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Vitamin B17 is Not a Vitamin

You’ve got to love the plot. A meteorite falls to earth and begins to ooze a revolting goo that dines on humans. It makes its way into a movie theatre, and in a classic scene, surges from the projection booth, ready to gobble up everyone in its path. Audiences in 1958 were absolutely terrified by “The Blob” which was destined to become a science fiction classic.

You’ve got to love the plot. A meteorite falls to earth and begins to ooze a revolting goo that dines on humans. It makes its way into a movie theatre, and in a classic scene, surges from the projection booth, ready to gobble up everyone in its path. Audiences in 1958 were absolutely terrified by “The Blob” which was destined to become a science fiction classic. The film also introduced Steve McQueen to the world and made me a fan.  I watched his films and followed his career until his unfortunate death from lung cancer in 1980. Steve introduced me to some great movies, and also to “vitamin B17,” which he had been taking at a Mexican cancer clinic in an attempt to halt the progress of the disease.

By 1980 I had been teaching for a while and had developed several lectures on vitamins.  But none of the books or publications I consulted had ever referred to a vitamin B17. As it turned out, for good reason. Vitamins are substances that must be included in the diet in order to maintain health and prevent certain deficiency diseases. They cannot be synthesized by the body.  So what is vitamin B17? Essentially a scam.  In the1950s, Dr. Ernst T. Krebs came up with the idea that a compound extracted from apricot pits, amygdalin, was able to selectively target cancer cells and destroy them by releasing cyanide. Krebs and his son Ernst Jr. became the first proponents of “Laetrile” therapy. When the government began to ask for evidence that the drug actually worked, Krebs changed his approach. The public was becoming familiar with the benefits of vitamins so he decided to convert Laetrile into one. Krebs now claimed, without any evidence, that cancer was a deficiency of “vitamin B17.” Numerous studies since carried out have failed to show that this substance can treat or prevent any type of cancer. Whatever amygdalin may be, it is not a vitamin.

And what happened to the "blob?"  Eventually authorities figured out that it couldn’t stand cold.  So the Air Force found a way to transport it to the Arctic and put it in the deep freeze. Which is just what should be done to the unsubstantiated claims being made about vitamin B17.