For many years, valerian root has been used to improve sleep quality and reduce stress levels. Because of this, this product is often referred to as “natural valium”.
Over the years, this medication has received a huge amount of positive feedback. But despite this, in recent times, scientists decided to conduct a more detailed analysis of valerian and investigate the effectiveness and safety of this product. The results they obtained and the corresponding conclusions of the scientists we will discuss further below.
Basic information about valerian root
The medicinal plant called valerian is an herb that is grown primarily in Europe and Asia. However, some pharmacological companies are involved in the cultivation of this plant in the United States, China and several other countries.
At first, people used valerian flowers to make perfume. But later they discovered the usefulness of the plant’s root. In spite of this, valerian root has been used for medicinal purposes for over 2000 years.
The flowers of the plant have a delicate fragrance, while the root has a strong earthy smell. Scientists attribute this to the large amount of oils and other trace elements that provide a sedative effect on the human body.
The name “valerian” comes from the Latin word valere, which literally means “to be well.” The root extract, sold in pharmacies and online stores, is mostly in liquid or capsule form. However, it is also found in the form of a brewed tea.
How it works
Valerian root contains an impressive number of compounds that reduce stress levels, eliminate anxiety and provide improved sleep quality. These include:
- Valerian acid;
- Isovaleric acid.
But despite the large number of useful trace elements, when studying the properties of this medicinal plant, the interaction of the herb with gamma-aminobutyric acid, which provides regulation of nerve impulses in the nervous system and the brain, has attracted the greatest scientific attention.
Numerous experiments have demonstrated that low levels of GABA often lead to chronic stress, higher levels of anxiety and disturbed sleep. In addition, in studies, scientists have been able to find that valerian acid reduces the effects of GABA in the human brain, which leads to relaxation and tranquility. The corresponding effect is exactly identical to that of drugs such as Valium and Xanax, which are prescribed to reduce anxiety.
The main active antioxidants of valerian root are hesperidin and linarin. They are the ones that improve sleep quality. This effect is due to a decrease in activity levels in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear, strong emotions and stress.
Recent experiments with mice have shown that including valerian extracts in the diet improves responses to psychological and physical stress by maintaining high levels of serotonin, a substance involved in mood regulation. In addition, the therapeutic properties of valerian root have been shown to prevent sudden and involuntary contractions of muscle fibers similar to medications used to treat epilepsy.
The relaxing properties of valerian root
In times of stress, it is extremely difficult to remain calm. However, it is possible thanks to valerian root. According to research data, this product can reduce anxiety caused by stressful situations. For example, during one study, it was found that rats that received an extract of the medicinal plant before going through the maze were calmer when exercising compared to other groups that were not given the treatment or injected with alcohol.
Another human study showed that the combination of lemon balm and valerian reduced anxiety on difficult psychological tests. However, exceeding the recommended amount of these substances had the opposite effect of increasing stress levels.
In addition to reducing anxiety in stressful situations, valerian root can also be used to treat chronic behavioral problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
An 8-week study involving OCD sufferers found that regular intake of valerian extract eliminated some of the symptoms of this disorder. At the same time, unlike other medications for the treatment of this condition, it did not cause any side effects.
According to the researchers, taking valerian root may also be beneficial for children who have trouble concentrating due to hyperactivity. This claim was confirmed by one of the experiments, which showed that this product increases the attention span of children with high impulsivity by an average of 50 percent.
Effects of valerian on sleep
Sleep disturbance is a fairly common problem among the working population. As of today, approximately 30 percent of adults suffer from insomnia. Other people have difficulty falling asleep or are unable to fully recover during sleep.
Studies show that one of the benefits of valerian is that it reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Moreover, this medicinal herb can improve the quality of sleep and increase its duration.
In one study of subjects between the ages of 25 and 45 with sleep disorders, scientists found that taking 400 milligrams of valerian extract improved sleep quality in 85 percent of participants. And about 50 percent of them reported “perfect sleep” when taking the supplement.
Deep sleep, also often referred to as slow sleep, is very important to the human body. It is the sleep that provides the restoration of strength and energy. Thanks to this sleep a person wakes up refreshed and rested. One study showed that consuming valerian root in the evening allows you to reach a deep sleep 36 percent faster. Moreover, the extract provided an increase in the duration of this phase of sleep.
