Valerian for anxiety reviews

People around the globe use valerian to combat insomnia, anxiety, stress, and more. Science has backed up its sleep-promoting effect, while the evidence for other benefits is less convincing. Read on to learn the benefits of valerian root, how to use it for optimal results, and what side effects to expect.

What is Valerian?

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), also known as all-heal or garden heliotrope, is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. Since ancient times, the root of this plant has been used to treat insomnia, nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations .

In the US, valerian root is mainly sold as a sleep aid, while in Europe it is used to treat restlessness, tremors, and anxiety.

Valerian flowers have a delicate scent once used in perfumes. Valerian root, however, has a very strong, earthy smell. This is because of the volatile oils and other compounds responsible for its sedative effects .

There are over 250 species of valerian, but V. officinalis is the species most used in the West .

Of the others, only two are commonly used for medicinal purposes (Himalayan V. wallichii and Mexican V. edulis) . This article focuses on Valeriana officinalis.

Components

Valerian consists of many biologically active components that account for its wide-ranging effects .

Valerian’s chemical composition varies greatly, depending on the species, season, geographical source, growing condition, processing method, and storage .

Three main chemicals are thought to be the active components of valerian: The essential oils (valerenic acid and valenol), valepotriates, and a few alkaloids, (actinidine, chatinine, shyanthine, valerianine, and valerine) .

Compounds Responsible for Sedating Effects Include:

  • Valerenic acid increases levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces brain cell activity. It also has anti-inflammatory effects (by reducing NF-KappaB activity) .
  • Iridoids (valepotriates and their derivatives) have sedative effects, but are unstable and break down during storage or in water, making their activity difficult to assess .
  • Isovaleric acid prevents involuntary muscle contractions. Its action is similar to valproic acid, which is used to treat epilepsy .
  • Hesperidin and linarin are antioxidant flavonoids with sleep-enhancing effects. Hesperidin also has anti-seizure effects (by blocking calcium channels) .

GABA is also found in valerian extracts in quantities sufficient to cause a sedative effect, although it is not known whether it crosses the blood-brain barrier. However, the glutamine present in water (but not alcohol) extracts of valerian root can cross the blood-brain barrier and be converted to GABA .

Mechanisms of Action

Although its influence on the GABA system is well-documented, valerian has many other modes of action which may contribute to relaxation and other health benefits :

  • Activates adenosine and serotonin receptors
  • Inhibits prostaglandins (responsible for painful contractions)
  • May relax blood vessels
  • May reduce the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Suppresses inflammation (NF-kappaB activity)

Health Benefits of Valerian Root

Possibly Effective:

Valerian’s mild sedative effects have been used to promote relaxation and sleep for at least 2,000 years. Valerian may improve sleep by increasing GABA levels .

In fact, lower GABA levels are found in people with short and long-term stress and are linked to anxiety and poor sleep quality .

A meta-analysis of 16 studies and 1,093 people found that valerian improved the speed of falling asleep, depth, and overall quality of sleep .

In a 2-day study of 27 elderly patients with mental problems, 44% reported perfect sleep and 89% reported improved sleep using a valerian preparation (containing sesquiterpenes) .

Additionally, a one-month-long study of 16 people with insomnia found that a single dose of valerian improved the time to achieve deep sleep and its duration .

Valerian may also help reduce sleep disturbances in a variety of health conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Menopause
  • Hypothyroidism
  • PTSD
  • HIV
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal

A more recent meta-analysis (18 trials and over 1,000 patients) found that valerian’s improvement of insomnia was mainly subjective .

While some research shows that valerian may be useful for treating short-term insomnia, there is a lack of well-designed clinical trials that support its effectiveness and safety beyond 4 to 6 weeks .

Rather, its main benefit seems to be promoting natural sleep after several weeks of use, without the risk of dependence or negative health effects. When used properly, it can serve as a more gentle alternative to common insomnia drugs .

2) Menopausal Symptoms

In a study of 100 menopausal women with sleep disturbances, valerian root significantly improved sleep quality after 4 weeks .

A 3-month study of 60 postmenopausal women found that valerian significantly improved the severity and frequency of hot flashes .

Insufficient Evidence:

No valid clinical evidence supports the use of valerian root for any of the conditions in this section. Below is a summary of up-to-date animal studies, cell-based research, or low-quality clinical trials which should spark further investigation. However, you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of any health benefit.

3) Anxiety

Valerian is known as ‘nature’s valium’ because it supposedly has a similar effect on reducing anxiety as the benzodiazepines Valium and Xanax. These bind to GABA receptors in the brain (amygdala) .

One study of 2,462 adults with major depressive disorder and anxiety found that high doses of valerian (1000 mg/day) taken in combination with St John’s Wort (600 mg/ day) for 6 weeks reduced the symptoms of anxiety and depression by 66% .

Some researchers noticed that mice treated with valerian and valerenic acid exhibited a decrease in anxious behaviors .

However, one 4-week pilot study of 36 people with anxiety showed no significant differences between the valerian-treated group and placebo group .

Further studies should clarify the potential benefits of valerian for anxiety.

4) Stress Management

In a study of 27 patients regularly kept awake at night by stress-inducing thoughts, 89% of those patients had better sleep after one month of valerian treatment .

Valerian may also reduce physical reactions during stressful situations. It slowed heart rate and reduced blood pressure in response to stress in a 2-week study of 56 healthy people .

A 4-day study of 24 healthy volunteers found that the combination of lemon balm and valerian improved laboratory-induced stress scores at 600 mg compared to placebo, but increased anxiety at a higher dose (1800 mg) .

Valerian reduced physical and psychological stress in rats by maintaining serotonin and norepinephrine levels in brain regions associated with fear and anxiety (hippocampus and amygdala) .

In mice, valerian reduced blood levels of a hormone involved in the stress response .

