Ultimate Guide to Valerian Root Benefits

We go deep on this natural way to sleep

Written by Annalise May
Posted December 12, 2018

Valerian Root Benefits

Do you want to enjoy calm, restful sleep WITHOUT turning to expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals? 

Then you're going to want to seriously consider valerian root.

This popular perennial herb, also known as “nature’s Valium,” has been used in traditional medicine for centuries due to its health benefits.  

You may have heard that valerian has sleep-inducing qualities.

The valerian plant has been used to treat sleep disorders for decades in its native Asia and Europe.

Surprisingly, this plant has a variety of health benefits, from improving heart health to preventing seizures.

The name “valerian” actually comes from the Latin verb “valere,” which means “to be strong” or “to be healthy.”

Valerian has been used in traditional medicine for over 2,000 years to treat insomnia, tremors, headaches, heart palpitations, and more.

Today, root extract from the Valeriana officinalis variety of the valerian plant is the most common form of the herbal supplement.

Valerian root extract is gaining traction in the United States as a sleep aid. In fact, research reveals that 1.1% of the United States population reports using valerian root in the past week.

According to market research, valerian is one of the fastest-growing available herbal remedies in the Unites States, as its sales doubled between 2000 and 2001. It is now available over the counter as a tea, liquid extract, and dry powdered extract.1,2

Has this mysterious root piqued your interest yet?

Let’s take a look at how valerian root works to produce a variety of medicinal benefits.

What Is Valerian? Medicinal Components of This Super Herb & How it Works

The valerian plant is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia that has over 250 different species. The part of the plant used the most for medicinal purposes is the root (or rhizome).

Valerian is an herbal remedy comprised of the dried roots of the species Valeriana officinalis.3

There are several different theories on how valerian acts on the brain in order to induce a calm and tranquil state.

This extract is thought to include a number of compounds, such as isovaleric acid, valerenic acid, and other compounds that may reduce anxiety and promote a restful sleep.

While the chemical composition of valerian differs based on the species, season, geographical source, care, and processing, there are three main chemicals that are understood to be the most active and effective to produce healing actions throughout the body: valepotriates, essential oils, and alkaloids.

Valepotriates: Valepotriates are a class of iridoid alkaloids (biologically active compounds that are understood to produce sedative effects) comprised from Valeriana. To simplify, these compounds are hypothesized to produce anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects.4

Essential oils: Valerenic acid and valenol are essential oils found in valerian that have been studied as active components that promote sleep and relaxation. Approximately 0.5–2.0% of Valeriana contains essential oils.5,6

Alkaloids: Alkaloids are compounds that occur naturally in plants, especially flowering plants such as valerian. Alkaloids have a variety of pharmacological potentials, such as for pain relief, anticancer, and protective factors against cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.7

Other Means of Action: Valerian Increases GABA in the Brain

One of the most incredible ways valerian extract benefits health is with its action on gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) mechanisms in the brain.

In pharmaceutical research, low GABA levels have been associated with poor sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety.

Research reveals that valerian initiates the reuptake of GABA in the brain, reducing panic and anxiety symptoms — acting similar to anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax.8,9

In addition, valerian is hypothesized to halt unnecessary or excessive activity in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and is responsible for the processing of emotions.10

High activity in the amygdala is also associated with fear and strong emotional reactions to stress. For example, individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience structural changes in the amygdala.11

By inhibiting the breakdown of GABA in the brain along with increasing the reuptake and overall levels of GABA, Valerian acts on the body’s chemistry in order to improve mood, sleep, and a surprising amount of other health benefits throughout the body.

Now that you understand how the phytochemicals of the valerian plant act on the body and brain, let’s take a look at all of the ways valerian root can benefit your health.

Health Benefits of Valerian Root

1. Valerian Root May Improve Sleep

One of the most well-known benefits of valerian root is its properties as a sleep aid. While it doesn’t affect sleep hormones like other over-the-counter sleep aids such as melatonin, it does induce relaxation, which can help with occasional sleepless nights.

Valerian has sedative properties due to its composition of a number of acid compounds, antioxidant properties, and its ability to act on GABA and serotonin receptors in the brain.

One controlled study of 27 young and middle-aged adults with sleep problems had each participant take 400 mg. of Valerian root. Surprisingly, 24 out of the 27 participants reported an improved sleep, and 12 said they had a “perfect sleep!”12

2. Valerian Root May Reduce Anxiety

Remember valerian root’s other name, “nature’s Valium”?

This is because valerian root has been found to be a powerful mood regulator, similar to the properties of popular prescription anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax.

Due to its ability to increase levels of GABA in the brain, valerian root reduces symptoms of panic and anxiety.

A recent study examining the effects of a variety of valerian root extracts on the performance of mice in a stressful task indicated a potent anti-anxiety effect and a significant reduction in anxious behaviors when compared to the control group.13

3. Valerian Root May Improve Your Stress Management

During periods of stress, GABA levels are decreased in the brain. An amazing property of valerian root is its ability to increase the reuptake of GABA levels in the brain and decrease the breakdown of GABA, inducing an anti-anxiety effect.

