Last modified on January 29th, 2023
Life is stressful, and so many of us deal with anxiety. I include myself in that, but I try to avoid prescription medications, so I’m constantly researching and exploring natural anxiety remedies. One of my favorites comes from valerian roots. Valerian roots have sedative properties and are often used as a safer alternative to not only prescription anxiety medications but sleep aids to treat sleep disorders as an alternative medicine.
What Are Valerian Roots?
Valerian is a plant used since ancient times to treat migraine, fatigue, cramps, and insomnia. Today, valerian is often used for insomnia, anxiety and depression, premenstrual syndrome, headaches, and menopause. The underground part of the plant, aka the roots and underground stems, has medicinal properties.
Valerian root supplements are incredibly popular in complementary and integrative health.
The herb grows natively in Asia and Europe and now grows wild in most of the world. Its use goes back to ancient Rome and Greece.
Research indicates certain compounds found in the roots and underground stems of the plant work together synergistically to produce the benefits.
These compounds include valepotriates, lignans, and flavonoids. Interestingly, there are also low levels of GABA in the plant roots. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can calm the overactivity in the brain with anxiety.
GABA is your primary neurotransmitter responsible for regulating your sleep, and when you increase the available GABA in your body, it can have sedative effects.
It’s thought that valerianic acid and valerenol in the roots of valerian can increase the central nervous system’s availability of GABA. Valerenic acid can also block an enzyme that destroys your GABA.
There is also evidence suggesting that valerian compounds might interact with your serotonin and adenosine receptors. These are chemicals that play a role in the regulation of mood and sleep.
The valepotriates which give valerian its unique smell may also have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
Interestingly, both Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) work by increasing how much GABA is in the brain.
What Are the Health Benefits of Valerian Root?
Valerian benefits focus primarily on relaxation, sleep, and overall mental health. Valerian is often referred to as natural Valium or nature’s Xanax.
Valerian for Anxiety and Stress
Valerian root can help ease stress and even help with symptoms like generalized anxiety disorder. For example, in a relatively new study from 2021, people undergoing hemodialysis were found to have significant reductions in their anxiety symptoms after they were given 530 mg of the root for an hour before bed for one month compared to the effects of a placebo.
In that study, taking valerian root for anxiety also helped sleep quality and depression symptoms.
There’s some research showing that along with taking valerian for anxiety, it might also help with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
A study was done in 2011 that looked at the behaviors of 31 adults with OCD. The participants taking 765 mg of valerian every day for eight weeks had a reduction in both obsessive and compulsive behaviors compared to participants taking a placebo.
In a study from 2014 of 160 school-aged children with concentration and hyperactivity difficulties, after seven weeks of a combined treatment of 640 mg of valerian and 320 mg of lemon balm, they had more than 50% improvements in measures of:
Valerian Root for Sleep Problems
The other significant benefit of valerian root is for sleep, helping you fall asleep faster. Based on current research, it improves sleep quality, including for people with chronic insomnia.
That’s the most studied focus area for this herbal remedy. According to available research, taking valerian root might help reduce how long it takes you to fall asleep and improve your quantity and quality of sleep.
In 2020, a review of 60 studies concluded valerian is potentially both a safe and effective treatment for sleep disorders.
A study from 2011 looked at valerian effects in 100 women who were postmenopausal and struggling with anxiety. The women receiving 530 mg of valerian extract twice a day for four weeks had significant improvements in their quality of sleep.
In the valerian root extract group, 30% of women experienced improved sleep; it was just 4% in the placebo group.
Menstrual and Menopausal Benefits
Valerian might help with PMS. One study improved symptoms that were emotional, physical, and behavioral.
For women who are menopausal or postmenopausal, taking valerian extract might help with symptoms like hot flashes. In a 2018 study of women taking 1060 mg of valerian a day for two months, these women experienced reductions in their hot flashes.
High Blood Pressure
Because of the sedative effects of the herbal extract, it may help with high blood pressure. Since valerian can help raise GABA levels, it can reduce overstimulation of the central nervous system, which can help lower blood pressure.
Valerian for Migraines
Some studies show valerian may help migraines and headaches. For example, in one trial, supplementing with a valerian capsule helped reduce the impact of headaches on people’s daily life, especially when they had tension-type headaches.
In another study, valerian capsules at a dose of 350 mg taken three times a day helped reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraine attacks.
Is Valerian Root Safe?
According to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, valerian root is generally safe for short-term use by most adults. Valerian has been used in studies lasting up to 28 days, and it may be safer for longer-term use than that, but we don’t have any studies to show that yet.
We don’t know whether it’s safe to take valerian if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, so it’s best to speak to your doctor or avoid it.
What Are the Side Effects of Valerian Root?
While valerian root is characterized as safe for most people, there are potential side effects.
