. However, it's not a miracle cure. You also need to avoid consuming too much vitamin B17, which can lead to cyanide poisoning.

Natural sources of amygdalin include:

  • Pits and seeds of apricots, peaches, papaya, and apples
  • Raw almonds
  • Lima beans, mung beans, and butter beans
  • Clover
  • Sorghum
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Bean sprouts
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed

Including these foods in your diet in moderation is key. Even the most positive studies about vitamin B17 do not recommend ingesting large amounts of any substances that contain it. It's also important to talk to your provider about any dietary changes you plan on making.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns with Vitamin B17

The B17 products that are commercially available have not been proven to be safe or effective, and they are not regulated.

Many laetrile products that are commercially available in the United States come from Mexico and they are untested. In some cases, contaminated products have been found. These products may pose serious threats to your health that go beyond the risks of using laetrile.

Laetrile-containing products have been found to trigger a range of side effects that are similar to those of cyanide poisoning. For example, they can cause:

Cyanide poisoning is a life-threatening emergency. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, you need to get immediate medical help.

In one study, researchers wanted to understand why some people that take amygdalin get cyanide toxicity and others do not. They also wanted to find out why it's more common when amygdalin is consumed compared to when it's injected.

The researchers discovered that certain gut bacteria have high levels of the enzyme ß-glu, which converts amygdalin to the toxin hydrogen cyanide (HCN).

A person's ß-glu levels can be influenced by several factors, including:

Vitamin C may boost the amount of cyanide that laetrile releases in your body. That means that it could raise the risk of toxicity.

Alternatives to B17 Vitamin

If you're thinking about using vitamin B17 for the prevention or treatment of cancer, you need to know about and understand the potential threats to your health. You should talk to your provider about the safest and most effective way to treat or prevent cancer.

There's no proven way to eliminate the risk of all cancers, but there are some practices that we know support your overall health and may help reduce your risk for disease, including cancer.

For example:


Vitamin B17 is touted as a natural way to treat or even prevent cancer, but it can have serious health consequences. While it's true that modern, medical cancer treatments can be hard on your body, it's also key to know that "natural" does not automatically mean "safe."

Some natural or alternative treatments are low-risk. Even if they don't work, there's no harm in trying them. However, that is not the case with laetrile, amygdalin, or vitamin B17 because taking them can raise your risk of getting cyanide poisoning.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I buy vitamin B17?

    B17 is widely available online and in some stores in the U.S. However, the production of these products is unregulated.

    None of the products are FDA approved for any use. The FDA does not consider these products to be safe.

  • What is vitamin B17 good for?

    Some early evidence from lab studies has suggested that vitamin B17 could help stop the spread of certain cancers, but we are far from proof that this effect would be seen in humans or that the use of vitamin B17 would be safe.

    In fact, the only conclusively proven effect of vitamin B17 on the body is cyanide poisoning. In fact, some people who use vitamin B17 as a cancer treatment die from cyanide toxicity.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Laetrile/amygdalin (PDQ)—Patient version.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Import alert 62-01.

  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Laetrile/amygdalin (PDQ): Health professional version.

  4. Zhou J, Hou J, Rao J, Zhou C, Liu Y, Gao W. Magnetically directed enzyme/prodrug prostate cancer therapy based on β-Glucosidase/amygdalinInt J Nanomedicine. 2020;15:4639-4657. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.2147/IJN.S242359

  5. Chen Y, Ma J, Wang F, et al. Amygdalin induces apoptosis in human cervical cancer cell line HeLa cellsImmunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2013;35(1):43-51. doi:10.3109/08923973.2012.738688

  6. Mosayyebi B, Mohammadi L, Kalantary-Charvadeh A, Rahmati M. Amygdalin decreases adhesion and migration of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cell lines [published online ahead of print, 2020 Aug 10]. Curr Mol Pharmacol. doi:10.2174/1874467213666200810141251

  7. Shi J, Chen Q, Xu M, et al. Recent updates and future perspectives about amygdalin as a potential anticancer agent: A reviewCancer Med. 2019;8(6):3004-3011. doi:10.1002/cam4.2197

  8. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Amygdalin.

  9. Al-Khafaji K, Taskin Tok T. Understanding the mechanism of amygdalin's multifunctional anti-cancer action using computational approachJ Biomol Struct Dyn. 2021;39(5):1600-1610. doi:10.1080/07391102.2020.1736159

  10. Blaheta RA, Nelson K, Haferkamp A, Juengel E. Amygdalin, quackery or cure? Phytomedicine. 2016;23(4):367-376. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2016.02.004

  11. Milazzo S, Horneber M. Laetrile treatment for cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(4):CD005476. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005476.pub4

  12. Bolarinwa IF, Orfila C, Morgan MR. Amygdalin content of seeds, kernels and food products commercially-available in the UKFood Chem. 2014;152:133-139. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.11.002

  13. Cancer Research UK. Laetrile (amygdalin or vitamin B17).

  14. Jaswal V, Palanivelu J, C R. Effects of the gut microbiota on amygdalin and its use as an anti-cancer therapy: Substantial review on the key components involved in altering dose efficacy and toxicityBiochem Biophys Rep. 2018;14:125-132. doi:10.1016/j.bbrep.2018.04.008

  15. Dang T, Nguyen C, Tran PN. Physician beware: Severe cyanide toxicity from amygdalin tablets ingestionCase Rep Emerg Med. 2017;2017:4289527. doi:10.1155/2017/4289527

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.