Another way valerian root may help you control your stress is with its mood-regulating properties.

Believe it or not, valerian also affects serotonin levels! Serotonin is well known for its association with mood regulation and antidepressant properties.

One study examining the emotional regulation of mice revealed that after several weeks of valerian extract administration, the mice were better able to cope with psychological stress by maintaining healthy serotonin levels.14

Experiencing sleep deprivation is an unfortunate side effect of unmanaged stress. Have you ever been kept up by your racing thoughts?

One study examined patients who were kept awake regularly by stressful, intrusive thoughts. These individuals were treated with a valerian extract for one month, and 89% reported improved sleep!15

4. Valerian Root May Benefit Individuals With OCD and ADHD

Another health benefit of increased GABA levels in the brain is that they are hypothesized to ease the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) such as anxiety, restlessness, obsessions, and compulsive behavior.

One double-blind randomized study found significant anti-obsessive and anti-compulsive effects. Individuals who took valerian extract instead of psychiatric medication found relief from their OCD symptoms without experiencing any significant side effects.16

Another study looking at the effects of a supplement containing valerian root on elementary-aged children with restlessness, impulsiveness, and concentration difficulties found:

The fraction of children having strong/very strong symptoms of poor ability to focus decreased from 75% to 14%, hyperactivity from 61% to 13%, and impulsiveness from 59% to 22%.17

5. Valerian Root May Improve Menstrual Pain

Another surprising property of valerian root is its antispasmodic (anti-involuntary muscle spasm) effects. Valerian has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of painful menstrual cramps, and recent research supports this!

Smooth muscle contractions are hypothesized to be behind painful menstrual cramps. Valerian root extract has been studied to suppress these painful muscle spasms.

One recent study of 100 female students found that supplementation with valerian was effective for the relief of menstrual cramp pain when compared to a placebo group.18

6. Valerian Root May Decrease Menopausal Symptoms

Some of the unfortunate side effects of menopause include uncomfortable hot flashes and sleep loss.

In a recent randomized controlled trial of over 100 women going through menopause, individuals receiving valerian for one month reported better quality sleep than before taking the supplement.19

Another study examining the symptoms of postmenopausal women found that the use of valerian significantly improved the frequency and severity of hot flashes.20

7. Valerian Root May Benefit Cancer Patients

Patients going through medical therapy for their cancer treatment often experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms, one of which is insomnia.

Many studies have revealed the effectiveness of valerian for sleep improvement. A recent review of the medical research found that valerian may be a great addition to cancer treatment due to its anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing effects without any negative side effects or interactions with cancer medications.21

8. Valerian Root Could Improve Heart Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in every three adults in the United States suffers from high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Valerian root may be a natural alternative to common blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers, which come with their own side effects.

Valerian has been studied to lower blood pressure as well as widen and relax blood vessels in a number of animal studies. In vitro studies have also revealed the ability for valerian to strengthen the elasticity of blood vessels, which benefits overall cardiovascular health.22

9. Valerian Root Could Relieve Digestive Issues

Individuals who suffer with digestive issues are all too familiar with abdominal cramps.

The antispasmodic properties of valerian may be beneficial for those coping with any number of digestive problems.

One animal study examining the effects of valerian on guinea pigs found that the chemical compounds of valepotriates and essential oils within valerian root extract reduced painful contractions in the small intestine of the animals.23

10. Valerian Root May Improve Cognitive Function and Memory

Valerian root extract may improve cognitive function and memory in individuals vulnerable to cognitive decline.

In individuals with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, valerian may provide neuroprotective effects. Oxidative stress is thought to be a major factor in the decline of cognitive function. A recent study revealed that the memory of elderly mice was significantly improved by valerenic acid. The compound reduced oxidative stress in the memory center of the brain.24

Although you’ve learned the top 10 health benefits of valerian root, it’s just the beginning!

We’ve only scratched the surface of the multitude of ways valerian could improve your well-being.

Other Valerian Root Benefits:

  • Increase the dream phase of sleep
  • May prevent kidney damage
  • May improve symptoms of fibromyalgia
  • May prevent dizziness
  • May benefit individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • May reduce the frequency of seizures in epilepsy
  • Could ease the symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • May heal shin splints
  • May ease the pain of migraines and headaches
  • May improve the intensity and frequency of hand tremors
  • May decrease the frequency of heart palpitations
  • Could improve depressive episodes in individuals suffering from bipolar disorder25

Caution: Potential Valerian Root Side Effects and Interactions

Valerian root has commonly been reported to be side effect-free, and it is “generally recognized as safe” in the United States.

Although at this time there are no known side effects of supplementing with valerian root, most studies have examined the effects of the natural supplement on healthy individuals for a short period of time.

Animal studies and some reports suggest that valerian may increase the sedative properties of drugs such as benzodiazepines, antihistamines, and alcohol.

It is important to examine the possible risks and discuss the proper use of valerian with your doctor.

To your health,

annalise-may-signature

Annalise May
Contributing Editor, Clear Health Now

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