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Why do Valerian pills make us calmer? What is the mechanism behind it?
I understand how artificial tranquilizers work. Do valerian pill have similar chemical components?
Valerian preparations contain many compounds, but it is not known which may be responsible for its sedative effects. It is likely that there is no single active compound and that valerian's effects result from multiple constituents acting independently or synergistically (source: NIH). Overall, I think it is safe to say that valerian's sedative properties are related to its GABAergic properties (Yuan, 2004).
The constituents of the volatile oil obtained from the rhizomes (underground stems), and stolons (horizontal stems) of Valeriana spec are variable due to the variability in genetic make-up and environmental factors impinging on the batch of plants used (source: NIH).
The major constituents include the monoterpene bornyl acetate and a variety of sesquiterpenes including valerenic acid.
Some of the sesquiterpenes have been shown to have a direct action on the amygdala, which is a brain structure in the limbic system. The amygdala is responsible for feelings of fear and anxiety. Valerenic acid has been shown to inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in sedation. GABA is the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system.
The non-volatile monoterpenes known as valepotriates possess sedative activity, but their mode of action is not clearly known. The valepotriates themselves act as prodrugs, and are transformed into homobaldrinal which has sedative properties.
Extracts of valerian roots contain substantial amounts of GABA which could directly cause sedation. However, whether GABA reaches the central nervous system is debated.
Another compound present in extracts is a lignan, hydroxypinoresinol, and it binds to benzodiazepine receptors, which are GABAA receptors and the target of benzodiazepines, i.e. tranquilizers and sedatives (Houghton, 1999).
- Houghton, J Pharm Pharmacol (1999); 51: 505-12
- Yuan et al., Anesth Analg (2004); 98(2): 353-8
Valeriana is an extract from the flower of Valerian.
We don't know the mechanism by which it affect our physiology but we have a number of hypotheses.
Quoting the USA National Institue of Health:
Many chemical constituents of valerian have been identified, but it is not known which may be responsible for its sleep-promoting effects in animals and in in vitro studies. It is likely that there is no single active compound and that valerian's effects result from multiple constituents acting independently or synergistically [18, reviewed in 19].
Two categories of constituents have been proposed as the major source of valerian's sedative effects. The first category comprises the major constituents of its volatile oil including valerenic acid and its derivatives, which have demonstrated sedative properties in animal studies [6,20]. However, valerian extracts with very little of these components also have sedative properties, making it probable that other components are responsible for these effects or that multiple constituents contribute to them . The second category comprises the iridoids, which include the valepotriates. Valepotriates and their derivatives are active as sedatives in vivo but are unstable and break down during storage or in an aqueous environment, making their activity difficult to assess [6,20,22].
A possible mechanism by which a valerian extract may cause sedation is by increasing the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter) available in the synaptic cleft. Results from an in vitro study using synaptosomes suggest that a valerian extract may cause GABA to be released from brain nerve endings and then block GABA from being taken back into nerve cells . In addition, valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA [reviewed in 24]. Valerian extracts contain GABA in quantities sufficient to cause a sedative effect, but whether GABA can cross the blood-brain barrier to contribute to valerian's sedative effects is not known. Glutamine is present in aqueous but not in alcohol extracts and may cross the blood-brain barrier and be converted to GABA . Levels of these constituents vary significantly among plants depending on when the plants are harvested, resulting in marked variability in the amounts found in valerian preparations .
Because of valerian's historical use as a sedative, antiseptic, anticonvulsant, migraine treatment, and pain reliever, most basic science research has been directed at the interaction of valerian constituents with the GABA receptor. Many studies remain inconclusive and all require clinical validation. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, and as a mild sedative in particular, has not been fully elucidated. However, some of the GABA-analogs, particularly valerenic acids as components of the essential oil along with other semivolatile sesquiterpenoids, generally are believed to have some affinity for the GABAA receptor, a class of receptors on which benzodiazepines are known to act. Valeric acid, which is responsible for the typical odor of mostly older valerian roots, does not have any sedative properties. Valeric acid is related to valproic acid, a widely prescribed anticonvulsant; valproic acid is a derivative of valeric acid.
