Health Benefits of Valerian Root

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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb native to Europe and Asia that now grows in many other parts of the world, including the U.S. Parts of this perennial plant—including its roots and underground stems called rhizomes—have medicinal properties and are used in supplements, tinctures (liquid extracts), and even teas.

Valerian root contains compounds that have a calming effect on the body, which is why this herb has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy for common conditions like insomnia and anxiety.

Research suggests that valerian root may offer other health benefits as well, from reducing headache symptoms to soothing menstrual pain. 

Read on to learn more about valerian root, including its health benefits and possible side effects,  as well as about how to use this popular herb safely.

A woman sits on her couch while taking a supplement with water

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Benefits of Valerian Root 

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how valerian root works in the body, but it’s thought that compounds found in the herb—including valerenic acid—interact with the brain, increasing certain chemicals like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that have a calming effect on the nervous system.

Here are some health benefits linked to valerian root supplements. 

Could Improve Sleep 

One of the most popular uses for valerian root is to promote better sleep. Research shows that valerian supplements could help people with sleep disorders like insomnia, a condition that makes it hard to fall or stay asleep or get good quality sleep.

A review of 60 studies found that valerian could be effective for treating sleep problems and may help reduce nighttime awakenings, improve sleep quality, and help people fall asleep faster.

However, the researchers noted that only treatments consisting of 450-1,410mg of whole valerian root and rhizome per day for at least four weeks were helpful for sleep issues. Other valerian treatments weren’t as effective.

This means that taking a single dose of valerian or using products that contain valerian extract rather than whole valerian root and rhizome may not be helpful for treating sleep issues. 

May Help Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Because of its calming properties, people may take valerian root supplements to reduce stress and anxiety

One study found that supplementing with 300mg of valerian root extract per day for four weeks led to significant reductions in anxiety-associated brain activities in people who were experiencing psychological stress.

Other study findings suggest that taking valerian root could help reduce anxiety symptoms associated with lack of sleep and certain medical conditions like kidney disease.

Even though valerian root seems to have anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties, there’s not enough evidence to recommend using valerian for treating anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder.

One small study showed that valerian root may be able to improve symptoms of depression, as well. Among people undergoing dialysis (a treatment needed when your kidneys don’t work properly), those who took a valerian root supplement each day for one month had significant reductions in depression compared to those who did not take the supplement.

May Soothe Menstrual Pain and Menopause Symptoms 

If you experience pain around or during your period, certain natural remedies could help soothe your symptoms. Valerian root can suppress muscle spasms and relieve pain, which may make it an effective treatment for period pain.  

In one study, 100 female students with premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—a group of symptoms that most people experience one to two weeks before their period—were split into two groups. The treatment group took two capsules containing valerian root daily during the last seven days of their menstrual cycle for three months. The other group received a placebo.

The treatment group reported less severe physical symptoms of PMS, like muscle pain and breast tenderness, compared to the control group. While these findings are promising, more research is needed to understand how valerian supplements affect period-related symptoms.

Additionally, some research has shown that valerian may help relieve menopause symptoms like hot flashes, but more research would be needed to say for sure.

May Be Helpful for Tension-Type Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache. They can develop when head and neck muscles contract in response to stress, anxiety, injuries, or depression.

Researchers think that because valerian has pain-relieving and anti-stress effects, it could be a worthwhile natural remedy for people who get tension-type headaches.

One study found that people with tension headaches who were treated with 530mg of valerian root extract per day for one month experienced significant reductions in headache severity compared to those who were given a placebo treatment.

How to Use Valerian Root

Valerian root is available in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.

Valerian can be taken on its own but is often used in combination with other calming, sleep-promoting herbs like chamomile and passionflower in products like sleep gummies and sleepytime teas.

When to take valerian depends on the symptoms or condition you’re hoping to improve. For example, valerian is usually taken as a single dose at bedtime to promote restful sleep, but it can be taken in multiple doses throughout the day to relieve stress and anxiety. If supplementing with valerian during the daytime, it’s usually recommended to take it with meals.

Dosage 

Dosing of valerian varies. Typically, the dose ranges from 300 to 600mg at bedtime (if taking for sleep purposes) or broken up throughout the day.

One study found that a dosage between 450 and 1,410mg per day for four to eight weeks was more effective for promoting sleep quality.

Most supplements sold online contain 500mg of valerian root, though some contain much higher doses. If you’re not sure how much valerian you should be taking, ask your healthcare provider for advice. 

Is Valerian Root Safe?

Valerian is relatively safe in the short term. It is unclear whether long-term use is safe.

Side effects are more common when using higher doses. For instance, at higher doses, valerian root is more likely to make you feel drowsy, which can impair your ability to perform tasks like driving and working.

There’s been at least two cases where people have consumed large doses of an herbal remedy that included valerian root and later had seizures due to extremely low sodium levels in the blood. Researchers speculate whether valerian root could have played a role in the low sodium levels, but they could not say for sure.

Valerian has also been linked to rare cases of liver injury, but only when taken in combination with other herbs, like skullcap and black cohosh.

It’s unknown if valerian is harmful to take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Potential Drug Interactions

Because valerian has sedative properties, it shouldn’t be taken with medications or herbs used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, insomnia, and seizures, like:

  • Benzodiazepines such as Ativan (lorazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Valium (diazepam)
  • Barbiturates such as phenobarbital, morphine, and propofol 
  • Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin and valproic acid
  • Sleep medications such as Ambien (zolpidem) and Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Supplements such as melatonin, St. John’s wort, and kava

If you’re currently taking one or more medications, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplement, including valerian root. 

Because of its potential sleep-inducing properties, valerian should also not be taken with alcohol.

What to Look For 

When shopping for a valerian supplement, it’s important to purchase products from reputable companies.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements, including herbs like valerian, the regulatory process is not as strict as it is for medications. 

In order to ensure you’re buying the safest, most effective valerian supplement, it’s best to research companies before you start shopping. When possible, choose valerian supplements from companies that use third-party labs—such as Underwriters Laboratories, United States Pharmacopeia, and NSF International—to test their products for quality and purity.

Also, keep in mind that valerian supplements come in different forms. If you can’t tolerate swallowing pills, a tea or tincture might be a better choice. 

Can You Take Too Much Valerian Root?

Even though valerian is relatively safe, it’s possible to take too much.

Case studies on people who ingested extremely high levels of valerian—though alongside other supplements—have reported dangerous side effects like seizures and low sodium levels in the blood.

It’s important to always follow dosing instructions on supplement labels. Although there’s currently no set guideline for an upper limit on valerian, some experts recommend avoiding doses greater than 1,060mg per day.

Side Effects of Valerian Root

Few adverse events have been reported with valerian use. Any side effects that have been reported are generally mild. The most commonly reported side effects in research studies include:

Keep in mind that higher doses of valerian are more associated with side effects like drowsiness. This is why nighttime doses of valerian used to promote restful sleep are generally higher while daytime regimens are split into multiple, small doses.

A Quick Review

Valerian root is a popular herbal remedy used to treat common conditions like insomnia and anxiety. Research shows that it could help promote restful sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve symptoms related to tension-type headaches and PMS. Valerian root is generally safe, though it could cause side effects like drowsiness and interact with commonly prescribed medications. If you’re interested in taking valerian, it’s always best to check with your healthcare provider first. They can help you decide if valerian is the right choice for you. 

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