The pyramid display of bottles at Manhattan’s Nutrition Centre health food store has been changed now to include a more mixed bag of vitamins, but the red-lettered SIGN—“WE HAVE IT—B-15”—still takes up a lot of space in the window. For a few weeks in March and April—after a New York magazine cover story on the alleged superpill intimated it might cure everything from alcoholism to heart disease to neuralgia and also provide 10 milligrams of eternal youth along the way—B-15 had the pyramid display all to itself.
The article set off such a wave of coastto-coast cash-flashing in the United States that the heretofore little known pangamic acid—popped regularly only by health faddists, athletes and U.S. equestrian team horses—became an overnight sensation, outsellingsuch staples as deodorized garlic juice, kelp and crush-your-own peanut butter. In Canada the reaction has been somewhat more restrained. One Montreal health food store is waiting until it has something else to order before refilling its sold-out B-15, and Vancouver proprietors aren’t ordering at all because they’re not sure the B-15 image is “pure enough.”
Discovered in an apricot pit in 1951 by Ernst T. Krebs Sr. and Jr.—the people who developed Laetrile, the controversial possible cancer cure from the same seed—
B-15 increases the supply of oxygen in the blood and its uptake into body tissues. As New York magazine put it, “from this simple transaction many medical marvels follow.” The most marvelous are those reported by the Soviets, whose experiments with the Krebs formula in the mid-’60s purportedly came up with a product that could cause a major panic among hotelkeepers in the Lourdes miracle belt. The Soviet version of B-15 lists as some of its functions: helping autistic children communicate; slowing up old age, curing drug addiction; enabling people who have difficulty walking to jump over fences after treatment. But can they walk?
Apparently, in the U.S.S.R., they can. However, the U.S. Lood and Drug Administration thinks the B-15 marketed and consumed in the U.S. really is the pits. The FDA has been seizing shipments and taking manufacturers to court, charging that some of the products contain illegal food additives. Promoters claim B-15 is a vitamin but, says the FDA, it is not. because it isn't required for normal growth and maintenance of life.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, 62-yearold biochemist Ernst T. Krebs Jr. (the elder Krebs, a physician, died 10 years ago) is viewing the commercial hype on B-15 with dismay. “Almost all the versions on the market are nutritional nonsense,” he says. “Manufacturers are grinding out a highly exploitative, non-toxic placebo.” Krebs does not know the quality of what is now being produced in Canada. Trophic Canada, a Penticton, B.C. firm, developed its brand, says chemist and vice-president Dr. Ganga Pandey, “by following the methods in the Russian reports.” And the federal Health Protection Branch is leaving B-15 alone so long as no one promotes it as a drug or vitamin.
But the craze for the “food supplement” has surprised at least one Toronto health store proprietor. “Is it really that hot an item?” asks Arnie Levkoe, whose downtown store sold 30 packages of 100 pills, at $8.96 each, every week for a month. “Maybe I’ll start taking it myself,” he says, “but you don’t know which of these things is good. People can write an article to make it look any way they want, depending on how they feel that day.”
Krebs, busy with Laetrile for the past few years, has until now kept his own production of B-15 limited to an experimental supply but the current excitement over what he calls “improperly controlled garbage” has forced him to begin making “genuine B-15” in larger quantities. He expects it to be ready within three months, and believes that eventually the great bulk will be administered by physicians to people like the 87-year-old Texas woman who when she received a shot of the Krebs formula “became bright and alert" but “turned off like a light” when she didn’t. His interest, he says, “is not in piling up millions selling to a bunch of hypochondriacs and health food BUFFS."SANDRA PEREDO
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