5) ADHD

Valerian increases GABA levels in the brain. Deficiencies in GABA play a role in anxiety, restlessness, and obsessive behavior, which are symptoms often seen in ADHD .

In a study of 30 children aged 5 to 11, valerian (3 times a day for 2 weeks) improved ADHD symptoms (sustained inattention and impulsivity and/or hyperactivity). These positive effects disappeared one week after discontinuing valerian treatment .

In a 7-week study of 169 children with hyperactivity and concentration difficulties (but not meeting ADHD criteria), the combination of valerian and lemon balm decreased symptoms of restlessness, concentration difficulties, and impulsiveness .

Similarly, in another study of 918 children under 12 with difficulty falling asleep and restlessness, a combination of valerian and lemon balm improved symptoms in 81% of the patients with insomnia and 70.4% of the patients with restlessness without any negative effects .

The preliminary results are promising, but more research is needed before proclaiming valerian safe and effective for ADHD, restlessness, and similar disorders in children.

6) Menstrual Cramps

Because of this, it is commonly used to treat uterine cramping associated with painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) .

A 3-day study of 100 female students found that valerian was effective in relieving menstrual cramp pain compared to placebo .

7) Wellbeing During Cancer and HIV Treatment

An 8-week study of 227 patients undergoing cancer therapy did not support the use of valerian for insomnia, although fatigue was reduced .

Additionally, in a review, valerian improved insomnia and wellbeing in people undergoing treatment for cancer due to its calming effects. Contrary to popular belief, it did not interact with cancer drugs .

The drug efavirenz used in HIV patients is known to impair mental health and cause psychiatric disorders. In a 4-week pilot study of 51 HIV-positive patients, valerian root reduced insomnia and anxiety but failed to reduce psychosis and suicidal thoughts .

8) Memory and Cognitive Function

In a study of 61 patients, valerian reduced the risk of cognitive decline a month after heart surgery compared to placebo .

Scientists observed the potential of valerenic acid to significantly improve memory by reducing oxidative stress in the memory center of the brain (hippocampus) in mice .

9) Fibromyalgia

A valerian bath (3 times a week for 3 weeks) significantly improved wellbeing and sleep and decreased pain in 30 people with fibromyalgia .

Further research is warranted.

10) OCD

In an 8-week trial of 31 adults with OCD, valerian root reduced OCD symptoms compared to placebo .

There’s insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for OCD based on a single small trial.

11) Digestive Problems

Valerian is used as a home remedy for stomach cramps. Although it can reduce muscle spasms, current evidence does not support the use of valerian as a digestive aid .

In a study on guinea pigs, valepotriates and the essential oil present in valerian reduced contractions in the small intestine .

12) Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

An 8-week study of 37 people with restless leg syndrome (RLS) found that valerian significantly improved RLS symptoms and decreased daytime sleepiness .

However, two reviews found insufficient evidence to confirm valerian’s effectiveness in treating RLS .

Animal and Cellular Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of valerian root for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Heart Health

In test tubes, valerian strengthened blood vessels and improved their elasticity .

in animal studies, researchers examined its potential to lower blood pressure (hypertension) by relaxing blood vessels .

Seizures

Valerian reduced the frequency of seizures in one study on rats (possibly by activating adenosine receptors) .

Kidney Damage

In rats with high cholesterol, valerian protected against kidney damage caused by a high-fat diet .

Other

Although there is a popular opinion that valerian may benefit these conditions, there is no scientific evidence backing its use in:

  • Shin Splints: Valerian is used as a home remedy for shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome). Anecdotal evidence suggests that drinking valerian tea relaxes the muscles and reduces pain .
  • Migraines and Headaches: Despite its traditional use, the evidence is lacking for valerian reducing the severity of migraines and headaches .
  • Joint Pain in Arthritis: Despite the historical use of valerian to relieve joint pain, there are no studies to support this. Anecdotal reports of its effectiveness may be due to its general calming effects .
  • Sciatica Pain: People with sciatica taking valerian report some pain relief. This may be due to its muscle relaxant effects .
  • Hand Tremors: Valerian may reduce hand tremors through its anti-anxiety effects. However, the evidence is anecdotal .
  • Heart Palpitations: Valerian is traditionally known to decrease heart palpitations. It may do this by its relaxing effects on smooth muscle, but the evidence is lacking .
  • Depression in Bipolar Disorder: The sedative effects of valerian may improve depression in bipolar disorder. However, there is no clinical evidence available to support this, although valerian did improve depression in rats .

Limitations and Caveats

Valerian illustrates both the negative and positive aspects of herbal drugs. The variability in its composition and the instability of some of its chemicals make standardization difficult .

The composition of any valerian product may vary considerably between manufacturing lots, as dietary supplements are not always tested for consistency and seasonal variations in valerian’s many active compounds are known .

No information is available about the long-term safety of valerian or its safety in children younger than age 3, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. Studies on rats indicate caution .

A great volume of research exists, although a lot of information is anecdotal. Human studies to date have not been based on sound practices .

Valerian Root Risks and Side Effects

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.

Valerian is likely safe when taken for 4 to 8 weeks by healthy adults at recommended doses. Long-term safety data are not available. In rare cases, it can cause mild side effects, such as :

  • Headaches
  • Digestive upset
  • Excitability
  • Dry mouth
  • Thinking problems
  • Strange dreams

Valerian has been classified as “generally recognized as safe” in the US .

Other Risks and Precautions

  • Allergic Reaction: People with allergies to plants in the Valerianaceae family may be allergic to valerian .
  • Addiction: Medical reports link overuse of valerian to liver toxicity and addictiveness .
  • Drowsiness: At high doses, daytime drowsiness can occur and caution is advised while driving or operating machinery .
  • Increased Effects of Anesthetics: If you need surgery, stop taking valerian at least 2 weeks ahead of time. Valerian may increase the effects of anesthetics that act on GABA receptors .
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Heart problems and delirium might occur if valerian is stopped suddenly .
  • Overstimulation: At high doses, excitation may occur in some people .
  • Suicide: Researchers report 1 case of attempted suicide after a massive overdose on valerian .

