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Valerian Root Might Treat Anxiety And Insomnia – But Research Reveals Something More

Valerian Root Might Treat Anxiety And Insomnia – But Research Reveals Something More July 31, 2018

Native to Europe and some parts of Asia, valerian is an herb – and the medicine that we will talk about is made from the valerian root. It also grows in parts of North America and is quite commonly used for treating sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and psychological stress. But what does the research say? Is there enough research on its benefits? You will find all that here.

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How Is Valerian Root Good For You? How Does It Work?

Scientifically called Valeriana officinalis, valerian root has a calming effect on the brain. It reduces stress and induces peaceful sleep. Valerian achieves this by increasing the levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.

The root is touted to have a few other benefits. Keep reading to know more.

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What Are The Benefits Of Valerian Root?

1. Valerian Root Helps Ease Anxiety

GABA regulates the nerve cells and offers a calming effect. This reduces anxiety. Valerian root contains valerenic acid and valerenol, which act as anti-anxiety agents (1). In fact, the root was found to have similar anti-anxiety effects as prescription drugs like alprazolam and diazepam. These properties of valerian can also aid depression treatment.

The root can have sedative effects (we will get to that next), and this can ease anxiety. However, most research is still unable to tell how valerian root achieves this.

2. Aids Sleep

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As we discussed, valerian root can have sedative effects. Research suggests that it can reduce the time required to fall asleep and also help one sleep better. Also, unlike most OTC pills, the root has minimal side effects. One Swedish study found that intake of valerian root extract improved sleep patterns and quality in the participants (2). This is because the root increases the amount of GABA in the brain, and GABA is a neurotransmitter which, in large amounts, can have sedative effects.

Did You Know?

The first documented use of valerian root is over 2,000 years ago, by a Greek physician named Dioscorides. It was even touted as an antidote to poisons.

 

3. Reduces Stress

When your anxiety levels drop and sleep quality improves, you will be able to manage stress better. By enhancing the GABA levels, valerian root relaxes the body and the mind.

Studies also show how valerian root can help suppress both physical and psychological stress (3).

4. Can Relieve Pain

Valerian root reduces the sensitivity of the nerves and hence acts as a great pain reliever. You can simply try some valerian tea the next time you need relief from pain.

Research shows valerian can also have analgesic effects on muscles. It can work as a muscle relaxant. Valerian might also treat headaches – however, we need more research on this.

5. Regulates Blood Pressure

The same properties of valerian root that reduce anxiety and stress are what help regulate blood pressure as well. And this is also true with valerian root supplements, which naturally lower blood pressure and keep it at a healthy level.

6. Can Help Treat Bipolar Disorder

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Thanks to its sedative properties, valerian root can also help in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

7. Helps With Benzo Withdrawal

Benzo withdrawal is the cluster of symptoms a person experiences when he undergoes a dosage reduction or discontinuation after taking benzodiazepines (drugs prescribed for treating insomnia). Studies have shown that valerian root can help deal with the benzo withdrawal symptoms (4).

8. Valerian Root Relieves Menstrual Cramps

The easing nature of valerian root can be put to good use to relieve menstrual cramps. The root can reduce the severity of the cramps. Given the natural sedative and antispasmodic nature of the root, it suppresses muscle spasms and relaxes the muscles.

According to an Iranian study, the root can calm the uterine contractions, which can otherwise lead to severe menstrual pain (5). Even the valerian root extract had shown to reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (6).

Did You Know?

The sedative effects of valerian root can be felt by other animals like cats, rats, dogs, and earthworms.

 

These are the few ways valerian root can make your life simpler. But then, we have one question – quite an important one. If valerian root aids sleep and reduces stress, what about melatonin, the sleep hormone?

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Valerian Root Vs. Melatonin – What’s The Difference?

Melatonin is what we call the sleep hormone. The pineal gland in your body produces melatonin and is wonderfully correlated with your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is released into the blood around 9 PM in the night and stays elevated in the blood for about 12 hours.

Valerian root, on the other hand, is a sedative herb. It has been used for centuries for treating insomnia. It increases the GABA levels in the brain, and this decreases brain activity and allows people to fall asleep more easily.

Both can be equally good in inducing sleep and treating insomnia. And though melatonin is also available in the market, it is best not to use both (melatonin and valerian root) together. One of the two should suffice.

Both of them can regulate blood pressure levels. Both can also ease muscle spasms and relieve stress and anxiety.

All this tells us that valerian root is beneficial to you. But wait, there is another side to this story.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Valerian Root?

  • Sluggishness

An overdose of valerian root can cause sluggishness, especially in the mornings. It can also cause headaches, stomach upset, mental dullness, heart disturbances, and even insomnia in some people. Consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms.

  • Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

There is not enough information. So, stay safe and avoid its use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Issues During Surgery

Valerian slows down the central nervous system, and even the anesthesia during surgery does the same. The combined effect can be harmful. Hence, stop taking valerian at least two weeks before surgery.

  • Issues With Children

There is not enough research with respect to valerian intake in children below the age of 3 years. Hence, it’s best they stay away.

All this tells us one thing – to ensure we take valerian root properly. But how?

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How To Use Valerian Root

You can buy valerian supplements from your nearest pharmacy. You can also buy it as a dry powdered extract in a capsule form, or use it as tea, tincture, or fluid extract.

Following are the approximate dosages for treating insomnia. You can take valerian about two hours before bed or up to thrice over the day, with the last dose being near bedtime.

If you are taking valerian tea, you can add 1 teaspoon (2 to 3 grams) of the dried root to 1 cup of boiling water and steep for about 10 minutes.

For the tincture, the dosage is 1.5 teaspoons (about 6 mL). For the fluid extract, the dosage is 1 teaspoon (about 2 mL). And for the dry powdered extract, the dosage is 250-600 mcg.

You can also use valerian externally as an essential oil. It usually is the most effective after you use it regularly for two or more weeks.  Once your sleep improves, you can take valerian for two to six weeks. And for treating anxiety, you can take 120-200 milligrams of valerian three to four times per day.

Wait. We are not done yet. There are a few important things to keep in mind.

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Things To Keep In Mind

  • Ensure you read the product labels and directions before consuming valerian root. Certain products might contain higher dosages than recommended.
  • We don’t know how safe higher doses of valerian root are. Hence, please go by what your doctor says.
  • The root can make you drowsy. Hence, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery after taking consuming it. Taking it near bedtime works best.
  • Though valerian works well for insomnia and anxiety, it may not always be the answer to your issues. Avoid self-medication and consult your doctor/nutritionist.

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Conclusion

Nature holds the cure for most of our ailments. And valerian root is one of them. Make good use of it.

And tell us how this post has helped you. Just leave a comment in the box below.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

Can you take valerian root with alcohol?

Valerian can increase the sedative effects of anything that you take with it, and the same happens with alcohol. Taking the root with alcohol can cause severe drowsiness. So, taking the root with alcohol is not a good idea.

What drugs interact with valerian?

These include Alprazolam and sedative medications like Benzodiazepines and CNS depressants.

Is valerian root addictive?

Yes, it can be. Hence, don’t take the root for more than four to six weeks because the long-term effects might be harmful. Please check with your doctor before you use it.

References

  1. GABA A receptors as in vivo…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  2. Double blind study of a…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Valeriana officinalis root extract…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Can valerian improve the sleep of...”. US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Effects of valerian on the severity...”. US National Library of Medicine.
  6. The effects of valerian root extract…”. US National Library of Medicine.

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