Valerian: What is it, when and how should we take it?

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Valerian has served for millennia as an adjuvant for nervous and sleep problems, as it is a natural relaxant. Its use dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman empires, where even Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, had pointed it out as effective to treat headaches, nervousness, tremors and heart palpitations.

It is estimated that valerian has more than 120 chemical components, including antioxidants, valerenic acid and isovaleric acid, which makes it a common ingredient in herbal medicines against insomnia and anxiety.

Although it is a very popular remedy in many parts of the world, most people do not know the correct way to use this plant with sedative properties. This article will shed light on this matter

What is valerian?

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Subclass: Asteridae
  • Order: Dipsacales
  • Family: Caprifoliaceae
  • Subfamily: Valerianoideae
  • Genus: Valeriana
  • Species: V. officinalis

Its scientific name is valeriana officinalis, but it is known simply as valeriana. It is a flowering medicinal plant believed to be native to Europe and Asia

The root of this herb, which is characterized by a strong earthy odor due to the concentration of volatile oils and other compounds, is commonly used for medicinal purposes, particularly to treat sleep disorders, and is the basis of many pharmaceuticals with sedative properties.

Properties of valerian

Valerian is noted for its sedative and anxiolytic properties, which gives it the ability to relax the nervous system and the brain. Hence it is often used to mitigate the effects of stress, anxiety, insomnia and nervousness.

Among its components is valerenic acid, which is possibly the one that affects the receptors of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the main neurotransmitter that inhibits the central nervous system, it also has some antioxidants such as hesperidin and linarin.

The chemical composition of valerian root includes mainly sesquiterpenes and iridoids, but it also contains glucids, starch, fatty acids, phenolic acids, glutamine and arginine, traces of alkaloids, resin, flavonoids, triterpenes and essential oil rich in monoterpenes.

How does valerian work, and what are its benefits?

Substances such as valerenic acid, isovaleric acid and antioxidants give valerian its sedative effects.

The root of this plant, in particular, has been the subject of multiple studies, due to its interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical component responsible for regulating nerve impulses in the brain and nervous system

According to the scientific journal Neuropharmacology, the valerenic acid in valerian decreases the degradation of brain GABA and, therefore, produces a feeling of tranquility.

Some clinical studies carried out to evaluate the efficacy of valerian as a sleep inducer have shown that it favors the conciliation of sleep. On the other hand, other scientific research supports the anxiolytic and sedative action of valerian to improve sleep disorders.

On the other hand, components such as hesperidin and linarin are also associated with the sedative and anxiolytic capacity of this plant. Thanks to all its chemical properties, the following benefits are attributed to it:

  • Controls states of stress
  • Reduces states of nervousness and restlessness.
  • Regulates heart rate
  • Relieves menstrual pain.
  • Reduces chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Improves sleep quality

when to take valerian?

Because it is a plant that acts as a sedative agent, and has the effect of relaxing the nervous system and the brain, it is often recommended for people with sleep disorders, or to relieve stress and anxiety.

Some doctors claim that valerian root can be useful to treat digestive problems, menopausal symptoms, combat headaches, intestinal colic, rheumatic pain and topically in cuts and minor inflammations.

However, it is not recommended to use it without first consulting a health specialist.

How to consume valerian?

Although it is a product of natural origin, valerian should be consumed with caution and in the doses recommended by doctors. Currently, it is available in the following presentations:

  • Capsules. It is necessary to adhere to the dosage recommended by a specialist, this can vary between two and six pills, at the most, per day. If taken to sleep, it should be taken between 30 minutes and two hours before going to bed.
  • Dry and fluid extract. The extract is consumed between one and two grams per day spread over two or three intakes. As for the fluid, it is advisable to take a few drops, between 2 and 8 grams, also distributed in two or three intakes.
  • Essential oil. Due to its concentration, it is enough with a couple of drops distributed, also in two or three daily intakes, to achieve the desired effect. It can also be used through an aromatic diffuser in the bedroom or next to the pillow.
  • Infusion. A few leaves of valerian can be taken and added to a cup of hot water, which should be left to steep for at least five minutes. Generally, it is recommended not to drink more than three infusions per day.

Contraindications and side effects of valerian

In order to avoid complications, it is advisable to always inform the doctor before starting to use this herb for medicinal purposes

When starting the consumption of valerian, it is good to take into account some contraindications, such as

  • It cannot be mixed with alcohol because it intensifies the drowsiness effect
  • Nor should it be combined with drugs for depression or sedatives.
  • Its consumption is not recommended during pregnancy, during breastfeeding or in children under three years of age
  • Valerian oil is not indicated for children under 10 years of age or for those who suffer from respiratory allergies
  • It should not be consumed continuously for more than ten days in a row, as it may cause dependence. Ideally, it is recommended to take breaks of 15 to 20 days between intakes

Among the possible side effects of valerian are these:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Itching
  • Stomach upset
  • Dry mouth
  • Vivid dreams
  • Daytime drowsiness.

Being a natural relaxant, valerian could be a good alternative as a sleep inducer, as it increases its duration and increases its most restorative phase, the slow wave phase.

German Fuertes Otero
German Fuertes Otero
CEO at M.D. from Stanford Medicine: Stanford, California, US, M.Sc. from University of Cambridge: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK and University of Oxford: Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK. PhD at Harvard University Harvard Catalyst: Cambridge, MA, US.

Aunque pueda contener afirmaciones, datos o apuntes procedentes de instituciones o profesionales sanitarios y la información contenida en PharmaSalud esté redactada por profesionales en medicina, recomendamos al lector que cualquier duda relacionada con la salud sea consultada con un profesional del ámbito sanitario.

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