Valerian also contains isovaltrate, which has been shown to be an inverse agonist for adenosine A1 receptor sites. This action likely does not contribute to the herb's possible sedative effects, which would be expected from an agonist, rather than an inverse agonist, at this particular binding site. Hydrophilic extractions of the herb commonly sold over the counter, however, probably do not contain significant amounts of isovaltrate. Valerenic acid in valerian stimulates serotonin receptors as a partial agonist.
Getting to the Root of Valerian Root as Anxiety Treatment
Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. It blooms in summer, and its pink and sometimes white flowers have a sweet scent.
Though it has been used historically for non-medical purposes, (including being worn as a perfume and sewn into the wedding clothes of new husbands to ward off jealous elves), this attractive plant also attracted the attention of ancient Greeks and Romans. They were the first to discover the potential of valerian root as a treatment for insomnia.
Due to its relaxing properties, valerian is used by some people in the modern day not only for the treatment of insomnia but also as a treatment for anxiety. This article will discuss the known properties of valerian root, its availability and the forms it is sold in, and the overall safety of valerian as an anxiety treatment.
Understanding Valerian and Hops
Whenever I ask my patients, audience members, peeps on social media, or people I just run into if they are taking supplements, they all say a resounding YES! When I ask which ones they take for sleep I get a million different responses. Often, they will ask me: “What do you think I should be taking?” In this article, I’ll discuss what is probably the most well researched herbal supplement for sleep: valerian. I’m going to talk about hops as well, because there are several studies that have looked at the effectiveness of valerian and hops in combination with each other.
Many people who seek natural remedies for sleep issues may be familiar with valerian, since it is an herb that’s been used for centuries as a remedy for anxiety and nervousness. Hops can also help with anxiety and sleep (YES, I am talking about the hops in beer!). These two herbs are especially effective when they’re used together. Let’s take a closer look at valerian and hops and explore how these herbs can enhance relaxation, calmness, and sleep, as well as other health conditions.
What are valerian and hops?
The valerian herb used for sleep and other medicinal purposes comes from the perennial plant, Valeriana officinalis. It’s actually the root of the valerian plant that is harvested for medicinal use. Native to parts of Asia and Europe, valerian has an ancient history as a medicine that stretches back more than 1,000 years. Historically, valerian has been used to treat difficulty sleeping as well as restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety.
Valerian has a very strong odor that many people (myself included) find unpleasant. Look for valerian in pill form or in a tincture, to avoid this stinky smell.
Valerian is often used in combination with other herbs that have calming effects. To help sleep problems, valerian is frequently paired with hops. Hops is the plant that is best known as an ingredient in beer. Like valerian, hops also been used for hundreds of years as an herbal medicine to treat sleep problems as well as anxiety, irritability, excitability, and restlessness.
How do valerian and hops work?
Valerian primarily functions as an anxiolytic. Anxiolytics relieve anxiety and have calming, sedative effects. How does valerian lower anxiety and promote relaxation? One way, it appears, is by increasing levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is a chemical that our brains make naturally. GABA is what’s known as an “inhibitory neurotransmitter”—it quiets the activity of the neurons of the central nervous system, which helps lower anxiety and boost feelings of relaxation and calm. GABA is an important neurochemical for sleep. Healthy levels of GABA promote and protect sound and restful sleep, and help ensure we spend the right amount of time in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, the two deepest and most mentally and physically restorative sleep stages.
Hops also works to enhance GABA levels in the brain. Research also indicates that the sedative effects of hops may come from its ability to lower body temperature. Lowering body temperature helps to bring about drowsiness and is an important part of the body’s sleep process.
Scientists continue to study how valerian and hops function in the body, helping us to learn about other ways these herbs may help sleep, mood, and other conditions.
