Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Laetrile/Amygdalin (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - History

Amygdalin was first isolated in 1830 by two French chemists.[1,2] It was used as an anticancer agent in Russia as early as 1845, and positive results were reported for the first patient treated.[3,4] The first recorded use of amygdalin in the United States as a treatment for cancer occurred in the early 1920s.[5] At that time, amygdalin was taken in pill form; however, the formulation was judged too toxic, and the work was abandoned. In the 1950s, a purportedly nontoxic intravenous form of amygdalin was patented as Laetrile.[1,6,7]

Laetrile has been tested on cultured animal cells (cells grown in specialized containers in the laboratory), in whole animals, in xenograft models (tumor cells from one species transplanted onto another species), and in humans to determine whether it has specific anticancer properties (an ability to kill cancer cells more readily than normal cells). As noted previously (General Information), cyanide is believed to be the main cancer-killing ingredient in laetrile.[8,9] When amygdalin interacts with the enzyme beta-glucosidase or undergoes hydrolysis (breakdown in a reaction with water) in the absence of enzymes, hydrogen cyanide, benzaldehyde, and glucose (sugar) are produced.[1,7,8,10,11] Cyanide can also be produced from prunasin, which is a less-than-complete breakdown product of amygdalin.[1,8]

Recommended Related to Cancer


Many of the medical and scientific terms used in this summary are found in the NCI Dictionary of Genetics Terms. When a linked term is clicked, the definition will appear in a separate window. Creating evidence-based summaries on cancer genetics is challenging because the rapid evolution of new information often results in evidence that is incomplete or of limited quality. In addition, established methods for evaluating the quality of the evidence are available for some, but not all, aspects of...

Read the Introduction article > >

Four different theories have been advanced to explain the anticancer activity of laetrile. The first of these incorporates elements of the trophoblastic theory of cancer, a theory that is not widely accepted as an explanation for cancer formation. According to the trophoblastic theory, all cancers arise from primordial germ cells (cells that, under normal circumstances, would give rise to eggs or sperm), some of which become dispersed throughout the body during embryonic development and, therefore, are not confined to the testes or ovaries. The trophoblastic theory also suggests that transformation of primordial germ cells to a cancerous state is normally prevented by enzymes from the pancreas, and that cancers can be destroyed by pancreatic enzyme supplements and treatment with laetrile.[12,13,14,15,16,17] The rationale for laetrile use is the suggestion that malignant cells have higher than normal levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase (which is different from the aforementioned enzyme beta-glucosidase) and that they are deficient in another enzyme called rhodanese (thiosulfate sulfurtransferase).Another suggestion is that laetrile is modified in the liver, and that beta-glucuronidase breaks down the modified compound, ultimately producing cyanide. Rhodanese can convert cyanide into the relatively harmless compound thiocyanate. Thus, it has been proposed that cancer cells are more susceptible to the toxic effects of laetrile than normal cells because of an imbalance in these two enzymes.[10,13,18,19,20] It is important to note that there is no experimental evidence to support the idea that normal tissues and malignant tissues differ substantially in their concentrations of beta-glucuronidase or rhodanese.[21,22]

    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Colorectal cancer cells
    New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    Ovarian cancer illustration
    Real Cancer Perspectives
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    what is your cancer risk
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    prostate cancer overview
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    Actor Michael Douglas