Description of Valerian Root:
Valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is derived from a plant native to Europe and Asia. The root of this plant has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for various ailments including sleep problems, digestive problems, disorders of the nervous system, headaches, and arthritis. It is believed that valerian root has an impact on the availability of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.
Despite the use of valerian root for a variety of problems, little research has been done 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 rigorously conducted. On the whole, research suggests that valerian root has mild sedative and tranquilizing properties - less than prescription sleep medication.
There isn't yet sufficient research evidence to support the use of valerian root in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder (SAD). However, anecdotal reports from those who take the supplement regularly indicate that it promotes feelings of calmness and reduces nervous tension and stress.
How to Take Valerian Root:
Valerian root is available as a capsule, tea, tablet or liquid extract. It should be taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.
Dosage Guidelines for Valerian Root:
Dosage for the treatment of insomnia ranges from 300 to 600 mg of liquid root extract, or the equivalent of 2 to 3 g of dried valerian root. Lower dosages are typically used for the treatment of nervous tension and when the root is used in combination with other supplements. Before taking valerian root, you should read the product label and discuss the dose with a qualified healthcare provider.
Who Shouldn’t Take Valerian Root:
Valerian root should not be taken if you are pregnant or nursing, if you suffer from liver disease, or if you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Valerian root has the potential to interact with other medications, and may not be recommended in those cases.
Medication Interactions With Valerian Root:
Valerian root may cause drowsiness if taken with prescription medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, narcotics such as codeine, barbituates such as phenobarbitol, and over-the-counter cold and sleep remedies.
The supplement may also interfere with the effectiveness of medications broken down in the liver, such as allergy medications, cholesterol medications, antifungal medications and cancer medications.
In general, you should check the package insert and speak with a qualified healthcare professional and/or pharmacist about possible interactions.
Side Effects of Valerian Root:
Side effects of valerian root are rare but may include headache, upset stomach, daytime drowsiness, and dizziness.
Risks Associated with Valerian Root:
Unlike prescription sleep medications, valerian root is not believed to carry a risk of dependency. However, the supplement should only be used under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional, and caution should be exercised if taking the supplement over an extended period of time. Do not operate heavy or dangerous machinery until you know how the supplement affects you.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the production of herbs and supplements. Most herbs and supplements are not thoroughly tested, and there is no guarantee regarding the ingredients or safety of the products.
Other supplements for social anxiety disorder:
Clarocet. Valerian Root. Accessed August 29, 2008.
Fugh-Berman A, Cott J. Dietary supplements and natural products as psychotherapeutic agents. Psychosomatic Medicine. 1999;61:712-728.
Hadley S, Petry J. Valerian. American Family Physician. 2003;67:1755-1758.
Miyasaka LS, Atallah AN, Soares BG. Valerian for anxiety disorders. Cochrane Database System Review. 2006;4:CD004515.