Benefits of valerian and hops
For sleep and sleep problems
Valerian is among the best-studied herbs for sleep and sleep problems. At least a dozen or more scientific studies have found valerian—used on its own or with hops—helps to improve sleep. Research shows that valerian can help people fall asleep more quickly, improve the quality of sleep, and increase amounts of nightly sleep. Valerian can also help ease the symptoms of insomnia, which are:
• Difficulty falling asleep
• Trouble staying asleep
• Waking very early
• Waking feeling unrefreshed
Valerian may help improve sleep in women undergoing menopause. It also can help improve symptoms of restless leg syndrome, and reduce the sleep difficulties associated with RLS.
Like valerian, hops has a long history of being used to help improve sleep. Scientific research shows that hops, with its natural sedative effects, can increase sleep time. Hops also helps to lower body temperature—falling core body temperature is one important physiological step toward sleep. Hops has also been shown to reinforce the body’s daily bio rhythms of rest and activity. Hops appears to work most effectively for sleep when it is used in conjunction with valerian.
To reduce stress and lower anxiety
Scientific study has demonstrated that both valerian and hops can help alleviate restlessness and anxiety. Research shows valerian can be effective in helping to reduce stress, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Studies also show hops can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
Hops, high cholesterol and high blood sugar
Hops contains flavonoids which have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial properties. A flavonoid in hops has also been found to help reduce weight gain, lower elevated cholesterol and reduce high blood sugar. These conditions all contribute to what’s known as metabolic syndrome, which significantly increases a person’s risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Hops and cancer
Hops flavonoids also have anti-cancer properties. Recent research shows that hops may provide promising preventive therapy for some cancers. Studies have found that hops may spur the ability to protect against some forms of cancer, including breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
Other uses for valerian and hops
With their calming, sedative, healing properties and low risks for side effects, valerian and hops are being studied and used to help other conditions, beyond sleep and stress or anxiety. Preliminary research shows valerian may be useful for:
• Menstrual symptoms
• Menopausal symptoms other than sleep problems
• Muscle and joint pain
• Stomach pain or upset
• Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
Preliminary research shows hops may be useful for:
• Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Indigestion and intestinal cramping
• Pain and inflammation, for arthritis and other conditions
• Menopausal symptoms
Valerian and hops: what to know
Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.
Valerian and hops dosing
The following doses are based on amounts that have been investigated in scientific studies. In general, it is recommended that users begin with the smallest suggested dose, and gradually increase until it has an effect.
For sleep, restlessness and anxiety:
Valerian on its own: 400-900mg
Valerian in combination with hops: 187-250mg valerian, 42-60mg hops. Talk with your doctor about the right combination for your individual needs.
Hops on its own: 300-500mg (Keep in mind, research suggests that hops may be more effective when used in combination with valerian.)
Possible side effects of valerian and hops
Side effects: valerian
Valerian is generally well tolerated by healthy adults. There are side effects that can occur when taking valerian, including:
• Restlessness or uneasiness
• Morning drowsiness, particularly if taking a higher dose
• Vivid dreams
Because of its sedating effects, it is recommended that people not drive or operate dangerous machinery after taking valerian.
People with the following conditions should consult with a physician before using a valerian supplement:
• Pregnancy or breast feeding
• Surgery patients (Valerian can interact with anesthesia and other medications used in surgery. It is recommended that people stop taking valerian a minimum of two weeks before scheduled surgery.)
Side effects: hops
Hops is generally well tolerated by healthy adults.
People with the following conditions should consult with a physician before using a hops supplement:
• Pregnancy and breast feeding
• Depression (Hops may exacerbate depression. It’s recommended that people with depression not use hops.)
• Hormone-sensitive conditions, including hormone-sensitive cancers
• Surgery patients (Hops can interact with anesthesia and other medications used in surgery. It is recommended that people stop taking hops a minimum of two weeks before scheduled surgery.)
