φάeels a little more or are you having a hard time resting these days? If you are looking for a “natural” option to help treat anxiety or sleep problems, you may have heard of valerian root, a plant that has been used for centuries for its calming effects.
Although there is some limited evidence that valerian root can have some benefits for stress and sleep, experts say it is important to proceed with caution (and your doctor is okay) if you are interested in trying valerian root. Here’s the low level on the plant, its potential for stress and everything else you need to know before you try it yourself.
How to use valerian root
Valerian is a flowering plant that is found all over the world and has a remarkable calming effect. It has been used since the first century AD, initially mainly to relieve bloating and gas and to stimulate menstruation. It has been used to treat anxiety and sleep problems.
Today, the herb is usually lyophilized to produce a powder that is added to teas and supplements. Una McCann, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says she has seen valerian root take off since the 1970s. “Someone to sleep and relieve stress,” he says. However, it warns against the herb for its patients. “Many natural substances are quite psychoactive, cocaine and heroin are two of the most obvious. “There is a sense that if something is natural it should be safe, but in reality it is not.”
Not all experts are so skeptical, though they do pay close attention. “I do not advise patients to avoid valerian altogether if they are completely healthy,” said Gregory Scott Brown, MD, a certified psychiatrist and director of the Center for Green Psychiatry in West Lake Hills, TX. “Usually, patients will come to me having already tried natural products, such as valerian, on their own and whether they are looking for safety guidance or if they do not benefit from the product, they wonder what to do next.”
Valerian Root Research on Stress and Sleep
To be clear, science is not exactly sure how valerian even works. Some research shows that valeric acid, the main active ingredient in valerian root extracts, binds to the gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. It can also increase the amount of GABA in the brain, which is thought to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Prescription drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) also target GABA receptors.
In addition, research on valerian root is not convincing at best, especially for stress. Most studies are small and poorly designed. Some studies find that valerian root improves sleep and anxiety symptoms, while other studies find it to have little or no effect, adding to the confusion. A 2020 meta-analysis looked at 60 studies involving 6,894 people to try to determine why the study was vague, even though the drug had no serious side effects in adults. The researchers note that the erratic findings could be due to the “variable quality of the herbal extracts”. The authors note that the plant could have more reliable effects on stress and sleep if the preparation and dosage of the root were more strictly controlled.
Most promising is a 2016 meta-analysis of 16 randomized, placebo-controlled studies of valerian root, involving 1,093 patients, who concluded that the herb “could” improve sleep quality without side effects. The authors noted that most studies had significant problems with their methodology and that valerian doses and duration of treatment differed significantly between studies.
“The general consensus is that valerian can be a useful treatment for some forms of anxiety and insomnia. “It is important to note, however, that the research is inconsistent and some studies show that it does not work to a greater extent than placebo,” said Dr. Brown.
Possible side effects and issues you need to be aware of
While research seems to suggest that valerian root is relatively safe when taken alone, it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and abdominal cramps, says Dr. Brown.
The biggest problem is that the FDA does not regulate supplements (like valerian root) in the same way that it regulates drugs – so there is no guarantee of effectiveness or toxicity. “There is no good way to know exactly how much psychoactive substance is in this tea,” says Dr. McCann.
To reduce the risk that your supplement contains contaminants or does not meet quality standards, Dr. Brown suggests that you look for a verification stamp from a third party that conducts independent testing, such as NSF International, USP Pharmacopeia (USP) or Consumer Laboratory.
It is also one Really bad idea to mix natural remedies like valerian root with prescription drugs like benzodiazepines, antidepressants or sleep aids. “They can interact and cause awful toxic effects,” says Dr. McCann. “Do not think that you can use it just like eating salad, because it is a psychoactive compound. “It must be treated with great care.” He adds that each person responds differently to different substances, natural or prescription.
Finally, if you have ever struggled with alcohol or drug addiction, valerian root is probably not a good choice. “People can develop tolerance or dependence,” says Dr. McCann. He adds that valerian has also not been studied for possible interactions with alcohol and should be used with caution if you occasionally enjoy a glass of wine. (It may also not be safe for people who are pregnant.)
As with any medication or supplement, “I would always recommend that you check with your doctor first, as each person is different and there may be a reason why it may not be right for you,” says Dr. Brown.
How much valerian is safe to take?
As mentioned, Dr. McCann usually advises her patients to avoid using valerian root to treat anxiety or insomnia, but Dr. Brown is open to this in some cases. “I’m sure there are no known interactions among the other drugs or supplements they are taking,” says Dr. Brown.
The doses studied tend to be 400 to 600 mg of total dry extract per day. However, the specific dosage will vary depending on what your doctor recommends. “My philosophy is always to start low and go slow when I find the right dose of medication, so I would not recommend starting with the 600 mg dose right away,” says Dr. Brown. “The dose that has been studied varies widely, so it is important to consult your doctor about what is right for you.”
Since complementary and alternative therapies such as valerian have been studied less than drug therapies, Dr. Brown advises not to take it daily for extended periods of time to reduce the chance of tolerance or withdrawal.
Other options for treating anxiety and sleep problems
A safer bet on “natural” treatment of anxiety and insomnia? Dr. McCann suggests that you visit an authorized mental health provider for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This form of psychological therapy aims to help you identify flawed or non-constructive thought patterns and behaviors and teaches problem-solving strategies to better deal with difficult situations. Meditation, awareness and regular aerobic exercise can also be very helpful in treating anxiety and depression, adds Dr. McCann.
“If done correctly, they can be very helpful and help a person gain control over what he or she feels is a lack of control over his or her condition and body, which tends to increase when we are anxious and prevents us from sleeping well. “, says. Dr. McCann.
If you are open to tried and tested pharmacological treatments for stress-related issues, Dr. McCann says the first line treatment is SSRIs. “There are a handful of them, and not everyone works for everyone. “Some of us metabolize these things better than others, and some of us are more likely to have adverse effects on our genotype than others,” says Dr. McCann. “It can be trial and error, even with an FDA-regulated drug, such as an SSRI.”
Oh Hello! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts on favorite wellness brands and exclusive Well + Good content. Join Well +, our online wellness community and unlock your rewards right away.