Often referred as nature’s Valium, valerian root has been used since ancient times to improve sleep and promote tranquility.
There are always questions whether valerian root is safe and efficient.
Today, we will talk about the benefits of valerian root, dosage, and explore some of the concerns regarding possible side effects.
Table of Contents
What is Valerian Root?
The herb, with its Latin name “Valeriana officinalis”, is native to Asia and Europe.
However, it also grows in the US and China.
Flowers from the plant have been used for perfume production centuries ago.
The root has been used in traditional medicine for more than 2,000 years.
The root, unlike the scented flowers, has a strong and earthy odor due to the volatile oils responsible for the sedative effects.
Fun fact: the name “valerian” is derived from the Latin verb valere, which translates to “to be strong and to be healthy”.
There are a couple of ways you can consume valerian root, including supplement in capsule and liquid, or as a tea.
How Valerian root helps?
The best way to understand the benefits is to understand how the root works.
Valerian root contains a number of compounds like isovaleric acid, valeric acid, and many antioxidants that promote sleep and reduce anxiety.
Valerian root interacts with gamma-aminobutyric acid(GABA), a chemical messenger that can regulate nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system.
According to several studies, low GABA levels are related to acute and chronic stress.
Valerian root, and its compounds can inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain, which results in feeling of calmness.
Think of the same way Valium and other anti-anxiety medications works.
Valerian root, as a bonus, contains antioxidants that can have a sedative effect and sleep-enhancing properties.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the benefits.
Valerian Root Can Help you Relax
This is one of the primary health benefits of valerian root.
People mostly consume valerian root to stay calm under stress.
Several studies have linked valerian root with easing anxious feelings occurring in response to stressful situations https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20042323.
There have been both animal and human studies.
A study in healthy adults found a combination of valerian and lemon balm to reduce anxiety ratings.
But it is worth noting that the dosage is very important, as a higher dose can actually increase anxiety https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16444660.
Valerian root can also help with chronic conditions characterized by anxious behaviors, like anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And unlike medications that are used for treating OCD, valerian root doesn’t cause any side effects.
Sleep disorders are very common nowadays.
According to statistics, more than 30% of people experience insomnia during their lifetime https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978319/.
They have troubles falling asleep, achieving high-quality and restorative sleep, and staying asleep for the whole night.
Valerian root can help in a number of ways.
The herb plant can reduce the amount it takes for you to fall asleep, but also improve sleep quality and quantity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3936097.
Why is sleep so important?
Well, for starters, deep sleep is crucial for recharging your body so that you can get up well-rested and full of energy.
Taking valerian will help you achieve deep sleep faster, and increase the time you spend in deep sleep.
As mentioned previously, valerian root can increase GABA levels in the brain.
These are lower during short and long-term stressful situations.
A study of 27 patients which had troubles sleeping due to stress, showed that valerian treatment helped them sleep better https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2678162.
And it was all because valerian helped them manage stress.
The results were visible just after one month of treatment.
Another one of the benefits includes reducing physical reactions during stressful situations.
For example, valerian can slow down the heart rate and reduce blood pressure in response to stress https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11807960.
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A study found a significant reduction in hot flash severity and reduction in hot flash frequency with a treatment of valerian https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24250592.
Another study has shown that women receiving valerian treatment during menopause can improve their sleep by 30%.
Whether you are suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or you experience painful menstruation, you can find relief in valerian.
A study found that valerian root benefits include improving physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms related to PMS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27419099.
Improve hyperactivity and focus in children with ADHD
We mentioned previously that valerian root increases GABA levels in your brain.
Deficiency in GABA can cause obsessive behavior, and other symptoms often seen in ADHD.
A pilot study of 30 children aged between 5 and 11 years, showed that the symptoms of ADHD are improved.
That included sustained inattention and impulsivity and hyperactivity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22214252.
However, it is worth mentioning that the positive effects disappeared one week after discounting the treatment.
Another study of 169 children under 12 years with hyperactivity and concentration problems, showed that a combination of valerian and lemon balm can decrease the symptoms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24837472.
Children reported reduced symptoms like restlessness, concentration difficulties, and impulsiveness.
Improve heart health
Valerian has recently been tested whether it improves heart health.
Remember, these are all cell-based studies, but they showed that valerian can strengthen blood vessels, improve elasticity, and offer other benefits to the health of our heart https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4695638/.
Valerian also lowers blood pressure, which prevents hypertension https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11807960.
Are there any side effects?
So far, studies have shown that valerian is remarkably safe for most people.
There are no adverse changes in our DNA, nor does valerian interfere with cancer therapy in patients who take it to relieve anxiety and improve their sleep https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24837473 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25093031.
If taken according to guidelines, valerian root will not affect your mental or physical performance.
However, if you do not follow the guidelines for dosage and usage, you might experience side effects.
For example, unlike anti-anxiety and sleep medications, valerian does not cause problems with dependency from regular use.
There are also no withdrawal symptoms if you decide to stop the therapy.
In terms of anxiety, as mentioned previously, side effects might appear if you take a higher dosage.
For example, taking more valerian than needed will result in more anxiety.
We must note that while there are usually no side effects, some people have reported headaches, stomach pain, and dizziness as side effects by the root.
There are conditions in which valerian root is not recommended.
For example, if you suffer from liver disease or other serious medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking valerian.
Pregnant women and children under three years of age should not consume valerian root.
How to use valerian root
As mentioned previously, there is a right way and wrong way to consume and use valerian root.
In order to reap the benefits, you must follow the guidelines and dosages.
Therefore, here is a quick guideline.
- For reducing sleep difficulty, consume between 400 and 900mg of valerian extract, and take it 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. Stay closer to the 400 than to 900mg dosage guideline
- For anxiety, take smaller dosages between 120 and 200mg three times per day at mealtimes, and last dose just before bedtime
- For menopausal and menstrual symptoms, take 225mg of ground valerian root three times per day for 8 weeks
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