Valerian and hops interactions
The following medications and other supplements may interact with valerian. Effects may include increasing or decreasing sleepiness and drowsiness, interfering with the effectiveness of the medications or supplements, and interfering with the condition that is being treated by the medication or supplement. These are lists of commonly used medications and supplements that have scientifically identified interactions with valerian and hops. People who take these or any other medications and supplements should consult with a physician before beginning to use valerian and hops as supplements.
Both valerian and hops interact with alcohol. Alcohol can bring about drowsiness. Excessive sleepiness may occur when alcohol is used in combination with valerian or hops.
Interactions with medications: valerian
• Anti-anxiety medicines
• Medications altered or broken down by the liver
Interactions with other supplements: valerian
Valerian used in combination with other herbs that function as sedatives may lead to excessive sleepiness, and may also increase side effects of valerian. Some of these herbs include:
• California poppy
• Jamaican dogwood
• St. John’s wort
Interactions with medications: hops
• Medications broken down or altered by the liver
Interactions with other supplements: hops
Hops used in combination with other herbs that function as sedatives may lead to excessive sleepiness, and may also increase side effects of hops. Some of these herbs include:
• California poppy
• Jamaican dogwood
• St. John’s wort
• Yerba mansa
How valerian and hops can work with your chronotype
All four chronotypes—Lions, Bears, Wolves, and Dolphins—may benefit from using valerian on its own or with hops to relax and feel less anxious and to sleep better. Dolphins, in particular, may find these herbs useful. Dolphins are high-energy types, and their energy tends to be high at night. Dolphins often also have a tough time keeping anxiety levels in check. Insomnia is commonplace for Dolphins—it’s a sleep problem that often goes hand in hand with this chronotype. The anti-anxiety and sedative effects of valerian—and its frequent partner, hops—may be especially helpful to this wired-at-night, restless-sleeping chronotype.
Whether you’re a tightly-wound Dolphin or another chronotype that sometimes struggles with sleep problems, especially in conjunction with stress or anxiety, valerian and hops may offer help and relief. These herbs may have been in use for centuries, but we’re still learning about just how effective and potent they may be in improving sleep and health.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Abourashed, EA et al. (2004). In vitro binding experiments with Valerian, hops and their fixed combination extract (Ze91019) to selected central nervous symptom receptors. Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 11(7-8): 633-8. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15636177
American Association of Cancer Research. (2009, December 10). Hops compound may prevent prostate cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091208191954.htm
Anaclet, C. and Fuller, PM. (2017). Brainstem regulation of slow-wave sleep. Current opinion in neurobiology, 44: 139-143. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28500870
Butterwreck, V. et al. (2007). Hypothermic effects of hops are antagonized with the competitive melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole in mice. The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 59(4): 349-52. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17430638
Cropley, M. et al. (2002). Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions. Phytotherapy research: PTR, 16(10: 23-7. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11807960?dopt=Abstract
Cuellar, NG and Ratcliffe, SJ. (2009). Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless leg syndrome? Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 15(2): 22-8. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19284179
Erlich, SD. (2014, June 26). Valerian. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved from: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian
Fernandez, S. et al. (2004). Sedative and sleep-enhancing properties of linarin, a flavonoid-isolated from Valeriana officinalis. Pharmacology, biochemistry and behavior, 77(2): 399-404. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14751470
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Fraigne, JJ et al. (2015). REM sleep at its core—circuits, neurotransmitters, and pathophysiology. Frontiers in Neurology, 6: 123. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4448509/
Franco, L. et al. (2012). The sedative effects of hops (Humulus lupulus), a component of beer, on the activity/rest rhythm. Acta Phsiologica Hungarica, 99(2): 133-9. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230591388_The_sedative_effects_of_hops_Humulus_lupulus_a_component_of_beer_on_the_activityrest_rhythm
Franco, L. et al. (2012). The sedative effect of non-alcoholic beer in healthy female nurses. PLoS One, 7(7): e37290. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399866/
Gottesmann, C. (2002). GABA mechanisms and sleep. Neuroscience, 111(2) 231-9. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11983310
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Komori, T. et al. (2006). The sleep-enhancing effect of valerian inhalation and sleep-shortening effect of lemon inhalation. Chemical sense, 31(8): 731-7. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16857858?dopt=Abstract
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Possible Side Effects
Most clinical studies have shown that valerian root is well-tolerated and safe for short-term use. Side effects, if any, tend to be mild and may include headache, dizziness, itchiness, upset stomach, dry mouth, vivid dreams, and daytime drowsiness.
