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Germany's Commission E Monographs

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Promoters have touted Germany's Commission E as the most accurate information in the world on herbal remedies; and some have made it appear as if Commission E was the equivalent of the U.S. FDA. However, neither of these descriptions is valid. Commission E obtains clinical reports from practitioners, which have little validity in a country with a strong tradition of romantic vitalism. In Germany, 7 out of 10 general practitioners employ "alternative" methods. It is true that Commission E has been responsible for the removal of over 100 herbal drugs from the marketplace, but a large dubious medicine industry still thrives there, with 90,000 of the 126,000 medicines on the market in Germany are "homeopathic and natural medicines." (New Scientist, 2/6/93:7).

Commission E monographs leave much to be desired. A review in JAMA (1999;281:1852-3) says that toxic effects are less extensively documented than in the Lawrence Review of Natural Products, or Ellenhorn's Medical Toxicology. Some monographs state or imply that certain herbs can kill, but others omit fatal reactions due to arnica, eucalyptus oil, nutmeg, ephedra, monkshood, squill, mistletoe, mate, comfrey, senecio, and mayapple. Many of the monographs are "briefer than tense, and all lack literature references, which denudes their value as believable wisdom."

Recommended Resources

The Review of Natural Products, Facts & Comparisons. Wolters Kluwer Company, 111 West Port Plaza, Suite 300, St. Louis, MO 63146-3098; Tel: 800-223-0554. Formerly known as The Lawrence Review of Natural Products, this publication reviews the pharmacological literature and publishes monographs that provide substantive, referenced information under the headings: Scientific Names, Common Names, Products, Botany, History, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Toxicology, Summary. The monographs are formatted for a three-ring binder and are periodically updated. New indices are provided annually in July. The publisher acknowledges that the information it publishes is derived from journals, textbooks, news releases, etc, and disclaims responsibility for the validity of its sources. This is wise, because some natural product companies are the primary source of information, and the published information may be biased.

Prescriber's:Letter. In 1997, the publishers of Pharmacist's Letter and Prescriber's Letter have developed a chart with information about over 50 common herbs, including their possible interactions with conventional drugs, and they have agreed to provide a complimentary copy to members or subscribers to the NCAHF Newsletter. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this chart, contact Pharmacist's Letter or Prescriber's Letter at P.O. Box 8190, Stockton, CA 95208; telephone: 209-472-2240; e-mail: mail@pletter.com. Ask for Document #131033. Pharmacist's Letter is an independent service providing unbiased drug information for subscribers. Copyrighted. Price: $85 per year.

Complementary and Alternative Medicines by PharmDs Charles W. Fetrow and Juan R. Avila, Springhouse Publications, Springhouse, PA, is heralded by a medical botanist NCRHI respects as "the best referenced book that I have seen on herbs and such. It puts the German E commission into perspective. I have found only minor problems. Highly recommended."

Additional Resources

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This article was posted on January 15, 2001.