Drug Interactions

Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

Animal studies and anecdotal reports suggest that valerian may increase both beneficial and side effects caused by sedative drugs. Examples include :

  • Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
  • Narcotics, such as codeine
  • Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Alcohol
  • Anti-seizure drugs

However, there is little evidence for clinically relevant interactions in humans .

Valerian may increase levels of drugs metabolized by CYP450 by inhibiting these enzymes (e.g. lovastatin, triazolam, chemotherapeutic agents) in animals .

However, clinical studies show minimal effects on CYP3A4 activity and no effect on CYP2D6 activity in healthy volunteers .

Valerian tinctures may have high alcohol content (15 to 90%) and theoretically may cause side effects if taken with drugs like metronidazole (Flagyl) or disulfiram (Antabuse) .

Valerian may affect the response to anesthetics by prolonging the time until wakefulness .

Valerian Sources and Supplements

Valerian-based supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, regulatory bodies aren’t assuring the quality, safety, and efficacy of supplements. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

The roots and rhizomes (underground stems) and stolons (horizontal stems) of valerian are used to make supplements, including capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts, as well as teas .

Even in standardized plant extracts, there is some variation in the number of different chemicals, which may account for different reports of efficiency. However, the clinical effects are remarkably consistent across different preparations .

Valerian is sometimes combined with other herbs such as lemon balm, passion flower, and hops .

Dosage

The below doses may not apply to you personally. If your doctor suggests using valerian root, work with them to find the optimal dosage according to your health condition and other factors.

Doses range from 400-450 mg in insomnia clinical trials. Doses were taken 1-2 hours before bed, or up to 3 times in one day. Once sleep improved, treatment continued for 2 to 6 weeks .

Recommended doses range from 400-900 mg at bedtime .

Valerian is most effective if taken regularly for 2 or more weeks. It may take a few weeks before the effects of valerian root supplementation are felt .

Higher dosages may have a stimulating effect, so it is best to start with a minimal dose and use the lowest dose needed to achieve the desired effect .

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. SelfDecode does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment. Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on SelfDecode.

Valerian root is often combined with other sedating herbs, such as hops (Humulus lupulus), St. John’s Wort, kava, and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to treat insomnia.

Insomnia:

“…when I drink a valerian tea before going to sleep when I wake up in the morning, I feel like I had a heavy sleep but a good one, you know, like the nights you got in holidays when all your stress goes away and you sleep like a baby.”

“I work nights and from time to time have difficulty staying asleep once I fall asleep. Taking valerian root has really helped with that problem. I started taking valerian when I was traveling a lot to help prevent jet lag and it really helped with that problem as well.”

“I take 3 to 4 valerian root capsules as a sleep aid. I also find myself dreaming more, or at least remembering more dreams.”

Anxiety:

“Helps me more compared to Lexapro, Celexa, Xanax, Vistaril, etc. without negative side effects. The only side effect experienced is tiredness, which is manageable compared to suicidal tendencies caused by other medications.”

“When I am feeling anxious or nervous, I take one capsule and it helps to take the edge off my nervousness without making me drowsy. I have had no side effects from the drug.”

Fibromyalgia:

“I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I actually could feel my entire body relax. I’ve just finished my Extra Sleepy Time Tea – I used 4 bags for 100 mg. The first time I did this I woke up feeling well-rested and refreshed. I can’t remember the last time I woke up feeling “good” vs. my joints cracking and moaning when I first get moving!”

Menopause:

“It works! It also seems to help reduce my hot flashes due to menopause.”

“I have been having a hard time getting to sleep (hot flashes, anxiety, etc.). I am so happy that I found valerian. Not only has it made me sleep well, but it is also helping with my anxiety and ADD… an added effect I did not know would happen. I am so happy!”

Asperger’s Syndrome:

“Valerian root has been very beneficial for symptoms of my Asperger’s syndrome. Anxiety in social situations and overstimulation cause the inability to sleep well and that will cause problems at school and work. I started taking 2 of the 450 mg Valerian root every night after a week I noticed I could function better during the day and less anxious in a college setting. Warning, do not drink alcohol before bedtime when taking valerian. They don’t mix.”

Valerian Root vs. Melatonin

Both valerian and melatonin are sleep aids, although their mechanisms are different.

Sometimes they are combined together but caution is warranted, as the sedative effect may be too high .

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It is affected by light and dark and controls the body’s sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Low melatonin levels are linked to insomnia .

Studies have shown lower doses of melatonin are more effective in promoting sleep .

As with valerian, too high a dose can have the reverse effect, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Even melatonin is only a short-term solution as it loses effectiveness with long-term use .

Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. Some 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s about far more than feeling tired all the time. Sleep deprivation is a contributor to a host of medical issues ranging from obesity to mental illness to “poor quality of life and well-being.”

That explains the explosive market for prescription drugs that help you sleep. Driven by sales of Lunesta, the prescription sleep aid market hit $1.48 billion in 2013, according to IMS Health.

Prescription sleeping pills may be popular, but they can be dicey—the tales of side effects for drugs like Ambien and Halcion are legendary. This has led many to explore herbs, natural remedies, and over-the-counter products that, in theory, have fewer ill effects. But do they work?

I asked Dr. Shanon Makekau, medical director of the sleep laboratory at the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group, about supplements like valerian root, melatonin, and tryptophan, and whether they have any legitimate medical value. She’s pragmatic. “The bottom line is that the available alternatives are not really rooted in science,” she says. “The studies that are out there, particularly on valerian and chamomile, are limited and small in number, and the results are inconclusive. That being said, I generally tell my patients that if they find a sleep aid anecdotally to be helpful and not harmful, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Given some patients’ concern with prescription drugs, Makekau understands the desire for alternatives, but stresses caution. “There are effective prescription medications,” she notes, “but they are associated with negative side effects. But people need to know that even things over the counter can be harmful.” She points to kava (related to severe liver damage) and l-tryptophan (associated with a rare and fatal muscle-jellifying disease called Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome) as drugs to treat with special caution.

