The story of Vitamin B17

by G. Edward Griffin

Chapter Three


    A review of entrenched scientific error in history; the vitamin-deficiency concept of cancer as advanced in 1952 by Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Jr., and a survey of the evidence both in nature and in history to support that concept. The history of science is the history of struggle against entrenched error. Many of the world's greatest discoveries initially were rejected by the scientific community. And those who pioneered those discoveries often were ridiculed and condemned as quacks and charlatans.

    Columbus was bitterly attacked for believing the Earth was round. Bruno was burned at the stake for claiming that Earth was not the center of the Universe. Galileo was imprisoned for teaching that the Earth moved around the Sun. Even the Wright Brothers were ridiculed for claiming that a machine could fly.

    In the field of medicine, in the year 130 A.D., the physician Galen announced certain anatomic theories that later proved to be correct, but at the time he was bitterly opposed and actually forced to flee from Rome to escape the frenzy of the mob. In the Sixteenth Century, the physician Andreas Vesalius was denounced as an imposter and heretic because of his discoveries in the field of human anatomy. His theories were accepted after his death but, at the time, his career was ruined, and he was forced to flee from Italy. William Harvey was disgraced as a physician for believing that blood was pumped by the heart and moved around the body through arteries. William Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays, at first was called a quack and then condemned out of fear that his "ray" would invade the privacy of the bedroom. William Jenner, when he first developed a vaccine against smallpox, also was called a quack and was strongly criticized as a physician for his supposedly cruel and inhuman experiments on children. And Ignaz Semmelweis was fired from his Vienna post for requiring his maternity staff to wash their hands.

    Centuries ago it was not unusual for entire naval expeditions to be wiped out by scurvy. Between 1600 and 1800 the casualty list of the British Navy alone was over one million sailors. Medical experts were baffled as they searched in vain for some kind of strange bacterium, virus, or toxin that supposedly lurked in the dark holds of the ships. And yet, for hundreds of years, the cure was already known and written in the record.

    In the winter of 1535, when the French explorer Jacques Cartier found his ships frozen in the ice off the St. Lawrence River, scurvy began to take its deadly toll. Out of the crew of one hundred and ten, twenty-five already had died, of the others were so ill they weren't expected to recover.

    And then a friendly Indian showed them the simple remedy. Tree bark and needles from the white pine- both rich in ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C- were stirred into a drink which produced immediate improvement and swift recovery.

    Upon returning to Europe, Cartier reported this incident to the medical authorities. But they were amused by such "witch-doctor cures of ignorant savages" and did nothing to follow it up.(1)
    (1)(See Virgil J. Vogel's American Indian Medicine (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970)

    Yes, the cure for scurvy was known. But, because of scientific arrogance, it took over two hundred years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives before the medical experts began to accept and apply this knowledge.

    Finally, in 1747, John Lind, a young surgeon's mate in the British Navy discovered that oranges and lemons produced relief from scurvy and recommended that the Royal Navy include citrus fruits in the stores and in all the ships. And yet, it still took forty-eight more years before his recommendation was put into effect. When it was, of course, the British were able to surpass all other sea-faring nations, and the "Limeys" (so-called because they carried limes aboard ship) soon became the rulers of the Seven Seas. It is no exaggeration to say that the greatness of the British Empire in large measure was the direct result of overcoming scientific prejudice against vitamin therapy.

    The twentieth century has proven to be no exception to this pattern. Only two generations ago large portions of the American Southeast were decimated by the dread disease of pellagra. The well known physician Sir William Osler, in his Principles and Practice of Medicine, explained in one institution for the insane in Leonard, North Carolina, one-third of the inmates died of this disease during the winter months. This proved, he said, that pellagra was contagious and caused probably by an as yet undiscovered virus. As far back as 1914, however, Dr. Joseph Goldberger had proven that this condition was related to diet, and later showed that it could be prevented simply by eating liver or yeast. But it wasn't until the 1940's- almost thirty years later- that the "modern" medical world fully accepted pellagra as a vitamin B deficiency.(1)
    (1) ( See Edwin H. Ackerknecht, History and Geography of the Most Important Diseases (New York: Hafner Publishing Co., Inc., 1972) pp. 148-149.

