apricot cut in half

You may have heard claims that the cure to cancer lies within an apricot seed. Research doesn’t support those claims.

Apricot seeds contain a substance known as amygdalin. When taken orally, the body converts amygdalin into cyanide, a highly toxic poison.

The History of Apricot Seeds as a Cancer Cure

The notion that apricot seed extract could reduce tumors first came about in the 1920s. A San Francisco doctor named Ernst Krebs developed the idea. But even then, the doctor noted the use of amygdalin was “too unpredictable and too dangerous” for human use.

A Substance by Any Other Name…
Not to be confused with Queen Amidala from Star Wars, amygdalin is also known as amigdalina, laetrile, and vitamin B17.

Twenty years later, Krebs’ son, Ernst Krebs, Jr., claimed to have synthesized a safer version of the extract. He labeled it “Laetrile,” an acronym for levorotatory and mandelonitrile. Health professionals were labeling Laetrile “medical quackery” by 1976.

FDA Cracks Down

Organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Cancer Society continue to denounce amygdalin. A phase 2 trial in 1982 concluded that Laetrile is not an effective cancer therapy.

"There is no scientific evidence that Laetrile offers anything but false hope to cancer patients, some of whom have used it instead of conventional treatment until it was too late for that treatment to be effective," former FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford said.

Laetrile remains unapproved by the FDA. The FDA investigates and prosecutes companies who manufacture Laetrile and apricot kernels under the umbrella of dietary supplements.

Outside the U.S.

Some people still seek out this chemical for cancer treatment, despite its lack of clinical effectiveness and potential dangers. As of 2005, about two dozen cancer clinics in Tijuana, Mexico, used Laetrile and other debunked methods to treat cancer. These include “metabolic therapies” such as:

  • fasting
  • bowel cleansing
  • supplements
  • using natural toxic chemicals like Laetrile

The National Cancer Institute notes that U.S.-patented Laetrile and the amygdalin found in Mexico are different. The Laetrile used in Mexico is made from crushed apricot seeds, while the U.S. version uses a semisynthetic derivative of amygdalin.

However, they both use the structural component mandelonitrile, which contains cyanide.