How Valerian Root Is Used
Valerian is a flowering plant found around the world that has a notable sedative effect. Its been used since the first century CE, initially mainly to relieve bloating and gas and to stimulate menstruation. Its been used to treat anxiety and sleep problems.
Today, the herb is usually freeze-dried to make a powder thats added to teas and supplements. Una McCann, MD, the director of the Anxiety Disorders Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says shes seen valerian root take off since the 1970s. Its been touted by naturalists and herbalists as a wonderful, natural way to help somebody sleep and to relieve anxiety, she says. However, she cautions against the herb for her patients. Many natural substances are quite psychoactively potent, cocaine and heroin being two of the obvious ones. There is sort of a sense that if something is natural it must be safe, but in fact, thats not at all the case.
Not all experts are as skeptical, though they do stress caution. I dont advise patients to avoid valerian altogether if overall they are healthy,Gregory Scott Brown, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and director of the Center for Green Psychiatry in West Lake Hills, TX. Typically, patients will come to me having already tried natural products, like valerian, on their own and they are either looking for guidance about safety or if they arent benefiting from the product, they are wondering about what to do next.
What Do We Know About Safety
- Research suggests that valerian is generally safe for short-term use by most adults. It has been used with apparent safety in studies lasting up to 28 days. The safety of long-term use of valerian is unknown.
- Little is known about whether itâs safe to use valerian during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
- Side effects of valerian include headache, stomach upset, mental dullness, excitability, uneasiness, heart disturbances, and even insomnia in some people. A few people feel drowsy in the morning after taking valerian, especially at higher doses. Some people experience dry mouth or vivid dreams.
- Because it is possible that valerian might have a sleep-inducing effect, it should not be taken along with alcohol or sedatives.
Contraindications Adverse Effects Interactions
Valerian is listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a food supplement and is, therefore, not subject to regulatory control beyond labeling requirements. According to Commission E monographs,18 there are no contraindications to valerian. Reported adverse effects of valerian are rare. In a 14-day, multiple-dose study6 of 16 patients, there were only two adverse events in patients receiving valerian compared with 18 events in patients receiving placebo. A randomized, controlled, double-blind study19 of 102 subjects evaluated reaction time, alertness, and concentration the morning after using valerian root extract and found no negative effect in single- or repeated-dose administrations of valerian. Only one adverse effect was attributed to the valerian extract.
No evidence of potentiation of valerian effects by concomitant ingestion of alcohol has been found in animal and human studies, but the combination should still be avoided.1,20 Valerian may potentiate the sedative effects of barbiturates, anesthetics, and other central nervous system depressants.21 One case report22 suggests that sudden cessation of long-term high dose valerian therapy may result in withdrawal symptoms similar to those occurring with benzodiazepine use. Perhaps because of the poorly defined effects of valerian on GABA neurotransmission, valerian appears to attenuate benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms in animals and humans.23,24
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It May Reduce Inflammation In Depression
Apart from influencing brain chemistry to ameliorate depressive symptoms, Valeriana officinalis may also curb inflammation in the brain.
Neuroinflammation or inflammation in the brain may occur as a result of HPA axis hyperactivity and immune dysfunction.
HPA axis or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is a network between part of the brain and major hormone-secreting glands in our body, that influences our stress response.
Neamati et al. have confirmed that Valeriana officinalis reduce depression-like behaviour by employing its anti-inflammatory action.
Valepotriates, present in Valeriana species, exert an antidepressant effect by inhibiting the action of pro-inflammatory agents in the brain.
Hesperidin is an antioxidant present in many plant sources including valerian root. A study published in Inflammation, 2016 confirmed that hesperidin inhibits neuroinflammation to deliver an antidepressant effect.
Oxidative stress involves an imbalance between prooxidant and antioxidant agents in the body. High levels of prooxidant species and reduced antioxidant defences cause oxidative damage.
Oxidative stress in the brain fuels inflammation and depressive symptoms.
Seems like Valeriana officinalis extracts can help with this as well it exerts its antioxidant action to protect brain health and function from neurotoxicity and relieves oxidative stress in the brain.
Why Trust Verywell Mind
Sydney Greene, MS, RD, takes supplement recommendations seriously. Every product has been researched and vetted against clinical research, product reviews, and third-party testing websites. These are products she would not only feel comfortable recommending to her clients, but she would take them herself if needed.
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How To Take Valerian Root For Sleep
There is no official dosage recommended for people wanting to take valerian root. Most research studies of valerian roots effect on sleep have people take 300 to 600 milligrams, once per day, on a regular basis.
