Valerian Root Analyzed

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Introduction

Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as Valerian Root, is a native herb in Asia and Europe. It is now also grown in the US, China and other countries.

The herb has been used for centuries to promote calmness and improve sleep, and has always been a big part of traditional medicine.

Valerian Root is known by many as “nature’s valium”.

Valerian Root extract can now be purchased as a supplement in capsule or liquid form.

Its use as a sleep aid may have considerable practical benefits as ~30%-40% of adults have problems initiating or maintaining sleep, and current sleep treatments come with many side effects.

Comparatively, Valerian Root is relatively inexpensive and without known side effects.

Health Benefits

It May Help with Sleep

Studies demonstrate that certain components of Valerian Root may inhibit the breakdown of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

In preclinical trials, increased levels of GABA can decrease central nervous system activity and induce sedation.

GABA levels are increased from Valerian Root consumption as it causes a release of the neurotransmitter from the brain whilst simultaneously blocking it from being taken back into the nerve cells [1].

The major constituent of Valerian Root that causes these metabolic changes is valerenic acid and its derivatives, although there are likely other components responsible for the sedative effects [2].

Currently, all the active constituents of Valerian Root are not known, and its activity may result from a synergistic effect from multiple constituents.

A benefit to Valerian Root supplementation is that it should not cause a ‘hangover effect’ (drowsiness) in the mornings, at least when recommended intakes are not exceeded. This is not common to be said about most sleeping agents.

600mg of Valerian pre-bed has also shown to not significantly affect reaction time, alertness, and concentration the morning after ingestion [3].

It is noted that some studies on Valerian Root report no significant changes to sleep onset or quality, and this is likely as a result of the large difference in study sample sizes, dosages, and sources used.

This makes for the research to be inconclusive – albeit promising.

Despite this, it has already been recommended in a scientific journal for the treatment of mild insomnia [4].

It Can Potentially Decrease Anxiety

Valerian Root has been stated to have anxiolytic properties; used to reduce anxiety.

Due to this, Valerian Root has been used to help chronic conditions characterized by anxious behaviors, such as generalized anxiety disorder [5] and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) [6].

This response is likely due to an inhibition of central nervous system activity. This is based on animal studies that show central depressive and muscle relaxation activity from Valerian Root intake [7].

Interestingly, during World War II, Valerian Root was used to relieve the stress of air raids in England.

Human studies on Valerian Root seem promising, most notably its ability to reduce subjective anxiety levels during challenging mental tests, although extremely high doses may have the opposite effects [8].

Similar beneficial effects have been found after 7 days of Valerian Root supplementation when subject to stress-inducing tasks [9].

Despite positive indications in these tests, Valerian Root needs more consistent exploration to conclude its effects on relieving anxiety.

How Much Should You Take?

There is no current fixed recommended dosage for the treatment of sleep or anxiety issues.

This is evidenced by the huge variation in dosages within Valerian Root products and even scientific studies.

Amazingly, recommended doses on Valerian Root supplements drastically range from 75mg to 3000mg per day.

Comparatively, dosages in scientific studies range from 200mg to 1200mg per day.

However, the specific amount of valerenic acid within Valerian Root ranges considerably between products, which is hypothesized to be the active component of the herb.

For this reason, users of Valerian Root should start with a low dosage and gradually increase it until positive effects are seen – provided no side effects occur.

If Valerian Root is in the form of dried herb, start at ~200mg per day, and increase by ~100mg every month if no positive effects or side effects occur.

If Valerian Root is in liquid form, start at ~1ml per day, and increase by ~0.5mg every month if no positive effects or side effects occur.

Safety and Side Effects

Due to the lack of available human studies, it is unclear whether or not Valerian Root is completely safe.

Current evidence suggests it is most likely safe to be taken in the short-term (< 1 month) at recommended dosages, but no data is able to convey its safety in the long-term.

Known side effects include headaches, excitability and cardiac disturbance if valerian is ingested in large dosages [10].

It is recommended that people who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or have any type of liver disease, should avoid taking Valerian Root.

Conclusion

Valerian Root is a native herb in Asia and Europe that is now used worldwide to help sleep and anxiety issues.

This product seems to effectively help the onset of sleep by decreasing central nervous system activity, however more human research is warranted.

Valerian Roots central depressive and muscle relaxation activity has also shown some promise for reducing stress, although the research is still in early stages.

Side effects reported are headaches, excitability, and cardiac disturbances if dosages are too high, although moderate intakes seem safe and do not result in morning ‘hangover effects’.

It is recommended to start at 200mg, or 1ml, per day, and increase accordingly if needed provided no side effects occur.

References

1] Santos MS, Ferreira F, Cunha AP, Carvalho AP, Macedo T. (1994). An aqueous extract of valerian influences the transport of GABA in synaptosomes. Planta Medica.

2] Hendriks H, Bos R, Woerdenbag HJ, Koster AS. (1985). Central nervous depressant activity of valerenic acid in the mouse. Planta Medica.

3] Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U. (1999). The influence of valerian treatment on “reaction time, alertness and concentration” in volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry.

4] Donath F, Quispe S, Diefenbach K, Maurer A, Fietze I, Roots I. (2000). Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Pharmacopsychiatry.

5] Andreatini R, Sartori VA, Seabra ML, Leite JR. (2002). Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytotherapy Research.

6] Pakseresht S, Boostani H, Sayyah M. (2011). Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

7] Hendriks H, Bos R, Allersma DP, Malingre TM, Koster AS. (1981). Pharmacological screening of valerenal and some other components of essential oil of Valeriana officinalis. Planta Medica.

8] Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. (2006). Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytotherapy Research.

9] Cropley M1, Cave Z, Ellis J, Middleton RW. (2002). Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions. Phytotherapy Research.

10] Willey LB, Mady SP, Cobaugh DJ, Wax PM. (1995). Valerian overdose: a case report. Veterinary and Human Toxicology. Phytotherapy Research.

Shaun Ward MSc BSc SENr Anutr
Shaun Ward MSc BSc SENr Anutr
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Shaun is a registered nutritionist, and sport and exercise nutritionist, with experience in coaching professional endurance and strength athletes.
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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.