It can be hard to make sense of different treatments and cut through to the facts when your health is at stake. When you hear that something natural without doctor approval may cure your cancer, for example, you may be tempted to try it — and possibly end up sicker than before. As highlighted by a report from Buzzfeed News, apricot seeds are believed by some to be a “cancer cure.” Not only do they not help — they can actually be poisonous to those who use them.
Online, apricot seeds are being presented as a wellness-boosting super ingredient, and sellers are pointing to a chemical compound found within them — it’s called B17, amygdalin, or laetrile. B17 is not an officially recognized vitamin, and the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve laetrile for the treatment of cancer or anything else. So how did apricot seeds get their bogus rap as a cancer treatment? Buzzfeed News reports that John Richardson, who was working as a medical doctor before he was stripped of his license, believed this so-called B17 could attack tumors, and wrote as much in his book. Again, though, his belief has never been proven. What’s more, that chemical compound in apricot seeds can convert to toxic amounts of cyanide when it’s eaten.
Richardson eventually lost his medical license. Now his son, John Richardson Jr., sells apricot seeds online, although without mentioning cancer anywhere. Instead, it describes its wares as “supplements” while fans leave comments such as, “Anything the FDA absolutely forbids their citizens from doing, I’m all in on doing it” and “Excellent product. I will buy it on a regular basis for cancer prevention treatment.”
The National Cancer Society has debunked the myth that apricot seeds are effective in treating cancer. But there are plenty of sellers out there who are profiting off of unsupported faith in the power of B17. At best, unproven treatments are harmless placebos. But this treatment could be seriously harmful. A report from the European Food Safety Authority stresses that eating apricot kernels can lead to cyanide poisoning — a serving of any more than three small raw apricot kernels, or “less than half of one large kernel,” can be unsafe, the agency warns.