Although rare, liver damage has been known to occur, usually in response to the overuse of valerian supplements or "wild-crafted" dried root. It is not known whether the cause of the liver damage was due to valerian itself or contaminants in the product.
To avoid injury, let your doctor know if you intend to use valerian root for medical purposes. Ideally, you should have your liver enzymes monitored regularly to ensure that your liver remains healthy and functioning.
Stop using valerian and call your doctor immediately if you have any signs of liver impairment, including persistent fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored stools, or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin).
Valerian may cause excessive sleepiness if combined with alcohol, sedatives, some antidepressants, over-the-counter sleeping pills, or cold and flu remedies containing codeine, diphenhydramine, or doxylamine.
Due to the lack of safety research, valerian should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. It should also be used with extreme caution in heavy drinkers or people with liver disease.
Valerian is broken down in the liver by an enzyme known as cytochrome P450 (CYP450). Theoretically, it could interfere with the effectiveness of medications that are also broken down by CYP450, including:
- Allergy medications like Allegra (fexofenadine)
- Antifungal drugs such as Sporanox (itraconazole) or Diflucan (fluconazole)
- Cancer medications like Camptosar (irinotecan), Etopophos (etoposide), STI571, Abraxane (paclitaxel), Velban (vinblastine), or Vincasar (vincristine)
- Statin drugs such as Mevacor (lovastatin) or Lipitor (atorvastatin)
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
Valerian may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert.
Avoid using valerian with other herbal/health supplements that can cause drowsiness. This includes 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), California poppy, catnip, chamomile, gotu kola, Jamaican dogwood, kava, melatonin, St. John's wort, skullcap (or scullcap), yerba mansa, and others.
Avoid drinking alcohol. It can increase drowsiness caused by valerian.
Uses and Recommended Dosage
Valerian has been classified as generally recognized as safe in the U.S. Valerian root can be purchased as a supplement in a variety of forms online or at your local health food store. It’s sold as a dry powdered extract in capsule form, a tea, tincture or fluid extract.
Valerian can also be used externally in essential oil form. (Valerian root’s smell is strong, but its taste is less off-putting.)
Valerian seems to be most effective after you take it regularly for two or more weeks. It may take a few weeks before the effects of valerian root supplementation are felt.
For insomnia, it may be taken one to two hours before bedtime or up to three times in the course of the day, with the last dose near bedtime.
What’s the best valerian root recommended dosage for insomnia? Recommendations can vary slightly, but for insomnia, it can be taken in the following forms at these recommended dosages:
- Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 to 3 grams) of dried root, steep 5 to 10 minutes.
- Tincture (1:5): 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon (4 to 6 mL)
- Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL)
- Dry powdered extract (4:1): 250 to 600 milligrams
Once sleep improves, it’s recommended that you keep taking valerian for two to six weeks. For anxiety, try 120 to 200 milligrams, three to four times per day.
The NIH regards Valerian as a theoretical but unproven treatment for congestive heart failure. Although no studies have evaluated the efficacy of this alternative remedy, naturopaths may recommend it alongside other herbs such as hawthorne. Mayo Clinic suggests a variety of natural remedies, including diet and exercise, to treat congestive heart failure and related conditions. Consult a qualified practitioner before using any herb to treat heart failure or any other condition.
As a sedative, Valerian may temporarily cause a slight reduction in blood pressure and heart rate. Although the NIH acknowledges Valerian root's potential use as a treatment for hypertension, no studies have demonstrated its safety or efficacy. It is unclear whether Valerian can be safely taken alongside drugs that lower blood pressure, so it is best to use Valerian under a physician's guidance so that your health care provider can observe any potentially dangerous alterations in blood pressure.
