When you were growing up, you probably encountered B vitamins. You have vitamin B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. Oh, and B17, mustn’t forget that one… or maybe we should?
A “vitamin” is defined as a molecule that the human body requires (but cannot manufacture) that is neither an amino nor fatty acid. B vitamins are further defined by being water-soluble and acting as catalysts in the body. The gaps in numbers are due to people thinking they had discovered a B vitamin, which were later disproved.
“Vitamin B8” was shown to be two self-made chemicals. B10, B13, and B16 are self-made as well. “Vitamin B11” is not necessary as a supplement (but is used as an ingredient in some ointments– it’s also called salicylic acid). B14 is straight up excreted by the body, and B15 has no medical evidence to show that it acts upon any disease. The fact that even finding this information was harder than usual attests to the fact that most people accept that these chemicals are not true vitamins, and therefore have little dietary use.
Chief among the claims made by its proponents are that it cures cancer, which is a massive dick move if it doesn’t actually cure cancer.
On the other hand, searching for “Vitamin B17” (aka amygdalin or laetrile) throws up a wide array of websites, articles, clinical trials, and even shopping adverts. Chief among the claims made by its proponents are that it cures cancer, which is a massive dick move if it doesn’t actually cure cancer. And it doesn’t cure cancer. The guy who said it cured cancer believed that the disease was caused by vitamin deficiency, which it bloody well isn’t. This is the same guy who invented Vitamin B15, so at least he’s consistent. The only reason we still hear about B17 nowadays is because of a highly successful marketing campaign coupled with public desires for cheaper remedies in the United States.
Not only is it useless, B17 can be actively harmful. Amygdalin is broken down by the liver into two glucose molecules, one benzaldehyde molecule, and one hydrogen cyanide molecule. The first two are completely safe, the latter is very dangerous (if you didn’t already know). Granted, the liver can deal with small quantities of cyanide, so eating bitter almonds won’t cause any kind of lasting damage. A “vitamin B17 supplement”, on the other hand, contains a little bit more than what’s safe.
I could soak up 48mg of cyanide with no problem, while 120mg would kill me outright; anything in between has a variable chance of bumping me off.
If you could just indulge me for a minute, kindly multiply your weight (in kg) by 0.6, and by 1.5. Those are your theoretical minimum and maximum tolerances (respectively) of cyanide in mg. For example, I weigh just 80kg, so I could soak up 48mg of cyanide with no problem, while 120mg would kill me outright; anything in between has a variable chance of bumping me off. The amount of amygdalin – and therefore cyanide – in a B17 supplement is 350mg! You would need to weigh a minimum of 584 kg for that to not kill you; for reference, the world’s heaviest man was 635kg.
So why don’t B17 supplements kill you? It’s because your liver needs to break down the amygdalin before the cyanide is released, and this is a relatively slow process. The amount of cyanide released is still harmful, however, and given amygdalin has no proven use, you’re probably better off buying a pint of tequila instead; at least consuming that is more fun.