    The story behind pernicious anemia is almost exactly the same. The reason that these diseases were so reluctantly accepted as vitamin deficiencies is because men tend to look for positive cause-and-effect relationships in which something causes something else. They find it more difficult to comprehend the negative relationship in which nothing or the lack of something can cause an effect. But perhaps of even more importance is the reality of intellectual pride. A man who has spent his life acquiring scientific knowledge far beyond the grasp of his fellow human beings is not usually inclined to listen with patience to someone who lacks that knowledge- especially if that person suggests that the solution to the scientist's most puzzling medical problem is to be found in a simple back-woods or near-primitive concoction of herbs and foods. The scientist is trained to search for complex answers and tends to look with smug amusement upon solutions that are not dependent upon his hard-earned skills.

    To bring this a little closer to home, the average M.D. today has spent over ten years of intensive training to learn about health and disease. This educational process continues for as long as he practices his art. The greatest challenge to the medical profession today is cancer. If the solution to the cancer puzzle were to be found in the simple foods we eat (or don't eat), then what other diseases might also be traced to this cause? The implications are explosive. As one doctor put it so aptly, "Most of my medical training has been wasted. I've learned the wrong things!" And no one wants to discover that he has learned- or taught- the wrong things. Hence, there is an unconscious, but natural tendency among many scientists and physicians to reject the vitamin-deficiency concept of disease until it is proven, and proven, and proven again.

    By 1952, Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Jr., a biochemist in San Francisco, had advanced the theory that cancer, like scurvy and pellagra, is not caused by some kind of mysterious bacterium, virus, or toxin, but is merely a deficiency disease aggravated by the lack of an essential food compound in modern-man's diet. He identified this compound as part of the nitriloside family which occurs abundantly in nature in over twelve-hundred edible plants and found virtually in every part of the world. It is particularly prevalent in the seeds of those fruits in the Prunus Rosacea family (bitter almond, apricot, blackthorn, cherry, nectarine, peach, and plum), but also contained in grasses, maize, sorghum, millet, cassava, linseed, apple seeds, and many other foods that, generally, have been deleted from the menus of modern civilization.

    It is difficult to establish a clear-cut classification for nitriloside. Since it does not occur entirely by itself but rather is found in foods, it probably should not be classified as a food. Like sugar, it is a food component or a food factor. Nor can it be classified as a drug inasmuch as it is a natural, non-toxic, water-soluble substance entirely normal to and compatible with human metabolism. The proper name for a food factor that contains these properties is vitamin. Since this vitamin normally is found with the B-complex, and since it was the seventeenth such substance to be isolated within this complex, Dr. Krebs identifies it as vitamin B17. He said:
    Can the water-soluble non-toxic nitrilosides properly be described as food? Probably not in the strict sense of the word. They are certainly not drugs per se... Since the nitrilosides are neither food or drug, they may be considered as accessory food factors. Another term for water-soluble, non-toxic accessory food factors is vitamin.(1)
    (1) Krebs, The Laetriles/Nitrilosides in the Prevention and Control of Cancer (Montreal: The McNaughton Foundation, n.d.), p. 16.

    A chronic disease is one which usually does not pass away of its own accord. A metabolic disease is one which occurs within the body and is not transmittable to another person. Cancer, therefore, being all of these, is a chronic, metabolic disease.

    There are many of these diseases that plague modern man, such as muscular dystrophy, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and sickle-cell anemia. Scientists have spent billions of dollars searching for a prevention of these cripplers and killers, but they are no closer to the answers today than they were when they started. Perhaps the reason is that they are still looking for that something which causes these diseases instead of that lack of something.

    Dr. Krebs has pointed out that, in the entire history of medical science, there has not been one chronic, metabolic disease that was ever cured or prevented by drugs, surgery, or mechanical manipulation of the body. In every case-whether it be scurvy, pellagra, rickets, beri-beri, night blindness, pernicious anemia, or any of the others- the ultimate solution was found only in factors relating to adequate nutrition. And he thinks that this is an important clue as to where to concentrate our scientific curiosity in the search for a better understanding of today's diseases, particularly cancer.