It is believed that valerian root has an impact on the availability of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. On the whole, some research suggests that valerian root has mild sedative and tranquilizing properties—less than prescription sleep medication.
Even though valerian root is used for a variety of problems, there is not enough research evidence to support the effectiveness of the herb. Use of valerian root as a sleep aid is supported by some evidence from clinical trials however, these studies tend to be small and not conducted with strict standards.
There isn't enough research evidence to support the use of valerian root in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder (SAD).
However, some people who take the supplement regularly have shared that it makes them feel calm, and reduces nervous tension and stress. Physicians who prescribe Valerian root have been surprised to hear positive feedback from their patients.
Does valerian root treat anxiety and insomnia?
Valerian is a plant with mild sedative properties that is sold as a sleeping aid and to treat anxiety. But does it work?
In the United States (U.S.), valerian dietary supplements are usually sold as sleeping aids. In Europe, people more often take them for restlessness and anxiety.
There are actually over 250 valerian species, but Valeriana officinalis is the one most commonly used for medicinal purposes.
While medicinal valerian dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times, strong clinical evidence for valerian’s effectiveness in treating insomnia and anxiety is lacking.
Still, valerian is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and is gentler than synthetic drugs, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. For these reasons, valerian could be worth trying for anxiety or insomnia relief.
Share on Pinterest Valerian root can potentially improve sleep quality and provide relief from anxiety.
Some possible benefits of valerian that have been reported by users include:
- falling asleep faster
- better sleep quality
- relief from restlessness and other anxiety disorder symptoms
- no “ hangover effect” in the morning
However, stronger evidence is needed to be confident that valerian, and not some other factor, is responsible for these effects.
It is also necessary to determine whether a person’s insomnia and anxiety improvements are statistically significant.
Weaknesses in the studies
While there have been many studies exploring valerian’s effects, many of them have weaknesses that make their data unreliable.
Even with carefully controlled studies, it is still difficult to compare and combine data across studies. Some of the reasons for these problems include:
- a small number of study participants
- high rates of study participant withdrawal
- wide variation across studies in methods of measuring sleep quality and anxiety relief
- wide variation across studies in dosage and duration of valerian treatment
- the severity of a person’s anxiety or insomnia is not well defined
- flawed statistical analyses
Many of these issues are revealed in a review paper published in the American Journal of Medicine , which carefully analyzed the methods and data of 16 different valerian studies.
The paper produced conflicting results about the soundness of these studies. For example, one issue was that only six of the studies used similar methods to measure sleep quality, which meant that sleep quality improvement could not be compared across all studies.
Combined data shows improvements in sleep
Share on Pinterest A combination of studies showed that valerian root may improve sleep quality significantly.
On the other hand, the combined data of these six studies did show a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality for the group of participants using valerian.
These studies also happened to have the largest sample sizes, perhaps giving them more strength than the others.
Still, the authors of this review warn that the results should be taken with caution, as there were many flaws in their statistical analyses.
Studies look at a combination of herbs
A separate issue is that many studies do not explore the use of valerian alone, but instead analyze the effects of valerian combined with other medicinal herbs, such as passionflower or kava.
For example, another literature review analyzed 24 studies about the effectiveness of herbal supplements for anxiety. An individual study explored the impact of herbal supplements on insomnia in 120 participants.
Both found robust evidence for the effectiveness of supplements. However, it was hard to tell how responsible valerian was for these effects.
Larger, more statistically sound valerian-specific studies are needed to understand how well the supplement actually works in terms of treating insomnia and anxiety.
Many researchers believe that it is not just one chemical that is responsible for valerian’s effects, but a combination of the plant’s components.
According to the National Institutes of Health , several of valerian’s chemical compounds have individually demonstrated sedative properties in animal studies.
It is also uncertain how valerian affects the brain. The most common theory is that valerian extract stimulates nerve cells to release a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA slows down nerve cell activity instead of exciting it.
