Valerian root is typically used as an herbal remedy to treat sleep problems, stress and anxiety. But as is the case with most herbal remedies, the scientific research on its actual benefits is a little sketchy. So, it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution, but until then, here’s what you need to know about the best health benefits of valerian root.
What Is Valerian Root?
Valerian is a flowering plant that is native to Asia and Europe. The plant’s root is often used in herbal medicine for several treatments concerning headaches, insomnia, heart troubles among others.
And that’s coming from Hippocrates. You might have heard the name in Hippocrates’ oath that doctors take. The valerian root is a herbal remedy for these problems and it is also a dietary supplement in the US.
It is known to act like a sedative in animals but there is some dispute over exactly what it does. It is also unclear what the valerian root does to the human body in the long term in terms of how safe it is to use it.
This is not uncommon among herbal remedies which is why there are not a big part of Western medications just yet but valerian has been a big part of ancient Roman and Greek medicine.
Health Benefits Of Valerian Root
Thanks to Hippocrates, a lot of herbal practitioners believe that the valerian root has many possible health benefits. Here are some of them.
Alternative therapies recommend valerian root for those who have trouble sleeping including insomnia. This has been in practice for many centuries now. But modern medicine does not have any proof that it acts like a sedative.
Even studies that agree with some of these claims say that there is a need for more research. This is because the studies did not meet the standard expectations for how sleep is measured and what role valerian root plays in solving the problem.
But they do agree that when it behaves like a sedative, there are a few factors that influence the role of the valerian root. The first of those factors is that valerian increases the GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid content in the brain, which makes it act as a sedative. GABA is a neurotransmitter that stops unwanted activity in the nervous system which makes a person fall asleep sooner than usual.
Managing Stress And Anxiety
During the 1500s, medical professionals used valerian root to treat symptoms of anxiety. Early research from that time period showed that valerian root had properties that caused it to reduce anxiety.
Then, during World War II, individuals in the UK used to take valerian root to calm themselves down from the stress that was caused by the air raids.
Following that, preliminary studies were conducted, and the results showed that it has valerenic acid, which might be the reason the valerian root was able to reduce anxiety.
These studies also showed that valerian root does not bind with the benzodiazepine receptors present in the human brain, which might cause benzodiazepine addiction.
Benzodiazepines are pharmaceutical drugs that are used in treating anxiety. In comparison, valerian root was a better option because the valerenic acid seemed to help in treating anxiety but it was not as addictive.
Please note there isn’t enough scientific research to prove this point and valerian root is not “as addictive” which does not give it full clearance. And you must be careful with the dosage.
Valerian root is also said to be very helpful in reducing hot flashes that are typically experienced by women in menopause. Once again, it is not clear how it happens because valerian does not have any direct impact on hormones.
Foods Containing Valerian Root
In general, valerian is found to be a part of capsules, tablets, teas, extracts and tinctures. It also has essential oils which, along with the extract, can be used as a flavor in making certain foods and drinks.
If you do get your hands on one of these products, make sure you check the directions for consumption and follow them accurately. You are likely to find these products in herbal shops, health food shops and places where you can buy supplements.
But since there is so much that isn’t known about it, you should consult a doctor before taking the supplements for safety reasons.
Daily Recommended Dose
When you do talk to a doctor, they are likely to tell you that whether you find it as a herbal or dietary supplement, it is dealt with as a food product in the US. Using the supplements as a medical treatment is not allowed and the practice is not approved by the FDA.
It’s hard to tell how much is safe to consume because the valerian root is consumed in many different forms. The tinctures are different from teas and infusions, which are in turn different from the supplement.
It is highly recommended that you talk to a medical practitioner about dosage and then follow the instructions on the packaging of the product.
What About Possible Side Effects?
Whatever little medical research is available to us, it tells us that in the short term, the valerian root is safe and tolerated well by the human body. But you may experience side effects like:
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach
- Drowsiness during the day
- Vivid dreams at night
Liver damage is also a possibility when you take supplements but it’s not clear if it’s because of valerian or possible contaminants. The best way to proceed is under doctor’s supervision which means keeping an eye on the liver enzymes on a regular basis.
If you experience fatigue, vomiting, nausea, dark urine or stool, you must stop using it immediately and talk to your doctor. Combining it with alcohol or other sedatives like antidepressants will make you extra sleepy. Any medication that contains doxylamine, codeine or diphenhydramine will do the same.
Health Benefits Of Valerian Root: Summary
Children, pregnant and lactating women should not take valerian because the safety implications are unknown. The same is true for those who consume a lot of alcohol or have liver problems. But in mild doses, it might not be the worst idea if you want any of the health benefits mentioned above.