What is valerian root?
Valerian is an herb that has been used for many centuries to help relieve anxiety and as a sleep aid in traditional medicine. It is believed to help reduce menstrual and abdominal (stomach) cramps. Derived from the root of the valerian plant, there are over 200 different species of the valerian plant found in parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Valerian root has a characteristic sweaty sock smell.
Valerian is available as a dietary supplement over the counter. It is available as an extract in powder or liquid form, as a dried herb in tea form or in pills. Though taking valerian shortly before bedtime is said to aid sleep and address insomnia, the studies to prove the effectiveness of valerian root are inconclusive. Valerian may be used in combination with other herbs, such as passionflower, lemon balm and kava.
How does valerian root work?
The exact mechanism of action is not known. Researchers believe that it could be due to the subtle increase in the levels of a chemical known as gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA contributes to a calming effect in the body and has a role in sleep-wake cycle. Several medications used to treat anxiety also work by increasing GABA levels in the brain. However, the increase in GABA levels would be much higher with prescription medication compared to valerian root.
The studies for proving the effectiveness of valerian root for sleep and anxiety have not been conclusive. More studies are required to prove its effectiveness and find the optimal dose.
What is the recommended dosage of valerian root?
Recommended dosage for anxiety
The recommended dose of valerian root for anxiety is 120 to 200 mg, three times per day, and the last dose should be right before bedtime. The recommended dosage for anxiety is generally lower than the dosage for insomnia because high doses of valerian root during the day can lead to daytime sleepiness.
Recommended dosage of valerian root for sleep
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. The recommended dose of valerian root for insomnia is 300 to 600 mg, half an hour to two hours before bedtime. Two to three grams dried herbal valerian root steeped in one cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes can also be taken 10 to 15 minutes before bedtime.
Is valerian root safe?
The most common side effects of valerian root are drowsiness and giddiness. Other possible side effects include mild headache, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, abnormal heartbeat or even paradoxical insomnia. However, these are rare. Valerian has a mild calming effect. Valerian root should not be taken with alcohol, recreational drugs, other calming medications, sedatives or antidepressants. If one is undergoing medical treatment for other conditions or is pregnant or breastfeeding, it is advised to consult a doctor before taking valerian root. Children under 3 years of age should not be given valerian. Older children may consult with a doctor before taking. Valerian should not be taken if one has to perform important tasks such as driving or operating heavy machinery, which require focus and alertness.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. Dietary supplements can be sold with limited or no research. Some of the ingredients in dietary supplements can also trigger allergies (e.g., the preservatives), and their manufacturing may not be standardized. Long-term side effects of dietary supplements are often not known. Hence, it is always advised to inform the doctor. It is advised not to replace conventional medical treatment with valerian root or other herbs. They may be taken alongside medical treatment, with the doctor’s approval. Valerian root should not be taken for more than a month without consulting a doctor.
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NIH Office of Dietary Supplements