When taking a supplement, its often best to start with a low dose, then gradually increase it over time, if needed. Talk to your doctor before starting valerian root to discuss dosage and if its the best sleep aid for you.
Is Taking Valerian Root Effective For Anxiety And Sleep
Many small clinical studies have been done to test the efficacy and safety of valerian root for sleep. Results have been mixed: In a 2009 placebo-controlled study, for example, women with insomnia took 300 mg of valerian extract 30 minutes before bedtime for two weeks.
The women reported no significant improvements in the onset or quality of sleep. Likewise, a review of 37 studies found that most clinical trials of valerian root showed no differences between valerian root and placebo on sleep. These studies were done in both healthy individuals and people with insomnia.
But the National Institutes of Health describes an old study showing that 400 mg of valerian root extract did significantly improve sleep compared to placebo in 128 healthy volunteers.
Participants reported improvements in the time needed to fall asleep, quality of sleep, and number of middle of the night awakenings.
The NIH also noted a in which 121 people with insomnia taking 600 mg of dried valerian root had decreased symptoms of insomnia compared to the placebo after 28 days of treatment.
Research on the use of valerian root in treating anxiety is somewhat lacking. One
- stomach upset
As with most herbal products and supplements in the United States, valerian root products arent regulated well by the FDA. Valerian root can make you drowsy, so dont drive or operate machinery after taking it.
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Dosage Of Valerian For Depression
A dose of 450-900 mg of standardized valerian extract can help Major Depressive Disorder. A dose of 900mg valerian extract has been successfully used to mitigate symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.
Valerian tea is the most popular herbal sedative tea. More research is required to confirm its effects on sleep.
Please consult a health practitioner before taking valerian supplements.
Who Shouldnt Take It
You should not take valerian root if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you suffer from liver disease. If you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors , other antidepressants and certain other classes of medication, Valerian root should be used with caution, and may not be appropriate in those cases.
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Valerian Root Extract To Ease Anxiety
Valerian is an herb used in traditional medicine as a remedy for insomnia and stress. It is believed to reduce anxiety, stress, and to promote relaxation. This herb has pretty pink flowers and its roots are used to make the extracts for this medicine.
It is extremely popular as a dietary supplement and is recommended across the internet for its adaptogenic properties. Here, we have curated a list of the best Valerian root extracts that will help reduce your anxiety:
Benefits Of Valerian Root
Valerian root may provide benefits beyond improved sleep and anxiety. Although more research is needed, and many of these studies are in their early stages, researchers have found that valerian root supplementation may also help treat or manage:
- Cognitive dysfunction after heart surgery
Preliminary research also shows that in lab experiments, valerian root extract and the valeric acid found in valerian root may slow the growth of breast cancer cells and may have anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties in general. Another study found similar results when valeric acid was applied to liver cancer cells. However, more research is needed to understand if or how valerian root can be used to treat people with cancer.
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Possible Ways To Mitigate Valerian Side Effects
If youre experiencing unwanted side effects following valerian supplementation, you may want to consider some mitigation strategies before discontinuing valerian altogether. Strategies that may be effective for reducing the occurrence of side effects include: adjusting your dosage, eliminating other supplements from your stack, taking valerian after a meal, adding other supplements, or changing your administration time. Prior to implementing any of these side effect mitigation strategies, be sure to verify their efficacy and safety with a medical professional.
Tips On How To Use Valerian Root For Anxiety & Panic Attacks
You can prepare valerian root tea to treat bouts of anxiety every night. However, there are many different ways in which you can apply its use. See below the steps of using valerian root extract for relieving symptoms of anxiety.
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Does Valerian Cause Heart Problems
While the effects of valerian in people with heart rhythm disorders hasnt been evaluated, the supplement has been shown to slow the heart rate in some people and may cause certain abnormal rhythms. For this reason, you should be very cautious about taking valerian if you have an abnormal heart rhythm.
What Does The Research Say
A 2014 meta-analysis paper in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry examined a number of popular herbal medications to determine their effectiveness for treating anxiety and insomnia, particularly for patients with bipolar disorder.4
This type of study can be very useful when research mainly consists of papers with only a small number of subjects. A meta-analysis combines these smaller studies in order to look for similar patterns, which can then give more weight to the overall findings.
When the researchers pooled findings from smaller studies, valerian received an A rating in terms of the level of evidence for treating anxiety and a B rating for the level of evidence for treating insomnia.4 It also appeared to have minimal side effects compared to some of the other herbal medications examined in the study.
