Health Benefits of Valerian root

Valerian flower

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), also known as all-heal or garden heliotrope, is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. Since ancient times, the root of this plant has been used to treat insomnia, nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations.

In the US, valerian root is mainly sold as a sleep aid, while in Europe it is used to treat restlessness, tremors, and anxiety.

Compounds Responsible for Sedating Effects Include:

  • Valerenic acid increases levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces brain cell activity. It also has anti-inflammatory effects (by reducing NF-KappaB activity).
  • Iridoids (valepotriates and their derivatives) have sedative effects, but are unstable and break down during storage or in water, making their activity difficult to assess .
  • Isovaleric acid prevents involuntary muscle contractions. Its action is similar to valproic acid, which is used to treat epilepsy .
  • Hesperidin and linarin are antioxidant flavonoids with sleep-enhancing effects. Hesperidin also has anti-seizure effects (by blocking calcium channels) .

GABA is also found in valerian extracts in quantities sufficient to cause a sedative effect, although it is not known whether it crosses the blood-brain barrier. However, the glutamine present in water (but not alcohol) extracts of valerian root can cross the blood-brain barrier and be converted to GABA

Mechanisms of Action

Although its influence on the GABA system is well-documented, valerian has many other modes of action which may contribute to relaxation and other health benefits .

  • Activates adenosine and serotonin receptors .
  • Inhibits prostaglandins (responsible for painful contractions)
  • May relax blood vessels
  • May reduce the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Suppresses inflammation (NF-kappaB activity)

Health Benefits of Valerian Root

Possibly Effective:

1) Insomnia

Valerian’s mild sedative effects have been used to promote relaxation and sleep for at least 2,000 years. Valerian may improve sleep by increasing GABA levels

In fact, lower GABA levels are found in people with short and long-term stress and are linked to anxiety and poor sleep quality

A meta-analysis of 16 studies and 1,093 people found that valerian improved the speed of falling asleep, depth, and overall quality of sleep

In a 2-day study of 27 elderly patients with mental problems, 44% reported perfect sleep and 89% reported improved sleep using a valerian preparation (containing sesquiterpenes)

Additionally, a one-month-long study of 16 people with insomnia found that a single dose of valerian improved the time to achieve deep sleep and its duration

Valerian may also help reduce sleep disturbances in a variety of health conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Menopause
  • Hypothyroidism
  • PTSD
  • HIV
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal

A more recent meta-analysis (18 trials and over 1,000 patients) found that valerian’s improvement of insomnia was mainly subjective

While some research shows that valerian may be useful for treating short-term insomnia, there is a lack of well-designed clinical trials that support its effectiveness and safety beyond 4 to 6 weeks

Rather, its main benefit seems to be promoting natural sleep after several weeks of use, without the risk of dependence or negative health effects. When used properly, it can serve as a more gentle alternative to common insomnia drugs

2) Menopausal Symptoms

In a study of 100 menopausal women with sleep disturbances, valerian root significantly improved sleep quality after 4 weeks

A 3-month study of 60 postmenopausal women found that valerian significantly improved the severity and frequency of hot flashes

Insufficient Evidence:

No valid clinical evidence supports the use of valerian root for any of the conditions in this section. Below is a summary of up-to-date animal studies, cell-based research, or low-quality clinical trials which should spark further investigation. However, you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of any health benefit.

3) Anxiety

Valerian is known as ‘nature’s valium’ because it supposedly has a similar effect on reducing anxiety as the benzodiazepines Valium and Xanax. These bind to GABA receptors in the brain (amygdala)

One study of 2,462 adults with major depressive disorder and anxiety found that high doses of valerian (1000 mg/day) taken in combination with St John’s Wort (600 mg/ day) for 6 weeks reduced the symptoms of anxiety and depression by 66% .

Some researchers noticed that mice treated with valerian and valerenic acid exhibited a decrease in anxious behaviors.

However, one 4-week pilot study of 36 people with anxiety showed no significant differences between the valerian-treated group and placebo group

Further studies should clarify the potential benefits of valerian for anxiety.

