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Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)

Valerian root - which you may formally know as Valeriana Officinalis or by its well-deserved moniker as “nature’s Valium” - is a herb that has been used since the Middle Ages to treat various sleep disorders, including insomnia (1).

Since then, it’s been used traditionally to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations.

More recently, valerian has been used to treat gastrointestinal spasms and distress, epileptic seizures, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

And while there isn’t scientific understanding and agreement into exactly how valerian works, it’s become an increasingly popular ingredient in products promoted as mild sedatives and sleep aids for nervous tension and insomnia.

Valerian is an herb that’s commonly used as an ingredient in sleep aid supplements. It may also help you relax, as well as help reduce mood symptoms like anxiety.

What is valerian root (Valeriana Officinalis)?

There are over 250 species within the Valerian genus, but it’s the Valeriana officinalis plant that’s used most often in natural medicine - as far back as the time of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome (2).

Native to Europe and Asia, and since naturalised in North America, the plant’s power comes from its roots.

Its roots, both rhizomes (underground stems) and stolons (horizontal stems), are used to make sleep aids and dietary supplements that come in teas, tinctures and tablets.

Valerian root is believed to interact with the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, producing a calming effect that helps improve sleep quality, among various other health benefits that are discussed below.

Uses & benefits: What does valerian root do to your body?

Valerian has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various health concerns, particularly as a sleep aid and anxiety reducer.

Recent studies have shown that taking valerian as a supplement can assist in treating health conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and other sleep disorders.

While research into the effects of valerian supplements has made promising findings, they remain relatively limited.

Key characteristics and uses of Valerian root include:

Valerian root for stress anxiety

Research conducted in 2021 suggests valerian root could help to ease anxiety symptoms.

The study sounds that people who took 530mg of valerian root in the hour before bedtime, for an entire month, reported significant reductions in anxiety symptoms compared with those who had a placebo.(3)

The same study also found that people who took the valerian root extract had a higher quality sleep.

Valerian root for depression

A 2021 study found that the use of valerian could improve the sleep quality, state anxiety, and depression significantly in patients undergoing hemodialysis, where a person’s blood is filtered because their kidneys aren’t fully functional. (4)

Valerian root for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Research conducted in 2011 noted that adults with OCD behaviours showed a reduction in obsessive compulsive behaviours after taking 765mg of valerian extract daily for eight weeks (5)

A separate study, in 2014, found similar results in school children with hyperactivity and concentration difficulties.

It looked at the effects of a daily treatment including 640mg of valerian extract and 320mg of lemon balm extract and found that, after seven weeks, children who took the treatment showed more than 50% improvement in measures of focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness (6).

Valerian root as a safe and effective herbal sleep aid

The ability to improve sleep is one of the valerian root’s most studied benefits.

A 2020 review of 60 studies concluded that valerian is a safe and effective treatment to promote sleep and prevent associated disorders by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and improving sleep quantity and quality. (7)

While there are a number of promising findings, not all studies have found links between valerian and sleep benefits.

A 2011 study of people undergoing cancer treatment found that those who took 450mg of valerian in the hour before sleep did not record any significant improvements in sleep over the eight weeks. (8)

The same study did find, however, improvements in fatigue.

Other less published research suggests that valerian root may provide benefits for menopausal symptoms, menstrual issues (including PMS) and restless legs syndrome.

Dosage for valerian root

Valerian has been marketed in recent times as an ingredient in dietary supplements, including sleep supplements like the TGA-registered Super Sleep.

Dried roots are prepared as teas or tinctures, and dried plant materials and extracts are put into capsules or incorporated into tablets (9).

Below are the latest guidelines on dosage recommendations for valerian root consumption.

Just remember: These dosages may not be appropriate or effective for everyone with the below symptoms, they are simply the latest available evidence on what is currently known to be effective.

Make sure you check with a trusted healthcare professional to get a personalised assessment of the safest and most effective dose of valerian.

Valerian root dosage to improve sleep quality

A dose of 450–1,410 mg of whole valerian root per day for 4–8 weeks (10)

Valerian root dosage for tension relief

A dose of 400–600 mg of valerian extract or a dose of 0.3–3 grams of valerian root up to 3 times per day (11)

Valerian root dosage for receiving anxiety and OCD symptoms

A dose of 530–765 mg per day (12)

Valerian root dosage to reduce hot flashes during and after menopause

A dose of 765–1,060mg per day (13)

Side effects

Very few adverse events have been attributed to valerian use in clinical studies participants to date and, as such, valerian is considered safe for most people when used at the recommended doses.

A 2020 review of valerian’s safety and effectiveness for sleep and associated disorders found no serious adverse effects were reported across the 60 studies included in the review. (14)

While side effects of taking valerian are relatively uncommon, the most common effects reported in clinical trials include:

  • headaches;
  • dizziness;
  • weakness;
  • vivid dreams;
  • metallic taste in the mouth;
  • fatigue;
  • pruritus; and
  • gastrointestinal disturbances (such as such as diarrhoea and stomachache) (15)

Who should avoid valerian root?