While some of the individual findings may have been inconclusive, the researchers felt that valerian was quite promising for treating anxiety or insomnia in patients with bipolar disorder. Furthermore, it seemed to work at least as well as benzodiazepines for treating anxiety.4
Many patients with mood disorders, particularly anxiety and bipolar disorder, also have chronic insomnia. Fortunately, valerian shows promise as a safe alternative or adjunct to benzodiazepines for treating both conditions.
How Does Valerian Affect The Body
Scientists arent exactly sure how valerian works in the body.
However, research suggests its activity is related to the independent and synergistic actions of compounds found in the plant, including (
- low levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid
Certain compounds in valerian, called valerenic acid and valerenol, can act on GABA receptors in the body.
GABA is a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your nervous system.
Its one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for sleep regulation, and increasing the amount of GABA available in your body has sedative effects .
Valerenic acid and valerenol can modulate GABA receptors and increase the amount of GABA available in the central nervous system. Whats more, research has shown that valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA .
Compounds in valerian may also interact with receptors for serotonin and adenosine, chemicals that play important roles in the regulation of sleep and mood .
Additionally, preliminary research suggests that valepotriates the compounds that give valerian its characteristic pungent smell may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in the body .
Valerian contains a number of compounds that may help promote calmness by increasing GABA availability in the body and interacting with certain receptors involved in mood and sleep.
Studies have shown that taking valerian in supplement form may be helpful for treating certain conditions, including anxiety and insomnia.
Combined Data Shows Improvements In Sleep
On the other hand, the combined data of these six studies did show a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality for the group of participants using valerian.
These studies also happened to have the largest sample sizes, perhaps giving them more strength than the others.
Still, the authors of this review warn that the results should be taken with caution, as there were many flaws in their statistical analyses.
Valerian & St John’s Wort For Anxiety
Most people experience periods of anxiety and worry at some point in their lives, particularly when going through a difficult time or before an important event such as a job interview. However, if you feel anxious about everything and find it difficult to relax, you may have anxiety disorder. According to the NHS Choices website, the exact cause of anxiety disorder is unknown, but it may be caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain 1. If you suffer from anxiety, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs or psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. St. John’s wort and valerian are sometimes used to treat anxiety, although there is little scientific evidence to prove that they work 235.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Variables That Influence Valerian Side Effects
It is necessary to realize that not all valerian users experience the same side effects. One user may report excessive daytime sleepiness, while another may report depression and weird dreams. The specific valerian side effects experienced, as well as their perceived intensities, are largely subject to individual variation based on variables such as: valerian dosage, co-ingested substances, frequency of administration, and valerian source/formulation.
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Animal Studies Show That Valerian Root Extracts Relieve Depression And Anxiety
36 patients with generalised anxiety were enrolled in the study. They were treated with 81.3 mg valepotriates or 6.5 mg diazepam or placebo for 4 weeks.
All three groups experienced a reduction in anxiety scores in 4 weeks but only those treated with valepotriates and diazepam experienced a significant reduction in the psychic factor of Hamilton anxiety scale.
The researchers stated that these results were preliminary and deserved further research.
Further, in 2003, Müller and colleagues reported that a combination of St. Johns wort and valerian root extract relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety rapidly in comparison to St. Johns wort alone.
In 2008, Tang et. al proved that low dose Valerian officinalis extract influences brain chemistry, specifically serotonin, to relieve depressive symptoms and saves injured brain cells in the hippocampus .
Apart from serotonergic neurotransmission, valerenic acid present in valerian extract may also influence the activity of another chemical involved in brain function- gamma-aminobutyric acid to relieve depressive and anxiety symptoms.
GABA is derived from another neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate participates in cognitive activities while GABA induces relaxation.
An imbalance between these neurotransmitters is observed in mood disorders and leads to cell death of neurons.
Researchers are exploring the idea of targeting glutaminergic neurotransmission to relieve symptoms of depression.
Can Valerian Root Help You Sleep
After analyzing 60 research studies published over nearly 40 years, researchers determined that valerian root can likely improve sleep and reduce anxiety in many people. Valerian root supplements have been found to help people fall asleep faster, improve their sleep quality, and spend more time in a deep sleep stage.
However, some studies found that valerian root had no effect or a statistically insignificant effect. To see improvement, people might have to take valerian root regularly, rather than once in a while or as needed.
One thing to keep in mind is that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises against the use of natural sleep aids, including valerian root and melatonin, when treating chronic insomnia, due to the lack of evidence for their effectiveness and safety. Chronic insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person has trouble falling or staying asleep three more nights per week for at least three months. During this time, they also experience daytime fatigue or difficulty concentrating.
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