One of the most frequent valerian root side effects is vivid dreams, especially when used as an herbal sleep aid or medicine. In one study, around 16% of people given an extract experienced vivid dreams. The vivid dreams might stem from essential oil in the root and other compounds. These are called iridoid glycosides, stimulating serotonin production in the brain and stimulating opioid receptors. It’s also possible that valerian’s sedative effects lead to vivid dreams.
If you already struggle with unpleasant dreams, you might not want to take valerian, although most people won’t experience this side effect.
Another possible valerian root side effect is heart palpitations, which are usually harmless but are anecdotal side effects some people report. We should note that no studies confirm this as a side effect of the root extract.
Two more commonly reported side effects are dry mouth and upset stomach.
Taking high doses could also cause mental fogginess and sluggishness, including the next day, similar to taking other sleep aids.
Nearly every side effect possible with a valerian root extract is most likely to occur with substantial doses.
Combining valerian with alcohol is also likely to lead to side effects.
There are some reports of people experiencing withdrawal symptoms after long periods of taking valerian. Still, we haven’t found any clinical studies to support this as a side effect.
Can Valerian Root Cause Insomnia?
It’s not typical or likely, but some people, especially with high doses, may experience paradoxical effects of this dietary supplement, so it could cause insomnia for them. Again, this is rare and would likely only be the case for someone taking a massive dose well beyond what’s recommended.
How Much Valerian Should I Take?
As is true with other dietary supplements, valerian isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you have two things you can go off when it comes to how much valerian root to take. One is the doses often used in clinical studies, and the other is the instructions from the manufacturers of the product you use.
How Much Valerian Root for Anxiety?
This isn’t medical advice, but if you’re wondering how much valerian root dose for anxiety, most studies use 120 to 200 mg, up to three times a day, with the last dose occurring right before you go to bed. The valerian root dose for anxiety is lower than for insomnia because otherwise, you might experience daytime drowsiness.
How Much Valerian Root for Sleep?
The valerian root dose for sleep can be a little higher for some people than the valerian root dosage for anxiety.
If you’re experiencing insomnia, you might want to take anywhere from 300 to 600 mg around 30 minutes to two hours before you go to bed.
Most people find that they get the best benefits from this dietary supplement when they take it regularly for two or more weeks.
What Type of Valerian Supplement Is Best?
If you are going to try this herbal medicine to improve sleep quality, treat anxiety, or for any other reason, our pick for the best type is a liquid extract. There are other options, like dried valerian root, that you can brew into tea or capsule and tablet form, but a liquid extract can work faster and be more easily absorbed.
My favorite liquid extract is from Global Healing. Their raw herbal extract is an excellent alternative to capsules for bioavailability, so you can get the best results.
If you don’t want a liquid extract, another brand of valerian I’ve tried and found is excellent and affordable is NOW supplement’s Valerian root.
If you’d like it in a tea form, Traditional Medicinals has an organic Nighty Night Valerian Relaxation Tea that’s also great and affordable.
Valerian vs. Melatonin
Many people wonder how valerian and melatonin compare to one another as far as dietary supplements that can help with sleep disorders and treat insomnia.
There are critical differences in how valerian works versus how melatonin works to promote sleep.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, and your body produces it in the pineal gland, and that gland regulates your internal clock. Your melatonin levels let you know when you’re ready for bed and when you’re ready to get up.
Melatonin levels vary depending on the time of day, how much light you get, and more.
If you have enough melatonin in your body at the correct times, it ensures that you have a circadian rhythm that functions the way it should.
Our natural rhythm can be thrown off by jet lag, working at night, and, even more commonly, light exposure at night. You might opt to take a melatonin supplement to help your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin supplements are just increasing the amount of this naturally occurring hormone in your body for a regulated sleep cycle.
Valerian, on the other hand, is affecting your neurotransmitters—primarily gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, which, as mentioned, helps you feel more relaxed by regulating brain impulses.
You could theoretically use melatonin and valerian together. There’s nothing to say they can’t be used at the same time, but you don’t want to overdo it because you might feel groggy or drowsy the next day.
Valerian is one of the best sedating nerves for people with symptoms like nervous restlessness, trouble sleeping, or similar issues they’re trying to deal with naturally. Among herbal remedies for relaxation and sleep, there’s a lot of research to back up the benefits of valerian. Unlike prescription central nervous system depressants, valerian is known to have fewer adverse effects and is considered safe for most people.
Valerian root works similarly to pharmaceuticals in some ways to ease insomnia and anxiety by influencing GABA levels and GABA receptors in the brain. There’s scientific evidence to show how it works.
Of course, if you are going to try any new herbal supplements, you should speak with your healthcare provider, and please remember this is for information only—it’s not medical advice.
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