While valerian is generally considered safe, there are a few groups of people who shouldn’t consume it without proper healthcare consultation:

Women who are pregnant or nursing

Possible risks to the fetus or infant have not been evaluated (16)

Children younger than 3 years old

Possible risks to children of this age have not been evaluated (17)

Anyone currently taking other medications, sedatives or herbs with sedative properties

There is a theoretical possibility of additive sedative effects from alcohol or sedative drugs, such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

Individuals taking valerian should be aware of the theoretical possibility of additive sedative effects from alcohol or sedative drugs, such as barbiturates (including central nervous system depressants such as phenobarbital, morphine, and propofol) and benzodiazepines (including Xanax®, Valium®, Ativan®, and Halcion®) (18)

Anyone considering using valerian root while taking these medications or supplements should discuss their situation with a healthcare professional.

Conclusion

Research into valerian root - not just the benefits and dosages, but more generally into how valerian affects human health - remain relatively limited.

There is evidence to suggest that valerian supplements may help improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve symptoms related to OCD, menopause, and PMS.

While it is generally considered safe and unlikely to cause serious side effects, valerian is not appropriate for everyone.

If you’re currently taking medication or other herbal supplements, or if you have one or more health conditions, speak with a trusted healthcare professional before taking valerian root.

If you’re interested in the reported benefits of valerian root improving sleep, click here to see Super Sleep.

References

  1. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020 Jan-Dec;25:2515690X20967323. doi: 10.1177/2515690X20967323. PMID: 33086877; PMCID: PMC7585905.
  2. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds.: Valerian root. In: Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000: 394-400.
  3. Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021 Mar 31;36(2):e255. doi: 10.5001/omj.2021.56. PMID: 33936782; PMCID: PMC8077445.
  4. 5. Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021 Mar 31;36(2):e255. doi: 10.5001/omj.2021.56. PMID: 33936782; PMCID: PMC8077445.
  5. 6. Pakseresht S, Boostani H, Sayyah M. Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study. J Complement Integr Med. 2011 Oct 11;8:/j/jcim.2011.8.issue-1/1553-3840.1465/1553-3840.1465.xml. doi: 10.2202/1553-3840.1465. PMID: 22718671.
  6. Gromball J, Beschorner F, Wantzen C, Paulsen U, Burkart M. Hyperactivity, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness improve during seven weeks' treatment with valerian root and lemon balm extracts in primary school children. Phytomedicine. 2014 Jul-Aug;21(8-9):1098-103. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2014.04.004. Epub 2014 May 15. PMID: 24837472.
  7. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020 Jan-Dec;25:2515690X20967323. doi: 10.1177/2515690X20967323. PMID: 33086877; PMCID: PMC7585905.
  8. Barton DL, Atherton PJ, Bauer BA, Moore DF Jr, Mattar BI, Lavasseur BI, Rowland KM Jr, Zon RT, Lelindqwister NA, Nagargoje GG, Morgenthaler TI, Sloan JA, Loprinzi CL. The use of Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) in improving sleep in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer: a phase III randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study (NCCTG Trial, N01C5). J Support Oncol. 2011 Jan-Feb;9(1):24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.suponc.2010.12.008. PMID: 21399726; PMCID: PMC3052692.
  9. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds.: Valerian root. In: Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000: 394-400.
  10. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020 Jan-Dec;25:2515690X20967323. doi: 10.1177/2515690X20967323. PMID: 33086877; PMCID: PMC7585905.
  11. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020 Jan-Dec;25:2515690X20967323. doi: 10.1177/2515690X20967323. PMID: 33086877; PMCID: PMC7585905.
  12. Tammadon MR, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, Ebrahimian A, Ghorbani R, Vafaei AA. The Effects of Valerian on Sleep Quality, Depression, and State Anxiety in Hemodialysis Patients: A Randomized, Double-blind, Crossover Clinical Trial. Oman Med J. 2021 Mar 31;36(2):e255. doi: 10.5001/omj.2021.56. PMID: 33936782; PMCID: PMC8077445.
  13. Mirabi P, Mojab F. The effects of valerian root on hot flashes in menopausal women. Iran J Pharm Res. 2013 Winter;12(1):217-22. PMID: 24250592; PMCID: PMC3813196.
  14. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020 Jan-Dec;25:2515690X20967323. doi: 10.1177/2515690X20967323. PMID: 33086877; PMCID: PMC7585905.
  15. Vorbach EU, Gortelmeyer R, Bruning J: Treatment of insomnia: effectiveness and tolerance of a valerian extract [in German]. Psychopharmakotherapie 3: 109-115, 1996.
  16. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy: Valerianae radix: valerian root. In: Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: ESCOP, 1997: 1-10.
  17. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy: Valerianae radix: valerian root. In: Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: ESCOP, 1997: 1-10.
  18. Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, et al.: Valerian In: Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 3rd ed. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2000: 1052-1054.
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