One of the most frustrating feelings is wanting to go to sleep and not being able to. This is a much more common problem than you might think and is why so many people use some form of sleep aid or medication. The problem is that many of these sleep aids can cause dependency or unwanted side effects. This is why many people who suffer from insomnia or sleep problems and use common drugs are constantly looking for natural alternatives to deal with their conditions. In this sense, valerian root could present a viable and more manageable option than traditional sleep medications. If you want to understand what valerian root is and how it could help you sleep better, read on to find all the answers you need.
What Is Valerian Root?Valerian or "Valeriana officinalis" is an herb native to Europe and some parts of Asia that carries intensely scented, white or pink flowers and can grow up to 6 feet tall. The therapeutic use of Valerian, specifically valerian root as a remedy, dates back to ancient Greek times. Its long history of use as a painkiller is thanks to this plant's soothing properties. This plant seems to act as a sedative in the nervous system.
How Does Valerian Root Work?The scientific community is still unsure what the valerian root's mechanism of action is to exert the effects it generates. But, some researchers believe that valerian root might increase amounts of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain, which helps regulate nerve cells, giving it an anti-anxiety and calming effect. Still, more research needs to be conducted to definitively determine how this plant affects us.
Effects on the BodyValerian root is one of the oldest remedies for better sleep. Humans have been using valerian root for thousands of years because many believe it may help regulate poor sleep patterns, promote relaxation, relieve anxiety, and help to better deal with premenstrual and menopause symptoms. There is also a belief that valerian root could help treat insomnia and stomach cramps. Valerian root is usually taken in tea as an infusion, as a powder supplement, in capsules, or as a liquid extract.
Effects on the BrainA 2019 study conducted by the Hallym University of Medicine in Korea found that valerian root extract supplementation may promote greater coherence in the brain's frontal region associated with neurophysiological integration, information processing, and cognitive flexibility. In this study, after four weeks of supplementation, there was no sign of significant differences in clinical physiological tests between the groups that took the extract and the groups that took a placebo. However, the electroencephalographic score did show significant differences between both groups. The results showed that, although there were no significant differences for the clinical scales, the electroencephalography data that analyzed the coherence values in the alpha (8-12 Hz) and theta (4-8 Hz) bands showed increases in the Alpha coherence and decreases in theta coherence for the valerian root extract group compared to the placebo group. This is important because activity in alpha and theta frequencies may directly relate to reduced anxiety and emotional arousal. However, it is still too early to make any conclusions about these observations. We still need more neurophysiological studies using different methods to confirm valerian's benefits fully.
Benefits of Valerian RootAlthough science cannot yet concretely claim the benefits of valerian root or how this plant works, even Hippocrates himself used it to treat insomnia and other conditions. Different cultures worldwide have been therapeutically using this plant to help treat various ailments for centuries. The possible benefits that valerian root could provide – based only on anecdotal and historical use – are:
Improved SleepBoth lovers of herbal medicine and practitioners of various traditional medicine systems have been using valerian root to treat insomnia for centuries. Modern studies suggest that this root may have some sedative effects, but that more studies are needed to confirm this. Nevertheless, the same research studying the mechanism of action of valerian root in the brain found that it may modify certain brain waves and increase the amounts of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, which may facilitate better sleep.
Decreased AnxietyPreliminary studies suggest that a compound in valerian root called valerenic acid may be the anxiety-reducing element in this plant. While more scientific studies are still needed to confirm these beliefs, this hasn't stopped people from using valerian root as an anti-anxiety agent. Medical practitioners have been using valerian root to treat anxiety symptoms since the 1500s, while in the Second World War, people in the UK took valerian to relieve stress caused by air raids. Early research on valerian root as an anxiolytic suggests that, in addition to displaying anti-anxiety qualities, valerenic acid does not bind to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, which may be responsible for addiction. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety. The valerenic acid contained in valerian root could present a healthier and less addictive alternative to benzodiazepines to treat anxiety. But, we need more research to validate this belief.
Obsessive-compulsive disorderAlthough valerian usually finds its use as a complementary treatment for insomnia, migraines, or anxiety due to its analgesic and sedative effects, a double-blind placebo-controlled scientific trial on valerian root extract and other plants and supplements suggests that this plant could be more effective in the treatment of OCD compared to placebo. Another advantage of the valerian root extract in this type of treatment could be the rapid onset of its effects.
Premenstrual symptomsFor some people, the symptoms of PMS can make it difficult to live their everyday lives around the time of their period. These symptoms are common in more than 90% of people who menstruate, and among these symptoms, we find:
- Severe headaches
- Tender and sore breasts
- Back pain
- Sudden mood swings
- Excessive tiredness
- Food cravings