Treat Anxiety with Valerian
Specialists in herbal medicine report that Valerian is as popular in herbal medicine as Valium is in pharmaceutical medicine. By some accounts Valerian is the most widely used sedative in Europe. There are over 100 Valerian preparations sold in pharmacies in Europe. Valerian is growing in popularity throughout the world because it has a good reputation for easing anxiety and sleep problems. Valerian has been used as a treatment for anxiety for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine in India and in traditional Chinese medicine. Before the Second World War Valerian was a popular treatment for insomnia in the United States. However since then Valerian has tended to be replaced by synthetic prescribed medications.
Valerian is a large perennial plant which is native to North America, Europe, China and East India. It contains various sedative substances which are found in its root. The Valerian root is dried and the root stock is extracted for medicinal purposes. There used to be concern about the safety amongst doctors, of the vallepotriates ( a chemical found in Valerian). However these chemicals are not soluble in water and they are therefore not found in what is now the standard water-soluble Valerian extract.
Valerian extract is thought to work in a similar way to benzodiazepines. Valerian extract seems to work by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a sedative-like neurotransmitter found in the brain.
There have been many scientific studies which have shown that Valerian is effective in helping people to fall off to sleep, maintaining sleep, reducing nightmares and abrupt awakenings. In double-blind clinical trials Valerian has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep amongst a varied group of patients which included poor sleepers, insomniacs, smokers and habitual coffee drinkers. In placebo-controlled double-blind trials of poor sleepers Valerian has shown that it has sleep inducing properties similar to benzodiazepine sleeping tablets. Valerian has the benefit, unlike benzodiazepines, of not affecting memory or concentration and not causing daytime sleepiness.
There was a study in 1996 by Gerhard et al in which they took a group of patients with insomnia and compared the effect of these patients taking benzodiazepines, Valerian and placebo. They found that benzodiazepines and Valerian were equally effective in relieving the patient sleep problems and insomnia. It is interesting to note that side-effects were only reported by 10% of the patients treated with Valerian compared with 50% of the patients treated with benzodiazepines.
The history of Valerian is one of exceptional safety, which has been confirmed by medical research studies. There are reported cases of patients taking large doses of Valerian without harm. However it is still wise to exercise caution when operating machinery or driving. In these circumstances it is unwise to take Valerian. Unlike benzodiazepines, like Valium, the impression of and general view of doctors is that taking Valerian has not been associated with addiction or dependence. With regards to alcohol, it has not been found that Valerian is synergistic with alcohol. However, it is still wise to be cautious when taking Valerian with alcohol. Sedatives should never be combined with alcohol. Animal studies have shown that Valerian can potentiate the effect of benzodiazepines and phenobarbital. Valerian has also been used by doctors in helping patients withdraw from benzodiazepines. However using Valerian to withdraw from tranquillisers or benzodiazepines should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.
Clinical studies on the use of Valerian in patients with sleeping problems have been carried out using Valerian extract. This has been standardised to 0.8 percent valeric acid. The effective dose was found to be 300 to 900 mg taken one hour before bedtime. Medical researchers found that this dose of Valerian did not produce as dramatic a sedative effect as a benzodiazepine sleeping tablet. It was found that the use of Valerian extract can take two or three weeks before has a beneficial effect on aiding sleep. The problem with this is that it may not be an appropriate medicine for acute insomnia but once Valerian extract starts to work it promotes natural sleep without a risk of dependence.
Valerian extract taken at a dose of 50 to 100 mg either two or three times a day has been shown to relieve performance anxiety and stress of driving in heavy traffic. It may be necessary for patients who have been taking benzodiazepines for anxiety to take larger doses of Valerian.
Valerian is used widely in Germany to treat anxiety and the German commission E report found no side-effects nor contraindications for Valerian. Other medical resources however have reported rare episodes of headache or paradoxical stimulant effect such as palpitations, restlessness or even nervousness. Specialists in herbal medicine recommend that Valerian should not be taken every night for a longer than six months.