Still, Makekau says most alternative sleep aids are thought to be safe, though they have little scientific backing. The exception is melatonin, which data suggest helps workers who must switch between day and night shifts, and for managing jet lag. “But the effect is very small in comparison to a prescription sleep aid,” she says, “and there’s no long-term safety data.”

“We don’t know how these things work, and there’s no evidence that the effect will predictable or repeatable from person to person,” she says. “If you’re looking for something that’s not prescription-based, have a conversation with your physician up front. The key is finding something that’s safe and doesn’t interact with any other medications you’re taking.”

Snoozeville

Given that individuals tend to react differently to these supplements, I wondered how I would fare in a test group of one. I’ve long had trouble sleeping—rousing a lot during the night and waking much too early. I’m not interested in prescription sleep aids or over-the-counter drugs like diphenhydramine (Benadryl and Sominex) or doxylamine (Unisom), which can lead to tolerance issues if taken regularly. However, the thought of taking a chamomile capsule after dinner didn’t seem so bad. So I rounded up eight alternative sleep aids—five single-supplement products and three “cocktails” of a variety of supplements—and took them semi-randomly over the course of about six weeks. The cocktail supplement market is vast, but if you check ingredient labels you’ll find that the three I chose are fairly representative.

Clinicians and drug companies alike generally consider three categories when determining the effectiveness of a sleep aid: how much it shortens the time needed to fall asleep, how much it increases the total amount of sleep experienced, and the severity of drowsiness—the “hangover effect”—experienced the next day.

The quality and depth of sleep can be measured with sleep monitoring equipment; I used a Withings Aura to measure the amount of REM sleep I was getting each night. I then used this information in combination with a daily sleep log (which I highly recommend even if you aren’t experimenting with sleep aids) that I kept throughout the experiment, never taking the same sleep aid for two consecutive nights, and taking nothing at all for many nights to ensure my system was “clean” for the next go-round. In my sleep log, each night I gave the prior night’s sleep a “quality rating” from 1 (nonstop insomnia) to 10 (perfect sleep). As a sort of master measurement of the night, I multiplied this rating by the total amount of sleep I achieved in hours, so a total “sleep score” of 80 points—8 hours of level 10 sleep—would be perfect.

It can’t be noted strenuously enough that this is a thoroughly unscientific test and my experiences should not be seen as representative of how anyone else may respond to these supplements, or as a benchmark for their effectiveness. Rather, my intent is to investigate how widely variable sleep aids like these can be outside of the lab while offering my own anecdotal evidence about what worked as a baseline for further investigation.

As well, remember that many things can impact how you sleep. What you eat, what you drink, evening exercise, late-night brain stimulation (like watching TV or playing games), pets in the room, temperature, ambient noise and light, and who knows what else can each have a severe impact on how well you sleep. Supplements are only one piece of the puzzle, but the question is whether they can genuinely help to overcome those other elements.

Still, consider those elements before thinking about a supplement. “Look at your overall sleep habits and your environment before you engage with a sleep aid,” Makekau says. “Make sleep a priority, get exercise during the day, and avoid things like alcohol and caffeine.”

The Players

I investigated five single-product supplements. Prices are approximate based on larger capacity bottles.

• Melatonin (4¢/dose). The big name in alternative sleep aids, this is a hormone that builds in the body as it gets darker outside.
• Valerian Root (8¢/dose). A flowering herb that has sedative effects. The root is powdered and put into a capsule.
• Chamomile (10¢/dose). The same stuff that’s in herbal tea. The flowers of this plant are used for a wide variety of ailments, including indigestion and anxiety.
• Lemon balm (18¢/dose). Also known as Melissa. It’s part of the mint family (not the lemon family) and finds a home in aromatherapy and culinary uses. Tea made from lemon balm is used as a mild sedative.
• L-tryptophan (45¢/dose). An amino acid and a precursor to serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Famously thought to be in high concentrations in turkey (but not really), it’s also used to improve mood.

The three “cocktails” I sampled included these products:

The Results

After weeks of testing, my personal results were far from what I expected. The biggest surprise was that, based on my sleep log and the Aura data, I found I’d been sleeping better than I thought, even when I didn’t take anything. With no supplement, I was getting a baseline of 6.85 hours of sleep at an average 6.6 quality rating for a total sleep score of 46 points. Not bad, and the Aura reported 1.46 hours of REM sleep each night, which was also surprisingly good.

When looking at the overall amount of sleep I got while using a single supplement, L-tryptophan came out on top. On nights I took L-tryptophan, I got 7.53 hours of sleep, significantly above any other alternative. The downside was the quality of that sleep, which I rated at only a 6.5, for an average sleep score of 49 points. That’s all pretty good, but the whole jellied muscles business put me off a bit, so ultimately I’m not sure it’s a great option for sustained use.

How about sleep quality? Looking at all the single-product supplements, chamomile gave me the soundest night’s sleep—so deep one night that my wife reported she was unable to rouse me during a snoring jag. I gave those nights an average quality rating of 7.3, and the 7.18 average hours of sleep I got was also noticeably higher than the no-meds nights. The net sleep score of 52 points earned chamomile the top spot among the single-supplement products.

Surprisingly, none of the other three supplements were effective for me, and all netted lower total sleep times and lower quality ratings than using nothing at all.

Melatonin was the big surprise. Some of my worst nights I experienced during testing were ones in which I’d taken this drug. After melatonin, I tossed and turned in bed, waking repeatedly throughout the night—once close to a dozen times. The next morning I invariably experienced a severe hangover effect, groggy for hours.