Scientists report that valerian can also be used to treat insomnia caused by taking benzodiazepines and addictive sedatives. For example, one experiment showed that regular consumption of valerian after quitting benzodiazepines significantly improved the speed of falling asleep and the quality of sleep. However, to achieve the appropriate effect, long-term use of the product is necessary – at least 2 weeks.
Despite the fact that studies on the effect of valerian on sleep have been conducted mainly among adults, doctors say that this medicinal extract can also be used by children who have problems with sleep. For example, an 8-week intake of this product in children with developmental delays increased the speed of falling asleep, the duration of sleep and its quality.
While scientists have not identified significant side effects from the use of valerian root, some researchers believe that this product should not be included in the diet. This is due to the fact that certain experiments have shown results similar to the effect of taking a placebo.
Other useful properties of valerian
The number of studies that have examined the benefits of valerian root is relatively small. But many of them show that including this supplement in the diet can be beneficial:
- During menopause – consuming 765 milligrams of valerian per day provides a reduction in the intensity and frequency of hot flashes;
- During menstrual cycles – adding a supplement to the diet helps to eliminate severe mood swings, as well as pain not only during the cycle, but also during PMS;
- Restless legs syndrome – regular intake of 800 mg extract provides complete relief from some symptoms and eliminates daytime sleepiness;
- During the treatment of Parkinson’s disease – valerian extract leads to normalization of behavior, reduces inflammation, and increases the amount of antioxidants in the blood.
Side effects of valerian
For most people this product is completely safe. Studies have shown that it does not affect DNA changes and does not interfere with the treatment of cancer.
In addition, this product has no negative effect on mental and physical activity. But such safety is ensured only if the supplement is used as prescribed.
In addition, unlike other drugs for improving sleep quality, valerian does not change the body’s natural morning response to awakening and does not reduce concentration levels. In addition, it is also not addictive when used regularly and does not lead to the development of a withdrawal syndrome if you stop taking it.
Despite this, off-label use of valerian root leads to unwanted side effects such as:
- Gastrointestinal disturbances;
Also, experts recommend that before including valerian in the presence of liver disease, it is mandatory to see the attending physician. Moreover, this supplement is not recommended to include in the diet:
- Children under 3 years of age;
- Pregnant women;
- Women during the breastfeeding period.
This is because the potential risks to the groups described above have not yet been assessed by scientists and researchers.
How to get the most out of valerian
In order for taking valerian root extract to provide maximum benefit, doctors advise following certain guidelines.
In many studies, valerian has been used in amounts ranging from 400 to 900 milligrams to improve sleep. The appropriate dosage ensured maximum effectiveness of the supplement without causing side effects. At the same time, its intake was carried out 30 minutes before sleep. Compliance with such rules ensures fast falling asleep, increasing the duration and quality of sleep.
However, it is important to consider that exceeding the recommended amounts does not always lead to better results. For example, regular intake of 900 milligrams had a positive effect on the body and improved the quality of sleep. But at the same time, this volume contributed to higher levels of sleepiness in the morning.
For those who do not want to use capsules, doctors recommend replacing the extract with valerian tea. To brew it, pour 2 to 3 grams of dried root in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
According to research data, to ensure maximum effectiveness of the supplement, it should be taken for at least 2 weeks. At the same time, the recommended period of use of the extract is from 4 to 6 weeks.
It is important to note that the use of valerian root in large quantities during the day can cause drowsiness. In this regard, experts strongly advise against taking this product before getting behind the wheel of a car, before driving heavy machinery, as well as before performing work that requires the maximum level of concentration.
To reduce stress levels by eliminating the occurrence of drowsiness, doctors recommend consuming 120-200 milligrams of valerian extract three times a day at the same time as a meal. At the same time, do not use the supplement in combination with alcohol or medications for sedation, as this may increase the effect of the medicinal plant.
Valerian is a medicinal herb that can improve sleep, reduce stress levels, and provide relaxation. It is not addictive and has a high safety record for human health. In some cases, valerian for sedation may be used as an alternative to traditional medicines with similar effects such as benzodiazepines.
Even so, it is imperative that you consult with your doctor before using this product, especially if you plan to take medications in parallel with the extract.
Many people experience the beneficial properties of valerian root, but some individuals may not notice any changes in their emotional state or sleep quality. However, given the safety of the product, experts highly recommend trying it. Perhaps it is valerian extract that will allow you to regain a healthy sleep and the ability to tolerate stress.