    But there are other clues as well. As everyone who owns a dog or cat has observed, these domesticated pets often seek out other foods. This is particularly likely to happen if the animals are not well. It is interesting to note that the grasses selected by instinct are Johnson grass, Tunis grass, Sudan grass, and others that are especially rich in nitrilosides or vitamin B17.

    Monkeys and other primates at the zoo when given a fresh peach or apricot will carefully pull away the sweet fleshy part, crack open the hard pit, and devour the seed that remains. Instinct compels them to do this even though they have never seen this kind of fruit before. These seeds are one of the most concentrated sources of nitrilosides to be found anywhere in nature.

    Wild bears are great consumers of nitrilosides in their natural diet. Not only do they seek berries that are rich in this substance, but when they kill small grazing animals for their own food, instinctively they pass over the muscle portions and consume first the viscera and rumen which are filled with nitriloside grasses.(1)
    (1) See pater Krott, Ph.D., Bears in The Family (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1962)

    In captivity, animals seldom are allowed to eat all the foods of their instinctive choice. In the San Diego Zoo, for example, the routine diet for bears, although nutritious in many other respects, is almost totally devoid of nitrilosides. In one grotto alone, over a six-year period, five bears died of cancer. It was generally speculated by the experts that a virus had been the cause.

    It is significant that one seldom finds in the carcasses of wild animals killed in the hunt. These creatures contract the disease only when they are domesticated by man and forced to eat the foods he provides or the scraps from his table.

    It is amazing how cancer researchers can come face-to-face with this evidence and still fail to realize its significance. Dr. Dennis P. Burkitt, the man who first identified the form of cancer known as Burkitt Lymphoma, delivered a lecture at the College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. After two decades of experience and research in Uganda and similar parts of the world, Dr. Burkitt observed that non-infectious (chronic metabolic) diseases such as cancer of the colon, diverticular disease, ulcerative colitis, polyps, and appendicitis, all seem to be related in some way. "They all go together," he said, "and I'm going to go so far as to suggest that they all have a common cause." He went on to say that all of the diseases are unknown in primitive societies and "always have their maximum incidence in the more economically developed nations." Then Dr. Burkitt turned his attention to cancer specifically and observed:

    This is a disease caused by the way we live. This form of cancer is almost unknown in the animal kingdom. The only animals who get cancer or polyps of the large bowel are those what live closest to our way of life- our domestic dogs eating our leftovers.(1)
    (1) "The Evidence Leavens: We Invite Colon Cancer," Medical World News, Aug. 11, 1972, pp. 33,34.

    These are all excellent observations. But apparently neither Dr. Burkitt nor anyone in his esteemed audience could find any meaning in these facts. The lecture closed with the conclusion that colon cancer probably is related to bacteria in the large bowel and that we should eat more bran and other cereal fibers to increase the roughage content of our intestines and the size of our stools!

    At least Dr. Burkitt was looking at the foods we eat, which was a huge step forward. He may have been heading in the wrong direction, but at least he was on the right track. If more cancer researchers would think in terms of foods and vitamins rather than bacteria and viruses, it wouldn't take them long to see why the cancer rate in America is steadily climbing.

    Measured in terms of taste, volume, and variety, Americans eat very well, indeed. But expensive or tasty food is not necessarily good food. Many people assume that it makes little difference what they put into their stomachs as long as they are full. Magically, everything that goes in somehow will be converted into perfect health. They scoff at the thought of proper diet. Yet, many of these same people are fastidious about what they feed their pedigreed dogs and cats or their registered cattle and horses.