Valerian was not much better. On this drug I experienced wild dreams, lots of waking, and extreme next-morning fatigue. The valerian pills also smelled awful, like pungent, wet cardboard, a problem not to be underestimated when you have to choke it down at bedtime. But the absolute worst was lemon balm. The first night I tried it I woke repeatedly with an unbearably full bladder. Three lengthy trips to the bathroom later, lemon balm’s apparent diuretic effect started causing significant concern. I discontinued it soon after for fear of kidney damage or worse.

The three cocktails performed better than most of the individual supplements, but only Serenity and Luna did significantly better at giving me extra time asleep, and only Serenity offered any improvement in sleep quality. In fact, Serenity provided some of my best numbers across the board—7.26 hours of total sleep, 1.80 hours of REM sleep (vs. 1.46 hours with no supplement), a 7.7 sleep quality rating, and a total sleep score of 56. The only problem is that, as with valerian, Serenity smells so hideous it is physically difficult to choke down. At $1.33 per dose, it’s by far the most expensive solution I tested.

Luna had similar total sleep numbers to Serenity, but provided less REM and only a 6.4 quality rating for a net sleep score of 46, the same as sleeping without a supplement. Somnis’s 6.88 total sleep hours made it an also ran—largely thanks to one night where I spent more than two hours trying to get to sleep—with a total sleep score of 43.

What happens now? While I’ll probably keep both Serenity and chamomile in my arsenal in case of insomnia—and to attempt to help with jet lag when traveling internationally—I’m not planning to take any of these supplements on a regular basis, as it seems, in the end, I sleep well enough without them. Just remember that if you decide to try any of these for yourself, your mileage will, without a doubt, vary.

Chart: Sleep supplements by the numbers

Supplement

Sleep (hrs)

Quality Rating

Sleep score

None

Serenity

Chamomile

L-tryptophan

Luna

Somnis

Valerian root

Melatonin

Lemon balm

The Best Sleep Aids

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Getting to the Root of Valerian Root as Anxiety Treatment

Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. It blooms in summer, and its pink and sometimes white flowers have a sweet scent.

Though it has been used historically for non-medical purposes, (including being worn as a perfume and sewn into the wedding clothes of new husbands to ward off jealous elves), this attractive plant also attracted the attention of ancient Greeks and Romans. They were the first to discover the potential of valerian root as a treatment for insomnia.

Due to its relaxing properties, valerian is used by some people in the modern day not only for the treatment of insomnia but also as a treatment for anxiety. This article will discuss the known properties of valerian root, its availability and the forms it is sold in, and the overall safety of valerian as an anxiety treatment.

Questionable Anxiety Treatments

Tests of the efficacy of valerian root for this purpose have proven inconclusive, which could indicate that it may just be a placebo, or simply that too few tests have been performed. For these reasons, you may want to consider an alternative treatment.

What’s In Valerian Root?

The value of valerian root comes from oil within the root. The oil is known for its pungent scent which smells much worse than the flower itself — some have compared the odor to stinky cheese, and others to dirty feet. Yet, apart from its foul odor, valerian root may do some potentially useful things in our brains.

It has been suggested that valerian root has special chemical properties that are useful in the treatment of anxiety, some of which may actually mimic some of the effects of long accepted anxiety treatments.

Valerian root contains specific acids that have been named after the plant itself as valerenic acids, may translate into GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that is responsible for regulating and specifically for inhibiting the activity of the brain’s neurons.

Extra GABA in your system promotes relaxation and lowers stress levels. For this reason, valerian root is known as a sedative. This effect is supposed to be very similar to benzodiazepines, which are sedative drugs commonly prescribed for depression and sometimes prescribed for anxiety, also trigger GABA receptors in the brain.

Availability and Forms of Valerian Root

Valerian root is sold as a nutritional supplement in the United States. Since the passing of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994, valerian and many other supplements can be sold regardless of the regulations usually imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Valerian root can be sold both in the form of capsules containing root extract and in the form of tea.

Valerian Root Safety

There are many species of the valerian plant. The species that has gotten the most attention from the medical community is called Valeriana officinalis, and is currently believed to contain the most active compounds. Other species of valerian have not been as closely studied and should be avoided.

It should be noted that valerian root is thought to take 2 or more weeks of regular treatment to begin having positive effects. For this reason, excess valerian should not be taken if positive effects do not appear immediately. It is a more extended period, not a higher dose, which is likely to help.

Valerian is thought, overall, to be a comparatively safe medication, unless you are allergic to valerian, in which case it can cause including skin rash/hives and trouble breathing.

Possible side effects are mainly related to its functionality as a sleep aid, and include:

  • Apathy
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Stomachache

As with benzodiazepines, or any sedative substance, driving motor vehicles and operating heavy machinery should be avoided after taking valerian. It should not be taken in combination with any other depressants. Long-term use in males has been correlated with withdrawal symptoms similar to those of benzodiazepine withdrawal, including heart problems and delirium. It is also believed that valerian may have the potential to cause hepatotoxicity (damage to the liver).

People with preexisting liver problems and pregnant or nursing women should avoid valerian root, and as with any supplement, you should consult your doctor and/or therapist before taking valerian.

So Does Valerian Work?

Valerian root is an herbal supplement that may have an effect on your anxiety. But whether or not it does is questionable. Like most herbs, little research has been conducted, and the research that has been completed tends to be very poor.

That’s why, while it’s something you can consider, it’s not something you should depend on. The truth is that even herbal medicines are still medicines – they have their own side effects and risks (contrary to the belief that “natural” means “safe”), and no medicine of any kind can genuinely cure anxiety. They can only numb it temporarily. Always discuss with your doctor before taking supplements or alternative medicines.

8 Effective Herbal Supplements for Anxiety

In the UK alone, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety recorded in 2013, with women being twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders than men. There may be a natural anxiety remedy to the rescue.

Click here for your FREE anxiety-busting tool kit

Chest tightness, sweating and an overwhelming feeling of losing control. We’re all familiar with the feelings of anxiety and panic attacks. I’m no different. I’m well aware of how overwhelming and scary anxiety can make you feel, not only mentally but physically.

