Valerian [Valeriana officinalis]

Valerian grows in Europe. Its root has been used in herbal preparations
for digestive problems, nausea, liver problems, and even urinary tract
disorders. With limited scientific evidence, Valerian may benefit people
suffered from insomnia, anxiety, and pain. The volatile oils in its root may
contribute to these health benefits by weakly binding to GABA-A receptor
to produce sedative effects. [1, 2] The active ingredients of valerian root
are valepotriates and sesquiterpenes. Both have sedative effects.
[15,18] Probably, 300-500 mg of a concentrated valerian root herbal
extract (standardized to at least 0.5% volatile oils) in capsules can
produce the sedative effects and help insomnia.  [3]

Health Benefits of Valerian
Studies show that valerian may benefit people suffered from insomnia.
The beneficial effects of valerian on sleeping disturbance or difficulties
have been studied with various methods including multiple dosages and
different preparations. Research has focused on subjective evaluations
of sleep patterns, particularly sleep latency, and study populations have
primarily consisted of self-described poor sleepers. Valerian has been
found to benefit subjects with subjective experiences of sleep when
taken nightly over one- to two-week periods, and it appears to be a safe
sedative/hypnotic choice in patients with mild to moderate insomnia. [8-

Sleep latency
Valerian produced a significant decrease in subjectively evaluated sleep
latency scores and a significant improvement in sleep quality: the latter
was most notable among people who considered themselves poor or
irregular sleepers, smokers, and people who thought they normally had
long sleep latencies. Night awakenings, dream recall and somnolence the
next morning were relatively unaffected by valerian. [13] Researchers
observed a significant shortening in sleep latency after sleep-disturbed
model rats took valerian extract at doses of 1000 and 3000 mg/kg. [16]

REM sleep
Valerian extract had no significant effects on total times of wakefulness,
non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, or REM sleep, even at a dose
of 3000 mg/kg in sleep-disturbed model rats. [16]

Researchers from Berlin did not noticed any effect of valerian extract
supplementation on sleep onset time, REM sleep or time awake after
sleep onset in a study of 14 elderly poor sleepers on three nights, at one-
week intervals. [17]

Delta Activity
Valerian extract at doses of 1000 and 3000 mg/kg showed a significant
increase in the delta activity during non-REM sleep in a study of sleep-
disturbed rats. [16]

In conclusion, valerian extract may be useful as an herbal medicine
having not only sleep-inducing effects but also sleep quality-
enhancement effects. [16]

Feeling Sleepy
The only change for intake of valerian supplement was a significant
increase in reports of feeling more sleepy than normal the next morning.

The effect of an aqueous extract of valerian root on sleep was studied in
two groups of healthy, young subjects. One group (N = 10) slept at
home, the other (N = 8) in the sleep laboratory. [14]

Dose-Proportionality The beneficial effect of valerian was found to be
dose-dependent. [14]

Japanese researchers examined the effects of valerain inhalation on the
sleep-wake states in rats. They observed a significant prolonged total
sleep time with valerian inhalation. Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)
transaminase assay indicates that valerian inhalation decreases the
activity of the enzyme and enhances GABA activity. Thus, the present
study suggests the potential benefits of valerian inhalation on sleep
disturbance. [11]
Other potential health benefits of valerian
Valerian may also benefit patients with mild anxiety and restlessness,
but the data supporting this health claim are limited. [8] One recent
study has shown valerian may benefit children suffered from
restlessness in Germany. Researchers supplemented 918 children
suffered from restlessness and nervous dyskoimesis with a combination
of lemon balm and valerian in an open multi-center study. They found a
significant reduction in their core symptoms. [12]
Valerian preparations yield isovaleric acid, a substance analogous to
valproic acid and likely to possess anticonvulsant properties, as
isovaleramide does. Thus, some researchers believe valerian may benefit
people suffered from epilepsy. [19]

Side Effects or Interaction of Valerian
In a study of 102 subjects treated by valerian root extract, German
reserachers concluded that neither single nor repeated evening
administrations of 600 mg of VRE have a relevant negative impact on
reaction time, alertness and concentration the morning after intake. [20]
In addition, acute administration of valerian does not have mood-altering
or psychomotor/cognitive effects in young healthy volunteers. [23]

However, valepotriate is generally considered to be cytotoxic. In a
double blind study, researchers supplemented subjects with
sesquiterpene preparation, they found no side effect but a significant
improvement in sleep. [15]

Though valerian does not impair one's ability to drive or operate
machinery nor impair reaction time, alertness or concentration, it's still
better to avoid dangerous activities that require high alertness. [4,7]
Excessive intake of valerian root causes side effects including fatigue,
abdominal pain and mild tremor of hands and feet. [6]
A man experienced severe cardiac symptoms after withdrawal of valerian
supplements. [5]

