How Valerian Root extract Helps You Relax and Sleep Better
What is valerian root?
Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Asia and Europe that now grows wild in many other areas of the world, including the United States and Canada .
People have used this perennial plant as a natural medicine since as far back as the time of ancient Greece and Rome .
Unlike the plant’s delicately scented flowers, valerian roots have a very strong odor that many people find unpleasant.
The roots, rhizomes (underground stems), and stolons (horizontal stems) of valerian are used to make dietary supplements such as capsules and tablets, as well as teas and tinctures.
How does valerian affect the body?
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how valerian works in the body.
However, research suggests its activity is related to the independent and synergistic actions of compounds found in the plant, including :
- monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and carboxylic compounds
- low levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
Certain compounds in valerian, called valerenic acid and valerenol, can act on GABA receptors in the body.
GABA is a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your nervous system.
It’s one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for sleep regulation, and increasing the amount of GABA available in your body has sedative effects .
Valerenic acid and valerenol can modulate GABA receptors and increase the amount of GABA available in the central nervous system. What’s more, research has shown that valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA .
Compounds in valerian may also interact with receptors for serotonin and adenosine, chemicals that play important roles in the regulation of sleep and mood .
Additionally, preliminary research suggests that valepotriates — the compounds that give valerian its characteristic pungent smell — may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in the body .
- Naturally Aids Sleep
Studies show that valerian reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves sleep quality, so if you can’t sleep, it may be just what you’re looking for. Unlike many prescription sleep medications, valerian has fewer side effects and is a lot less likely to result in morning drowsiness.
In one double-blind study conducted by the Foellinge Health Center in Sweden, the effects of valerian on poor sleep were significant. Of the study participants, 44 percent reported perfect sleep while 89 percent reported improved sleep when taking valerian root. In addition, no adverse effects were observed for this group.
Valerian root is often combined with other sedating herbs, such as hops (Humulus lupulus) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), to treat sleep disorders. One study on children with minor sleep problems published in Phytomedicine found that 81 percent of those who took an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who took a placebo.
How does valerian root help you sleep so well? Valerian contains a chemical called linarin, which has been shown to have sedative effects.
Valerian extract can cause sedation by increasing your brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) level. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. In large enough quantities it can cause a sedative effect, calming nervous activity.
Results from an in vitro study suggest that valerian extract may cause GABA to be released from brain nerve endings and then block GABA from being taken back into nerve cells. In addition, valerian’s valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA, another way that valerian can improve your GABA levels and promote a great night’s rest.
- Calms Anxiety
Scientists have found that valerian root, specifically valerenic acid, increases the amount of GABA through GABA receptors.
Drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) also work by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. The valeric acid, valerenic acid and valerenol contained in valerian root extract act as anti-anxiety agents.
It’s pretty amazing that an herbal remedy like valerian root can have the same anti-anxiety effects as prescription drugs without the adverse effects of psychotropic drugs. If you are taking other calming medications or antidepressants (such as tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline, or tetracyclic antidepressants), do not take valerian at the same time.
- Lowers Blood Pressure
Now that you know that valerian root can be so calming to the mind and body, it’s probably not surprising to hear it can also help lower blood pressure, improving heart health. The same active components that contribute to the effects of valerian for anxiety management and restlessness can also help the body properly regulate its blood pressure.
High blood pressure is something you definitely want to avoid since it increases the chance of stroke and heart attack, and heart disease is a major health concern in the United States.
Studies indicate that valerian root supplements can help naturally reduce blood pressure and keep it at a healthy level, which has a direct positive impact on your heart health.
- Eases Menstrual Cramps
The relaxing nature of valerian root can make it a smart choice for natural relief of menstrual cramps. It can reduce the severity and discomfort of menstrual cramps, which is a common problem for women who suffer monthly from PMS.
How exactly can valerian root help? It’s a natural sedative and antispasmodic, which means it suppresses muscle spasms and acts as a natural muscle relaxer.
Valerian root dietary supplements can effectively calm the severe uterine muscle contractions that cause the terrible pain many women experience during menstruation, as a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study from Islamic Azad University in Iran showed.
- Improves Stress Management
By reducing anxiety and improving the length and quality of sleep, valerian root can significantly help with daily stress management. Chronic stress, another major issue among adults in the United States, can impact many parts of your health, including sleep quality and immune system health.
By improving GABA levels, valerian makes it easier for both the mind and body to relax. It is an excellent natural way to help keep your cortisol levels down and improve your quality of life.
Further, valerian root has been shown to suppress both physical and psychological stress by helping maintain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, according to research published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
How to take valerian root
Valerian will provide the best results when you take it as directed.
According to the latest evidence, a dose of 450–1,410 mg of whole valerian root per day for 4–8 weeks may help support sleep quality .
For tension relief, some experts suggest 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 .
Doses ranging from 530–765 mg per day may be effective for reducing anxiety and OCD symptoms, while doses ranging from 765–1,060 mg may help reduce hot flashes during and after menopause .
However, these doses may not be appropriate or effective for everyone with these symptoms. These are simply the doses the current available evidence has shown to be effective.