Find me on Instagram – I post tips on anxiety every day

The actual symptoms of anxiety can range from very short to long and ongoing. It’s completely different for each individual. I don’t know about you but I found that little things would set me off. Such as leaving the house or meeting friends and all of a sudden it hit me.

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion identified by worried thoughts, feelings of tension and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. I’m not sure which is worse, the physical or the psychological symptoms that come with anxiety. Whether you experience mild symptoms or have regular full-blown panic attacks, it’s so important to find a method of coping that works for you.

Constantly living with tension and distress can be detrimental to your quality of life. The need for effective natural supplements to ease anxiety symptoms is greater than ever. As well as helping with anxiety, many health remedies are known to have other positive benefits. I’ve compiled a list of eight effective herbal supplements as an anxiety remedy. These could help to reel in your anxiety and get your life back.

Valerian Root

Valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid for insomnia which can often be caused by anxiety, as you may well know. As well as aiding in a restful night’s sleep, valerian root is a natural remedy for anxiety. Mostly taken in pill form due to its questionable smell, valerian root encourages relaxation. One small study has shown that patients with generalised anxiety disorder found valerian root significantly reduced a measure of anxiety compared to the placebo. Valerian has been used for centuries and dates back to Greek and Roman times as a natural anxiety remedy.

Kava Kava

A very well known anxiety remedy, it promotes relaxation and is available in different products. Today, it’s most frequently consumed in pill form. Some key benefits from the consumption of kava root are muscle relaxation and improved cognitive ability, just what you’re looking for in an anti-anxiety remedy. The use of kava as a treatment for anxiety has been reviewed in multiple studies and is an effective and safe treatment of anxiety, says Psychology Today. The natural supplement has been reported to interact negatively with alcohol but if you’re looking to improve your anxiety, it’s probably best to avoid alcohol altogether.

Ashwagandha

A bit of a mouthful, the herbal medicine translates to “smell of horse”. Traditionally used to treat anxiety, ageing and low energy, the adaptogenic herb has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. Adaptogens are a class of healing plants that help to balance, protect and restore the body. Holy basil and liquorice root are also classed as adaptogens. Ashwagandha helps to balance the hormones that contribute to anxiety as well as help induce relaxation and aid sleep. There have been a number of studies that support the effectiveness of the herb as a natural anxiety remedy. In 2012, a study found that patients diagnosed with anxiety disorder showed significantly lower anxiety and 28% lower levels of serum cortisol when taking Ashwagandha as opposed to the placebo.

Rhodiola

The bright yellow-green plant is also known as golden root or roseroot. Rhodiola is an adaptogen herb and is the second most consumed in traditional medicine. As an adaptogen herb, it can have a direct effect on your stress levels and your ability to control and manage stress. The herb has been shown to have beneficial qualities in the relief of anxiety symptoms. Rhodiola encourages calmness and relaxation as well as being a natural stress-reducing and anxiety remedy.

Lavender

Widely used in aromatherapy, the plant’s essential oil is said to promote relaxation, something any anxiety-sufferer strives for. Lavender is available in pill form and alone as an essential oil. Several studies have tested lavender’s effect on anxiety symptoms. Published in 2005 in Physiology & Behaviour, a study on 200 people found that breathing in lavender whilst awaiting dental treatment both improved mood and lessened anxiety. Lavender has also been known to help encourage sleep which can be massively affected by anxiety. Placing a pot of lavender in your bedroom or perhaps a lavender pillow spray may help you nod off and improve your sleep quality.

Passionflower

The beautiful flower is used as a natural medicine for anxiety sufferers. Passionflower has calming effects on those feeling restless and anxious. It’s known to cause sleepiness for some so it’s best to take this one before bed after a busy day. Originally native to Peru, Passionflower has spread throughout the world. Some studies suggest the flower may help to relieve anxiety and aid sleep, however, more research is required to properly assess all the potential uses of passionflower, according to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Some species of the flower may even help with treating stomach problems.

Chamomile

Having a sip on a cup of chamomile tea before bed to relax and set you up for a good night’s sleep is probably an anxiety remedy you’ve either done or heard of. If you’re not a fan of tea, it’s also available in pill form. Chamomile is a gentle, effective and natural way to treat anxiety. It’s also been known to ease digestion issues and encourage sleep, helping any insomnia-sufferers. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, chamomile capsules seemed to have a calming effect on patients anxiety symptoms.

Lemon Balm

Most commonly found in capsule form, lemon balm is also an extract. It can be taken alone or added to a herbal tea. This natural anxiety remedy has been used since at least the Middle Ages in relieving symptoms and encouraging relaxation. Lemon balm may also be helpful in treating digestive issues and headaches. Known for its calming and soothing properties, several studies have found that lemon balm not only helps in relieving anxiety but can also improve mood and reduce stress.

Anxiety can wreak havoc on your well-being and day-to-day living. It’s so incredibly vital to find an effective way of managing, coping and in turn reducing your symptoms. Anxiety is a normal bodily function when faced with something new or daunting. However, it shouldn’t have the power to dominate your life.

Remember that every individual is different so the way your body may interact with natural remedies can be different. Herbal supplements us as an anxiety remedy. They are a great way to manage and relieve symptoms of anxiety in a natural yet effective way.

Click here for your FREE anxiety-busting tool kit

Valerian

Valeriana officinalis

The part used in herbal medicine is valerian root and it is taken as a tea, a tincture or a fluid extract.

Key symptoms valerian is used to treat include

  • Anxiety; panic attacks
  • Insomnia; sleep disorders
  • Nervous restlessness
  • Wedding nerves; exam nerves
  • Fearfulness; of flying; stage fright; mild phobias
  • Muscular relaxant for tension; cramps; spasms; period pain.

