In a previous post I suggested that when you eat an apple you might want to also eat the seeds which contain amygdalin, a substance that inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Recently, I came across an article published this year in the Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine entitled Inaccurate Reporting of the Effects of Laetrile: Mistreatment of Ellison, Byar and Newell. While I’m happy to see someone bringing this topic to the forefront again (it is especially timely in light of the recent court decision to force 13-year-old Daniel Hauser to undergo chemotherapy), I’m concerned about the effect it will have on the writer’s reputation. It seems that no matter how reputable you were before you argue in defense of Laetrile or amygdalin, you become a raving lunatic suitable for committal immediately after you do. (This, of course, is just one of the things that ought to make you suspicious.) Already here and there on the internet are the usual loud and bizarre complaints that “apricot kernels are poison!”, “there’s no evidence they cure cancer!”, and “these people are just trying to earn a profit off sick people!” as IF traditional chemotherapy is harmless, evidently cures cancer, and doesn’t make somebody somewhere a nice fat profit. All this while those who attempt to argue that Laetrile might actually work lose their credibility, their licenses to practice medicine, and sometimes their freedom. As John Stossel would say “Give me a break!”
For those of you who are new to this debate and may be struggling to figure out for yourself who is correct and who is deluded I have a few links for you to check out.
Eating Apricot Kernel in Egypt – This is a fascinating blog by a native Egyptian discussing the plants he likes to grow in his garden and the traditional foods made from them. He is apparently still alive and kicking despite eating these highly poisonous apricot kernels on a regular basis. And he points out that this practice has been going on in Egypt for thousands of years.
Contrast that with this article from 1979 (the height of the Laetrile controversy) published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition entitled Laetrile: the cult of cyanide. Promoting poison for profit. Just a few quotes from this obvious hit piece:
“The laetrile empire is a highly organized and lucrative industry using sophisticated computerized technology, levels of funding undreamed of by the “snake oil salesmen” of old, with enormous impact on federal, state, and local levels of government. It has the ability by push-button to generate avalanches of mail, massive funding for candidates supporting laetrile. It has an interlocking network of direct mail, an interlocking network with other organizations promoting health quackery, exerts unrelenting pressures on elected officials, and is not above smearing and threatening responsible scientists who dare to challenge it.”
Now for those of you unfamiliar with the psychological principle of projection, this is really a bizarrely classic case of it. In truth Laetrile proponents are utterly powerless against the real culprit being described here. Do I really need to say more?
“The process of cyanide release from an apricot kernel is analogous to dropping a sodium or potassium cyanide pellet (these salts of cyanide are highly water soluble solids) in water or acid, the means of “gas chamber” executions in California and genocidal mass killings by the Hitler regime during World War II. Ironically, various leaders of the Third Reich, including Himmler and Goering, ultimately committed suicide by bitting into, and thereby crushing, cyanide pellets.”
Yes, you heard that right. Now, take THAT you Egyptian farmers!
Despite all of this bad press,and contrary to what you might expect, there are still amygdalin studies being done today, but they are done mainly by Asian scientists. Here are two fairly recent articles from the Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin which is published by the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan:
Antinociceptive Effect of Amygdalin Isolated from Prunus armeniaca on Formalin-Induced Pain in Rats (2008)
This one is from the Department of Pharmacology at Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea and was published in The World Journal of Gastroenterology –Amygdalin inhibits genes related to cell cycle in SNU-C4 human colon cancer cells (2005)
In an interesting discussion on another blog, one skeptic points out that the two cancer studies above were done using in vitro cancer cells – meaning they are in a petri dish, not in a living organism (experiments that use living organisms are called in vivo). This is true and is a good point, however, they are put forward here not so much because they are proof of amygdalin’s efficacy, but because they show that these Asian scientists are in fact still interested in conducting experiments while all such experimentation is dismissed out-of-hand in the west. (The other experiment listed here has to do with controlling pain and it was done with live animals. This effect that was also noted by the original proponents of Laetrile.)
In response to the skeptic (or overly credulous depending on how you look at it) above I would like to mention that evidence of the efficacy of amygdalin was shown in positive animal studies that were done in the 70’s. They were performed by Kanematsu Sugiura at Sloan Kettering but they were never officially published. They were, however, leaked by individuals working at Sloan Kettering at the time. Although I have managed to obtain a copy of them, I unfortunately do not have an electronic version at this time and have not been able to locate one on the web. (Update: See Kanematsu Sugiura’s Sloan Kettering studies here.) There is, however, an article written in 1976 by investigative reporter David M. Rorvik entitled Laetrile: The Goddamned-Contraband-Apricot Connection that is available online and that provides a good overview of the entire controversy.
For me, the apparently desperate attempts from the powers that be to prevent people from learning about the nutritional effects of amygdalin, (reference the insane quotes listed above), the fact that people have been eating foods containing it for thousands of years, Sloan Kettering’s suppressed positive animal studies showing an inhibitory effect on tumors in mice (bred specifically to spontaneously develop cancer), the fact that other scientists from around the world are still interested in studying it, proponents’ intelligent statements regarding the medical establishment’s focus on the size of tumors rather than the number of malignant cells in them, and the fact that it is present in a host of otherwise particularly nutritious foods, (apricot seeds, apple seeds, millet, lingonberries, mulberries, and blackberries to name a few) provide evidence that amygdalin does in fact have anti-cancer properties. You will still need to decide for yourself.