Huge Variation in Quality from Product to Product
Thirty-one commercial valerian preparations available in Australia,
including teas, tablets, capsules and liquids, were analysed for
valepotriates, valerenic acid and valerenic acid derivatives. Researchers
found powder capsules, on average, contained the highest concentration
of valerenic acids (2.46 mg/g) and liquids the lowest concentration (0.47
mg/ml). The mean concentration of valerenic acid in the five products
standardized against valerenic acid (3.56 mg/g) was significantly higher
than in the 26 non-standardized products (0.89 mg/g). Valepotriates
were found at low levels (< 1.0 mg/g) in some teas but were not
detected in any of the finished products. [21]

Dose and Effectiveness
UK researchers found that valerian at 300-600 doses is ineffective as an
acute dose for sleep problems in a placebo-controlled three way
crossover clinical trial of 16 sleep-disturbed subjects. [22]


References 1. Mennini T, Bernasconi P, Bombardelli E, et al. In vitro study on the
interaction of extracts and pure compounds from Valeriana officinalis roots with
GABA, benzodiazepine and barbiturate receptors. Fitoterapia 1993;64:291–300.
2. Kohnen R, Oswald WD. The effects of valerian, propranolol and their
combination on activation performance and mood of healthy volunteers under
social stress conditions. Pharmacopsychiatry 1988;21:447–8. 3. Brown DJ. Herbal
Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 173–8. 4.
Albrecht M, Berger W, Laux P, et al. Psychopharmaceuticals and safety in traffic.
Zeits Allegmeinmed 1995;71:1215–21 [in German]. 5. Garges HP, Varia I,
Doraiswamy PM. Cardiac complications and delirium associated with valerian root
withdrawal. JAMA 1998;280:1566–7. 6. Wiley LB, Mady SP, Cobaugh DJ, Wax PM.
Valerian overdose: A case report. Vet Human Toxicol 1995;37:364–5. 7.
Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U. The influence of valerian
treatment on “reaction time, alertness and concentration” in volunteers.
Pharmacopsychiatry 1999;32:235–41. [8] Hadley S, Petry JJ. Valerian. Am Fam
Physician. 2003 Apr 15;67(8):1755-8. [9] Taibi DM, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG.
Valerian use for sleep disturbances related to rheumatoid arthritis. Holist Nurs
Pract. 2004 May-Jun;18(3):120-6. [10] Pallesen S, Bjorvatn B, Nordhus IH, Skjerve
A. Valerian as a sleeping aid? Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2002 Dec 10;122(30):2857-
9. [11] Komori T, Matsumoto T, Motomura E, Shiroyama T. The Sleep-Enhancing
Effect of Valerian Inhalation and Sleep-Shortening Effect of Lemon Inhalation.
Chem Senses. 2006 Jul 20. [12] Muller SF, Klement S. A combination of valerian
and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in
children. Phytomedicine. 2006 Jun;13(6):383-7. Epub 2006 Feb 17. [13]
Leathwood PD, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of valerian
root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem
Behav. 1982 Jul;17(1):65-71. [14] Balderer G, Borbely AA. Effect of valerian on
human sleep. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1985;87(4):406-9. [15] Lindahl O,
Lindwall L. Double blind study of a valerian preparation. Pharmacol Biochem
Behav. 1989 Apr;32(4):1065-6. [16] Shinomiya K, Fujimura K, Kim Y, Kamei C.
Effects of valerian extract on the sleep-wake cycle in sleep-disturbed rats. Acta
Med Okayama. 2005 Jun;59(3):89-92. [17] Schulz H, Stolz C, Muller J. The effect
of valerian extract on sleep polygraphy in poor sleepers: a pilot study.
Pharmacopsychiatry. 1994 Jul;27(4):147-51. [18] Houghton PJ. The scientific
basis for the reputed activity of Valerian. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1999 May;51(5):505-
12. [19] Eadie MJ. Could valerian have been the first anticonvulsant? Epilepsia.
2004 Nov;45(11):1338-43. [20] Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U.
The influence of valerian treatment on "reaction time, alertness and concentration"
in volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry. 1999 Nov;32(6):235-41. [21] Shohet D, Wills
RB, Stuart DL. Valepotriates and valerenic acids in commercial preparations of
valerian available in Australia. Pharmazie. 2001 Nov;56(11):860-3. [22] Diaper A,
Hindmarch I. A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of two
doses of a valerian preparation on the sleep, cognitive and psychomotor function
of sleep-disturbed older adults. Phytother Res. 2004 Oct;18(10):831-6. [23]
Gutierrez S, Ang-Lee MK, Walker DJ, Zacny JP. Assessing subjective and
psychomotor effects of the herbal medication valerian in healthy volunteers.
Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 May;78(1):57-64.
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