Valerian benefits

Valerian root is used to aid sleep and to relieve the symptoms of mild anxiety. Anxiety is when you are feeling anxious, nervous or worried, or if you are having panic attacks. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in their life and Valerian can help them to cope.
Read more…

Valerian dosage

DIRECTIONS Adults & the elderly: To relieve the symptoms of mild anxiety: Take one 5ml teaspoonful in water or fruit juice when necessary, up to three times a day. To aid sleep: Take one 5ml teaspoonful in water or fruit juice half to one hour before bedtime, with an earlier dose during the evening if necessary. Take continuously for 2-4 weeks for full effect.

Valerian safety

The MHRA advises that Valerian should not be used in people under 18 as this might prevent a diagnosis of a more serious depression.

The safety of valerian has not been established in children and should therefore not be taken by children unless under the direction of a medical herbalist.

Do not use valerian if you are allergic to it or any of the other ingredients in the product you are taking.

Do not use valerian if you have liver disease or epilepsy.

The safety of valerian has not been established in pregnant or breastfeeding women and should therefore not be taken in pregnancy and while breastfeeding unless under the direction of a medical herbalist.

Contact a doctor or healthcare practitioner if symptoms do not improve after 4 weeks of using valerian. This is recommended to ensure that the patient is not suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), clinical depression or another mental health problem.

Valerian side effects

Valerian may cause drowsiness in some people. Alcohol should also be avoided as the effects of valerian can be increased by alcohol.

Valerian interactions

Do not take Valerian if you are already taking a medicine for sleep or anxiety are taking medicines known to interact with alcohol e.g. metronidazole.

Benefits And Side Effects Of Valerian Root For Anxiety

By Julia Thomas

Updated December 10, 2019

Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

People have been using valerian root for anxiety and insomnia since ancient times. This herbal remedy seems to help some people relax and calm down. Others see only minor results or even had negative consequences from taking valerian root. Here’s a brief look at the good and not-so-good sides of valerian for anxiety.

What Is Valerian Root?

Valerian is a plant that grows in Europe, Asia, and now, the U.S. It usually grows wild, but it can be cultivated. The root of this perennial plant as well as its underground and horizontal stems have been used for medicinal purposes to promote sleep and ease nervousness. It was being used in ancient Greece and Rome and has continued to be used since then. Through the years, it’s been utilized not only for insomnia and nervousness but also for heart palpitations, headaches, stomach upsets, seizures, and even ADHD.

Source: zliving.com

Common Valerian Products

These days, valerian is typically used to make dietary supplements, including capsules, teas, and tinctures. Other types of products, such as over the counter sleep aids, include valerian in their formulas. In these products, valerian may not be in the name of the product but may only be mentioned briefly on the list of ingredients.

How Valerian Helps with Anxiety

There is no conclusive scientific evidence that valerian does help with anxiety. However, many people report that it eases their symptoms of anxiety. Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling nervous or on edge
  • Irritability
  • A sense of impending doom or danger
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal problems

When you take valerian, anxiety symptoms like these might diminish. If so, it happens because of the valerian’s sedative properties. In the simplest terms, a sedative is something that promotes calm and induces sleep.

Where Does the Sedation Come From?

If it’s true that valerian helps with anxiety, how does it work? Scientists don’t really know, but they suspect that it isn’t just one chemical component from the plant that helps. Instead, it’s likely a combination of many different chemicals working individually or acting together to create its effects.

The two main components of valerian that may have the greatest effect are its volatile oils and its iridoids. The volatile oils, including valerenic acid, have been studied in animals and seem to have a sedative effect. The iridoids, including valepotriates, also have a sedative effect but they’re unstable and tend to break down when stored.

The brain’s chemicals get into the act as well. GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, is released in your brain after you take valerian. Then the chemicals in the valerian keep most of the GABA from being taken back up into the nerve endings. This may be another key to its sedative effect.

Source: pxhere.com

Anxiety, Sleep, and Valerian

When it comes to valerian, anxiety isn’t the only issue to consider. One of the reasons valerian for anxiety makes sense is because it promotes sleep. If you’re having trouble with insomnia, you may become more nervous and jittery. Solving the sleep problem can decrease your anxiety symptoms dramatically.

In addition, the nervousness can contribute to your sleeplessness, so it can become a cycle of anxiety and insomnia that you can’t break out of on your own. Using valerian root for anxiety, then, can break this cycle, helping you sleep better, feel more relaxed, and become more emotionally stable.

What Are the Side Effects?

If you use valerian root, anxiety may no longer be a problem for you. The question then becomes, how else is the valerian affecting you? What are the side effects of using this herbal remedy? Here are some things that might happen:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pruritus (itchy skin)
  • Gastrointestinal upsets

You might also still feel a bit sedated the morning after you take valerian. At least, that is what some people have reported. However, so far, research has not shown that there are any significant differences in reaction time, concentration, or alertness the morning after taking this herbal supplement.

Is There Anyone Who Should Not Take Valerian?

Although valerian is relatively safe, there are still some people who should avoid it. Pregnant women and nursing mothers shouldn’t take it except under their doctor’s supervision. The reason is that there hasn’t been enough research at this point to establish its safety for the fetus or infant. It’s important to consult your trusted medical provider before taking any supplements.

The safety of valerian for children under 3 has not been sufficiently evaluated to warrant giving it to them. Finally, people who use alcohol or take sedative drugs should be aware of the risks of adding valerian root for anxiety. Although a clear connection hasn’t been established yet, taking a sedative medication along with an herbal preparation that also has sedative properties could easily lead to over-sedation.

As for taking valerian for anxiety while you’re on other medications, it’s always important to discuss the matter with the prescribing doctor. Some medications that could interact with valerian include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Ativan
  • Halcion
  • Phenobarbital
  • Morphine
  • Propofol

Certain natural supplements may also interact with valerian. They include:

  • John’s Wort
  • Kava
  • Melatonin
  • This list isn’t exhaustive! You should consult your doctor before taking any supplements together or adding a supplement to medications you already take.