Valerian extract may block an enzyme that destroys GABA, which means that more GABA is available for a longer amount of time.
All of these factors together might produce the calming effect that many who try valerian experience. Drugs such as Xanax and Valium also increase the amount of GABA in the body, and their effects are much greater than valerian.
Valerian dietary supplements are usually made from the plant’s roots, but can also derive from its stems. Dried roots, other plant materials, or valerian extracts may be consumed in several forms, including:
The amount of valerian a person should take varies, but the dose typically ranges from 400-900 milligrams (mg) at bedtime.
The dosage may also depend on how much valerenic acid the supplement contains. Valerenic acid is considered to be one valerian’s most powerful sedative components.
Herbalists advise only using valerian for 2-3 weeks and then taking a break for an equal length of time before starting up again. Herbalists recommend this break because some people who have used valerian for extended periods have reported adverse side effects, such as headaches, depression, or withdrawal after stopping.
The FDA (or other regulating agencies) do not monitor herbs and supplements for quality or purity. So, it is important to choose products from reliable sources. While further studies are needed to evaluate any potential long-term side effects, there have been very few reports of serious adverse events in connection to valerian.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the side effects most commonly reported by people involved in valerian clinical trials are:
However, these side effects cannot be directly attributed to valerian, as some of the people who were taking placebo supplements also reported side effects.
Despite valerian’s observed gentleness, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding are advised to avoid it because no studies have been carried out on the potential risks of valerian to a fetus or an infant.
Children under 3 years old should not be given valerian either as its effects on early development have not been evaluated.
Finally, a person must consult a doctor before using valerian if they are already taking:
- benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, or Ativan depressants, such as phenobarbital or morphine
- other sleep-aiding dietary supplements, such as kava or melatonin
The sedative and depressant properties of these drugs and supplements might combine with those of valerian, resulting in grogginess or more severe adverse effects.
Even if one is not taking any other medications, it is always a good idea to talk to a doctor before taking any supplements, including valerian.
The doctor will provide insight into whether valerian is a good choice, and might also suggest brands and dosages they believe to be most safe and effective.
FAQs About Horse Calming Supplements
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about calming supplements for horses.
Do horse calmers really work?
Yes, horse calmers do work and are effective in calming horses that are stressed out in the field. Studies have indicated that due to the enrichment of a number of beneficial ingredients, horse calming supplements do what they promise. Magnesium, for example, reduces the release of dopamine in the brain, the main hormone linked to hyperactivity.
Calming supplements do work but in a number of different ways. It depends on the ingredients of the supplement. Valerian root, for example, acts on the same receptor to calm the horse as benzodiazepine which is a sedative.
What can you give a horse for anxiety?
- If your horse gets anxious at specific times like when an injection is to be administered to him, expose your horse to the situation gradually. That way, the horse will become non-resistant to it.
- Make your horse hear soothing sounds so that he feels relaxed and provide him a low-stress environment.
- A soothing massage will work just fine.
How do you calm a stressed horse?
To calm your horse down , make sure you let him be on his own for a while. The brains of horses are wired to be naturally social and this helps them reduce stress. If you confine a horse to one place only, it’s likely for him to be stressed out. Let him roam around a bit. An average horse can gaze for up to 14 hours a day. Think about it, what harm can he really do?
You should also keep the mind of your horse occupied. That way, he won’t feel anxious or lonely. Make him indulge in active stimulation by hiding the food so he searches for it in order to eat. Also, add some variety to your horse’s day. With the same routine every day, even you can get bored and stressed out.
How long do horse calmers take to work?
The time required for horse calmers to work majorly depends on its ingredients. If your horse calming supplement contains tryptophan as the main ingredient, then it’s likely that the supplement will produce its effects in about 2-3 weeks.
However, there are certain ingredients like valerian root that act faster than tryptophan but it might be banned in some shows so you should think twice before choosing any horse calming supplement with valerian root if your horse participates in shows.