Lethal Laetrile

In 2013 the parents of a 2 year old girl abandoned traditional medicine in Maine and sought a alternative healer in Arizona for treatment of a form of eye cancer. This was against the recommendations of the physicians in Maine who had determined that the cancer had spread to the surrounding tissue and needed additional conventional treatment.

The alternative healer, Martha Grout MD, didn’t use traditional treatment for the condition, a known protocol but rather substituted the use of Laetrile, which has never been shown to be a treatment for any condition, much less cancer, and is not approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

The drug was administered by the doctor at about 3 PM and the child was dead by 8. Cause of death? Cyanide poisoning. The doctor was reprimanded but not prosecuted and continues to practice her particular voodoo.



Laetrile, aka Amygdalin, is made from the seeds of the Rosaceae family and contains a substance which when consumed releases cyanide, in this case a lethal dose. So much for safety of this “natural medicine.”

Laetrile has been around since the 1950s but has never been shown to be effective in treating any condition. The original proponents suggested that normal cells can’t cause the release of cyanide, only cancer cells could. Cyanide would only be released within a cancer cell, killing it, but sparing normal cells. Not true.

Steve McQueen, the actor known for motorcycle chases in a World War II movie or a car chase movie in San Francisco, died while receiving Laetrile treatments in a clinic in Mexico in 1968. Laetrile can still be obtained from Mexico.

When the FDA began seeking fraud prosecutions for those selling Laetrile, the story changed. It was then described as a vitamin (Vitamin B-17), a deficiency of which could lead to cancer. This tack was taken because vitamins are regulated differently than drugs. Again the problem is that it is just not true. Laetrile is not a vitamin. There is know known condition that results from not having Laetrile as part of any diet.

Yet again the story changed. Once it could no longer be legally marketed as a vitamin, it became a necessary ingredient in a holistic approach to complete health, what ever that means.

Today the field of quackery is wide open due in large part to the internet and a significant change in the law with respect to how drugs are regulated. Previously anything sold as a drug had to be proven both safe and efficacious. In 1994 Senator Hatch of Utah sought and had enacted the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act.

Basically it defined a new class of “drugs” known as dietary supplements that no longer required proof of effectiveness or even safety. The only protection a consumer has is that the substance is what it claims to be, and doesn’t claim to be a drug. Advertizing is rife with claims such “supports a healthy” or “contributes to” or “promotes.” These terms can be interpreted by consumers as a supplement may really do something, but are sufficiently vague that they escape any regulation as a real drug.

Now more than ever – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

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