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Valerian is an herb that people
have used for centuries for anxiety and as a sleep aid. It is also used to ease
menstrual and stomach cramps. It comes from the root of the valerian plant,
found in areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. Of the more than 200 known
species of valerian, the Eurasian variety V. officinalis
is the one people use most often as medicine. Valerian root is known for
smelling like sweaty socks.
Valerian is sold as a dietary
supplement and is available as an extract in powder or liquid form, as a dried
herb in tea form, or in pills. As a sleep aid, valerian is most effective if
you take it shortly before bedtime. For anxiety, you may take a dose 3 times or
more during the day, including before bedtime.
People often use
valerian in combination with other herbs, including St. John's wort,
passionflower, lemon balm, kava, and hops.
Valerian does not
interfere with sleep cycles or with restful REM sleep.
valerian to relieve anxiety,
depression, and poor sleep, and also to ease menstrual
and stomach cramps. Valerian has a mild calming effect that does not usually
result in sleepiness the next day. As a sleep aid, valerian seems to be most
effective for people who have trouble falling asleep and who consider
themselves to be poor sleepers. It also has had good results for people who
wake up during the night. Some studies show that valerian may provide quick
relief for poor sleep. But it may take 2 to 4 weeks of daily use to bring
improved sleep for people with serious
Side effects from valerian
are rare but can include mild headache or stomach upset,
abnormal heartbeats, and insomnia. Because of
valerian's calming effect, you should not take it at the same time as other
calming medicines or antidepressants (or do so only under medical supervision).
You also should not take valerian if you will be driving or need to be alert.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate
dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement
can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you
are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional
medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical
treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important
for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary
supplements, keep in mind the following:
CitationsValerian (2010). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.Other Works ConsultedMurray MT, Pizzorno JE Jr (2006). Valeriana
officinalis (Valerian). In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 1371–1374.
St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
June 29, 2011
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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