    Dr. George M. Briggs, professor of nutrition at the University of California, and member of the Research Advisory Committee of the National Livestock and Meat Board, has said: "The typical American diet is a national disaster... If I fed it to pigs or cows, without adding vitamins and other supplements, I could wipe out the livestock industry."(1)
    A brief look at the American diet tells the story. Grocery shelves are lined with high carbohydrate foods that have been processed refined, synthesized, artificially flavored, and loaded with chemical preservatives.(2) Some manufacturers, aiming their advertisements at the diet- conscious consumer, even boast of how little real food there is in their product.
    (1) "University of California Nutrition Professor, A Health Advisor to the U.S. Government... Charges the Typical American Diet is a National Disaster." National Enquirer, Dec. 5, 1971, p.2.
    (2) There are now approximately 3,000 additives used in U.S. food products for flavoring, coloring, preservation, and similar purposes. Most are safe in the quantities used, but many of these chemicals pose a serious health hazard with prolonged use. See Toxics A to Z, by Harte, Holdren, Schneider, and Shirley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

    Everyone knows that modern processing removes many of the original vitamins from our foods, but we are told not to worry about it, because they have been put back before sending to market. And so we see the word "enriched" printed cheerfully across our bread, milk, and other foods. But make no mistake about it, these are not the same as the original. As the June 1971 Journal of the American Geriatric Society reported:

    Vitamins removed from food and returned as "enrichment" are not a safe substitute, as witnessed by the study in which Roger J. Williams, Ph.D., reported that rats fed enriched bread died or were severely stunted due to malnutrition. Rats fed a more whole bread flourished, for the most part, by comparison.

    Much illness, we are learning, may be due to vitamin-mineral deficiencies. Even senility has been proven to be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B and C.

    Indeed, here is a worthy experiment that can and should be carried out in every grade- school science class. Rodents fed only "enriched" bread very soon become cannibalistic, apparently responding to an instinctive drive to obtain the vital food elements they are lacking. Most will die within a month or two. Once children have witnesses this, they seldom retain the same appetite for white bread that they may have had prior to the experiment.

    "Enriched" bread is just one small part of the larger picture. Millet once was the world's staple grain. It is high in nitriloside content. But now it has been replaced by wheat which has practically none at all--even whole wheat. Sorghum cane has been replaced by sugar cane with the same result. Even our cattle are fed increasingly on quick-growing, low-nitriloside grasses so there is less vitamin B17 residue in the meat we eat. In some places, livestock now are being fed a diet containing fifteen percent paper to fatten them quicker for market.(1)
    (1) "Paper Fattens Cattle," (UPI) Oakland Tribune, Nov. 22, 1971.

    In retrospect, there were many customs of our grandparents that, although lacking in scientific rationale at the time, were based upon centuries of accumulated experience through trial and error, and have since been proven to be infinitely wise. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" could well have been more than an idle slogan, especially in an era when it was customary for everyone to eat the seeds of those apples as well. It is a fact that the whole fruit--including the seeds--of an apple contains an amazingly high concentration of vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins that are essential for health. Apple seeds are especially rich in nitriloside. And grandma's apricot and peach preserves almost always the kernels of these canned fruits for winter eating. She probably didn't know what they contained or why they were good for you. But she knew that they were good for you simply because her mother told her so.

    And so we see that the foods that once provided the American people with ample amounts of natural vitamin B17 gradually have been pushed aside or replaced altogether by foods almost devoid of this factor. Significantly,. it is during this same period that the cancer rate has moved steadily upward to the point where, today, one out of every three persons in the United States is destined to contract this disease.

    It cannot be argued that the cancer rate is up merely because other causes of death are down and, thus, people are living longer. First of all, they are not living that much longer--only a few years, on the average, over the past four generations. In 1972, a year in which the average age of the American population was headed downward, a year in which the population growth rate had shrunk practically to zero, the death rate from cancer rose to the highest level it had yet reached: three times the 1950 rate.(1) Secondly, in those countries where people live longer than in the United States, the cancer rate for them is lower than for us.
    (1) "Cancer Cure Still Eludes Scientists," (NEA) News Chronicle (Calif.) Aug. 29, 1973, p. A-9.

    There is no escape from the significance of these facts. While the medical world, the federal government, and the American Cancer Society are spending billions of dollars and millions of man-hours searching for an exotic cancer virus against which they plan to spend an equal amount to create an effective man-made immunization, the answer lies right under their noses. In fact, it has existed in the written and spoken record for thousands of years:
    [And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.] (Genesis 1:29)

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