What Else Can Help with Anxiety?

Whether you take prescription medications, valerian, neither, or both for anxiety, you can reduce your susceptibility to anxiety by adapting a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep whenever you can. Eat healthy foods in amounts that are right for your body. Avoid alcohol, smoking, and drugs. Get outdoors, and exercise at a level that challenges you without pushing you to exhaustion.

Can Therapy Help?

Psychotherapy (counseling) has been shown to be helpful in treating anxiety and other mental health issues that cause feelings of unease. Just talking about stressful situations provides some relief. A good therapist will listen nonjudgmentally. You can also learn coping skills. These skills will help you deal with anxiety as it happens and keep from getting overwhelmed by it. Some of the coping skills your therapist might help you incorporate into your life include:

Source: pxhere.com

  • Meditation
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Social time
  • Finding humor in life
  • Taking up a hobby
  • Engaging in physical activities like dancing or hiking
  • Self-expression, such as through art or music
  • Drawing mandalas

Another strategy is called proactive coping. That just means that when you expect an upcoming experience to be stressful, you prepare yourself ahead of time. You imagine what it will be like and think of ways you can cope with it when it happens.

Besides coping techniques, your therapist might use other psychological tools to help you reduce your anxiety. If you only feel anxiety in certain situations or places, your therapist might use a desensitization technique to help you gradually adjust to being there without feeling panic. They may use cognitive behavioral therapy to help you examine the thoughts behind your anxiety, evaluate them, and replace them with healthier thoughts if needed.

If you want to go beyond the benefits of valerian root for your anxiety, talking to a therapist may be the right next step for you. You can talk to a counselor at your local community clinic or psychologist’s office for help if it’s available where you live.

Another option is to talk to a counselor at BetterHelp for online therapy. When you choose this type of therapy, you don’t have to leave your home to go to a therapist’s office or clinic. In fact, you can have therapy anywhere you can connect to the internet.

No matter what treatment you end up using for your anxiety, the key to getting better is to address the issue rather than avoid or deny it. Learning about valerian and other possible treatments for anxiety is an excellent first step. Remember that sometimes the first thing you try doesn’t bring satisfactory results. That’s okay. If you work with a doctor and/or therapist, you can find the treatment that works best for you.

Many herbs and natural substances are marketed as remedies for stress, but such products are unlikely to be the answer to life’s tensions, experts say.

There’s little evidence that any of these products work well over the long term, said Thomas Lenz, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Creighton University in Nebraska. And some of the products may cause adverse effects, particularly if used with other drugs.

“Just because they’re herbal doesn’t mean that they’re safe,” Lenz said.

Lenz recently reviewed the scientific literature to determine which, if any, herbal supplements could be recommended to treat stress. Out of the myriad products, he did find one that stood out: lemon balm appears to be both safe and reasonably effective at reducing stress in the short term.

That doesn’t mean that other herbal supplements are useless. In conjunction with other therapies, some supplements may be helpful, said Dr. Ashwin Mehta, an assistant professor and medical director of integrative medicine at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center.

But supplements should not be the first thing patients and doctors turn to when attempting to deal with stress and anxiety, Mehta said, because they don’t address the underlying cause of stress, he said.

And just as with medications, consumers should be cautious, and let their health care provider know if they’re taking a supplement, Lenz said.

Herbal supplements

Some common herbal supplements for stress include:

Lemon balm: Several small studies have found that this supplement, which is part of the mint family, can improve mood and induce feelings of calmness, Lenz said. One study found that 1,600 milligrams of dried lemon balm was associated with an increase in calmness for up to six hours, he said. Lemon balm also appears to be relatively safe.

Kava: This herbal supplement is derived from the root of the kava plant, which is native to the South Pacific. Several studies have concluded that kava does significantly lower anxiety. However, the supplement has also been implicated in cases of liver failure, Lenz said, so it cannot be recommended, Lenz said.

Valerian root: This herb has been used to treat of anxiety and sleep disorders. One study found that the combination of valerian root with St. John’s wort was more effective than the medication diazepam at reducing anxiety in patients who were treated for two weeks. However, other studies have shown no effect of this herb on anxiety, so there’s not enough evidence to say it works, Lenz said. Low doses of this herb are considered safe when taken for less than one month, Lenz said. However, high doses may cause changes in heart rhythm and blurred vision, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Passionflower: Studies have shown that passionflower lowers anxiety in mice, but only one study has been carried out in humans, according to Lenz. That randomized, placebo-controlled study was done in 2001 in patients with general anxiety disorder, and found that 45 drops of liquid passionflower daily was as effective in treating the disorder as the drug oxazepam. Still, more research on its safety and effectiveness is needed, Lenz wrote in his study.

St. John’s wort: In one study of 40 patients with social anxiety disorder, taking St. John’s wort for two weeks seemed to slightly improve anxiety symptoms; however, the difference between the groups in the study may have been due to chance, and the study itself was poorly designed, according to Lenz.

Many herbal supplements are sedatives and should not be taken with other sedative drugs or alcohol, Lenz said.

Best stress treatment

The best way to treat stress over the long term is to identify the root causes of it, and see if your lifestyle can be changed to reduce it, Mehta said.

People can also try meditation, yoga, controlled breathing, tai chi or exercise to help cope with stress, he said.

“You can’t biopsy stress…stress exists in the realm of the mind,” Mehta said. “Therefore, the tools that we must use in order to confront excessive stress need to also be mindfulness-based modalities.”

If you plan to start using herbal supplements for stress, you should know that they can vary widely in their quality and content. For this reason, you should consult an integrative medicine practitioner or other expert familiar with these products before taking them, Mehta said.

Lenz’s review was published in the November/December issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

Pass it on: Some herbal supplements can reduce stress and anxiety over short periods, but they are not a long-term solution.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner. Find us on Facebook.

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