With the ever increasing number of people suffering from insomnia, and the strange side effects reported from certain sleep aid medications, it is no wonder that valerian root is now surging in popularity.
People are looking for safe and natural alternatives, and many valerian root sleep studies have proven the effectiveness of this herb, with little or no side effects reported.
There are over 200 different species of valerian found in Japan, China, Europe, North America, and India. Valerian is a perennial plant that grows to about 4 feet in height, and has almond shaped opposing leaves. The plant blooms from the top of the stems in the summer months, and the valerian root has a distinctive odor that is very pungent in nature.
The root and dried rhizome of 3 species-V. officinalis L., V. jatamansi (Indian valerian) and V. edulis (Mexican valerian)-are the most often used for sleep promoting purposes.
Valerian Root-Active Constituents
- Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
- Alkaloids-actinidine, chatinine, skyanthine, valerianine, valerine.
- Valepotriates-valerates, dihydrovalerates, valerosidate.
- Volatile Oils-monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, valerenyl esters.
- Phenylpropanoids-caffeic and chlorogenic acids.
- Sesquiterpenoids-valerenolic acid and acetylvalerenolic acid.
Hippocrates was believed to be using valerian root as a medicinal agent for sleep problems as early as 420 BC. Valerian root has been used in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia; as documented in Greek, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, and Renaissance texts. It was used to promote sleep, as a sedative, to relieve nausea, and for urinary and gastrointestinal issues.
Valerian root is most commonly used to induce sleep in people with mild to moderate insomnia. In addition to inducing sleep, it is also used as a natural sedative, to calm anxiety, and in the treatment of pain and muscle spasms.
Mechanisms of Action
Valerian extract appears to have some effect on the GABA (benzodiazepine) receptor. But this does not appear to be caused by the valerenic acid, but by the high concentration of GABA itself. The amount of GABA present is enough to account for the release of GABA by the synaptosomes, and also may inhibit reuptake. However, GABA does not cross the blood brain barrier very well at low concentrations, so the in vitro tests cannot account for results observed in the clinical studies. Catabolism of GABA may be inhibited by valeronic and acetylvalerenolic acid.
Studies on rats have clearly demonstrated that valerian root has sedating properties. Studies involving valerian root demonstrate that it’s effects are similar to benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium); however, only mild anti-convulsive properties were found. These tests can not be considered conclusive though because they have not all been reproduced.
Some objective sleep studies showed no difference between the valerian and the placebo group in regards to sleep stages, sleep latency, awakening, and EEG patterns. Other objective studies indicated increased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, increases in slow wave sleep, decreased stage 1 sleep, increased K-complexes, and decrease in wake time after sleep onset.
Another randomized placebo controlled trial was conducted in children with various hyperactivity problems and difficulty sleeping. The valerian root group showed a significant improvement in sleep duration and quality of sleep compared to the placebo group.
There is little information available about reactions between valerian root and any other drugs. However, caution should be used when combining valerian root with drugs that are used for insomnia, anxiety, or as a sedative, because of potential additive effects. Valerian root side effects are rare.
Valerian Root Dosage
- Dried root and rhizome-2-3 g (3 times daily or at bedtime)
- Tincture (20% concentration by volume in a 70% ethanol solution)-1-3 ml 3 times daily or at bedtime.
When taking a standardized extract, or a valerian sleep aid that may contain other ingredients, it is recommended that you follow the instructions listed by the manufacturer or consult a doctor trained in herbal medicine.
While valerian may not be the silver bullet, it appears to be a safe and effective option for insomnia and anxiety. Choose whatever method you like. The important thing is that we must take action. After all, nobody is going to do it for us.