4) Stress Management

In a study of 27 patients regularly kept awake at night by stress-inducing thoughts, 89% of those patients had better sleep after one month of valerian treatment

Valerian may also reduce physical reactions during stressful situations. It slowed heart rate and reduced blood pressure in response to stress in a 2-week study of 56 healthy people

A 4-day study of 24 healthy volunteers found that the combination of lemon balm and valerian improved laboratory-induced stress scores at 600 mg compared to placebo, but increased anxiety at a higher dose (1800 mg)

Valerian reduced physical and psychological stress in rats by maintaining serotonin and norepinephrine levels in brain regions associated with fear and anxiety (hippocampus and amygdala)

In mice, valerian reduced blood levels of a hormone involved in the stress response

5) ADHD

Valerian increases GABA levels in the brain. Deficiencies in GABA play a role in anxiety, restlessness, and obsessive behavior, which are symptoms often seen in ADHD

In a study of 30 children aged 5 to 11, valerian (3 times a day for 2 weeks) improved ADHD symptoms (sustained inattention and impulsivity and/or hyperactivity). These positive effects disappeared one week after discontinuing valerian treatment .

In a 7-week study of 169 children with hyperactivity and concentration difficulties (but not meeting ADHD criteria), the combination of valerian and lemon balm decreased symptoms of restlessness, concentration difficulties, and impulsiveness .

Similarly, in another study of 918 children under 12 with difficulty falling asleep and restlessness, a combination of valerian and lemon balm improved symptoms in 81% of the patients with insomnia and 70.4% of the patients with restlessness without any negative effects .

The preliminary results are promising, but more research is needed before proclaiming valerian safe and effective for ADHD, restlessness, and similar disorders in children.

6) Menstrual Cramps

Because of this, it is commonly used to treat uterine cramping associated with painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) .

A 3-day study of 100 female students found that valerian was effective in relieving menstrual cramp pain compared to placebo .

7) Wellbeing During Cancer and HIV Treatment

An 8-week study of 227 patients undergoing cancer therapy did not support the use of valerian for insomnia, although fatigue was reduced .

Additionally, in a review, valerian improved insomnia and wellbeing in people undergoing treatment for cancer due to its calming effects. Contrary to popular belief, it did not interact with cancer drugs .

The drug efavirenz used in HIV patients is known to impair mental health and cause psychiatric disorders. In a 4-week pilot study of 51 HIV-positive patients, valerian root reduced insomnia and anxiety but failed to reduce psychosis and suicidal thoughts .

8) Memory and Cognitive Function

In a study of 61 patients, valerian reduced the risk of cognitive decline a month after heart surgery compared to placebo .

Scientists observed the potential of valerenic acid to significantly improve memory by reducing oxidative stress in the memory center of the brain (hippocampus) in mice .

9) Fibromyalgia

A valerian bath (3 times a week for 3 weeks) significantly improved wellbeing and sleep and decreased pain in 30 people with fibromyalgia.

Further research is warranted.

10) OCD

In an 8-week trial of 31 adults with OCD, valerian root reduced OCD symptoms compared to placebo

There’s insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for OCD based on a single small trial.

11) Digestive Problems

Valerian is used as a home remedy for stomach cramps. Although it can reduce muscle spasms, current evidence does not support the use of valerian as a digestive aid .

In a study on guinea pigs, valepotriates and the essential oil present in valerian reduced contractions in the small intestine .

12) Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

An 8-week study of 37 people with restless leg syndrome (RLS) found that valerian significantly improved RLS symptoms and decreased daytime sleepiness .

However, two reviews found insufficient evidence to confirm valerian’s effectiveness in treating RLS

Valerian Root Risks and Side Effects

Valerian is likely safe when taken for 4 to 8 weeks by healthy adults at recommended doses. Long-term safety data are not available. In rare cases, it can cause mild side effects, such as :

  • Headaches
  • Digestive upset
  • Excitability
  • Dry mouth
  • Thinking problems
  • Strange dreams

Valerian has been classified as “generally recognized as safe” in the US .

Other Risks and Precautions

  • Allergic Reaction: People with allergies to plants in the Valerianaceae family may be allergic to valerian.
  • Addiction: Medical reports link overuse of valerian to liver toxicity and addictiveness .
  • Drowsiness: At high doses, daytime drowsiness can occur and caution is advised while driving or operating machinery
  • Increased Effects of Anesthetics: If you need surgery, stop taking valerian at least 2 weeks ahead of time. Valerian may increase the effects of anesthetics that act on GABA receptors .
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Heart problems and delirium might occur if valerian is stopped suddenly .
  • Overstimulation: At high doses, excitation may occur in some people .
  • Suicide: Researchers report 1 case of attempted suicide after a massive overdose on valerian.

Drug Interactions

Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

Animal studies and anecdotal reports suggest that valerian may increase both beneficial and side effects caused by sedative drugs. Examples include :

  • Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
  • Narcotics, such as codeine
  • Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Alcohol
  • Anti-seizure drugs

However, there is little evidence for clinically relevant interactions in humans

  Valerian root bottle  
30 capsules
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Suggested dosage:
Take one a day
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