Valerian for Anxiety and Sleep Disorders

Valerian may relax you, relieve your anxiety, and help you to sleep well. It may also help restlessness and other stress related problems.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a perennial flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. It has also been cultivated in North America and other parts of the world. It bears white or pink flowers between June and September. An extract prepared from its roots is one of the best herbal remedies for anxiety. It is also useful for the treatment of insomnia.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used valerian for anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, stress, convulsions, migraine, pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Its medicinal properties were described by Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine" about 2400 years ago. Galen, a famous Roman physician of Greek origin, prescribed it as a herbal remedy for insomnia around 2000 years ago.

During medieval times, valerian was so popular that people called it "all heal." During the World Wars, it was prescribed to civilians in England to relive anxiety, insomnia, stress, and stress related disorders caused by air-raids.

A number of scientific studies have been carried out to investigate the effectiveness of valerian for anxiety and insomnia. The studies lend support to the belief that it can relieve anxiety, sleeplessness, stress, and stress related disorders. A study indicated that valerian acts via gamma-aminobutyric acidergic (GABA-ergic) mechanisms to reduce anxiety and produce sedative effects. Another study suggests that valerian might improve sleep quality without producing side effects. Yet another study indicates that a valerian-hops combination might be a useful adjunct in the treatment of mild insomnia.

Valerian is rated as one of the top ten healing herbs in America and Europe. It is available as an OTC herbal supplement in stores. Sometimes herbal supplements for anxiety may combine it with other herbs for anxiety.

The Valerian Herb
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Botanical Name

Valeriana officinalis.

Common Names

Valerian, garden valerian, all heal, Capon's Tail, etc.

Uses of Valerian

Valerian has sedative and anxiolytic properties. It is used as a herbal remedy for anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness, stress related disorders, and intestinal cramps. It might be a possible alternative to synthetic anti-anxiety medications, especially benzodiazepines.

Supplements - Valerian for Anxiety or Insomnia

Valerian is readily available in the form of herbal supplements. Valerian root has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. It promotes relaxation in people leading a hectic lifestyle. It is an effective natural relaxation aid. It helps relieve stess related disorders, anxiety, tension, worry, irritability, and a nervous stomach. It also promotes a restful sleep.

Active Substances - What Does Valerian Extract Contain?

The extract of the valerian roots contains valepotriates, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes; valerenic acid, isovaleramide, isovaltrate, hesperidin, linarin, etc.

How Does Valerian Work for Anxiety or Insomnia?

Valerian's mechanism of action: Valerian extract appears to work by increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid present in the synaptic clefts of neurons (brain cells). The action of an enzyme that breaks down GABA is inhibited by valerenic acid. Isovaltrate appears to promote sleep by mimicking the action of adenosine A1 receptor in the brain. Other compounds present in its extract appear to bind to GABA-A receptors.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter present in the central nervous system. Substances that mimic the action of GABA or increase its available amount in the central nervous system have relaxing, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsive, and sedative effects.

It might take several weeks before the full benefits of valerian for anxiety or insomnia become apparent, but many users claim that at least some effects become apparent within a few hours.

Side Effects of Valerian

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies valerian as "Generally Regarded as Safe" (GRAS). Valerian for anxiety or sleeplessness is generally well tolerated for up to six weeks in recommended doses. Large doses can cause sedation, drowsiness, vivid dreams, nightmares, apathy, and stomach ache. In rare cases it may cause skin rashes or other allergic reactions.

Things to Avoid While Taking Valerian for Anxiety or Insomnia

Interactions: Valerian can increase the sedative effects of substances that cause drowsiness. Avoid alcohol, anti-anxiety medicines, sedatives, tranquilizers, narcotic pain relievers, psychiatric medicines, anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, cough and cold preparations.

Who Should Not Take Valerian for Anxiety or Insomnia?

Contraindications: Pregnant or breast-feeding women should not use valerian for anxiety or sleeplessness. People having liver problems should avoid it.

Special Precautions

Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery that requires you to be alert if you feel drowsy. Avoid taking valerian for anxiety or insomnia for more than three months at a stretch. If you have been taking it for a very long time, it should be tapered off slowly because stopping it abruptly after prolonged use may cause mental confusion, rapid heartbeat and other unpleasant symptoms.

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