Valerian

Valerian has been used to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness since the second century A.D. It became popular in Europe in the 17th century. It has also been suggested to treat stomach cramps. Some research -- though not all -- suggests that valerian may help people with insomnia. Germany's Commission E approved valerian as an effective mild sedative and the United States Food and Drug Administration listed valerian as "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS).

Scientists aren't sure how valerian works, but they believe it increases the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect on anxiety. Drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) also work by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. Researchers think valerian may have a similar, but weaker effect.

Insomnia

Valerian is a popular alternative to prescription medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and gentle. Some studies show that it helps people fall asleep faster and feel that they have a better quality of sleep.

One of the best designed studies found that valerian was no more effective than placebo for 14 days, but by 28 days valerian greatly improved sleep for those who were taking it. Some researchers now think you may need to take valerian for a few weeks before it begins to work. However, in another study, valerian was more effective than placebo almost immediately.

Other studies show that valerian reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep. Unlike many prescription sleeping pills, valerian may have fewer side effects, such as morning drowsiness.

But not every study has found that valerian had a positive effect. One review of several studies found that valerian probably doesn't work to treat insomnia. So the evidence remains contradictory.

Valerian is often combined with other sedating herbs, such as hops (Humulus lupulus) and lemon balm (Melissa officianalis), to treat insomnia. In one study of postmenopausal women, a combination of valerian and lemon balm helped reduce symptoms of insomnia.

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Anxiety Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Depression Insomnia Irritable bowel syndrome Menstrual pain Migraine headache Seizure disorders Stress

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Herbal medicine

Review Date: 1/2/2017  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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