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Did You Know That Valerian Root Is a Nootropic Herb?

Valerian root is a popular herbal remedy used for different purposes around the world. In Europe, it is most commonly used to help promote relaxation and ease stress, while in the United States, it’s frequently used as a natural sleep-aid. 1

Valerian ( Valeriana officinalis) is a plant native to Asia and Europe. Currently, it’s grown in other parts of the world to accommodate its popularity as a nootropic herbal remedy. It’s the root, rather than the flower, that is believed to possess therapeutic properties.

But does scientific research support these nootropic purposes? And if so, how effective is the remedy, and how exactly does it work? Highlighted below is an overview of what you can expect if you add valerian tea or supplements to your nootropic stack, how much to use, and how safe these supplements are.

 width= How Does Valerian Root Work?


Valerian’s efficacy is thought to be a result of its effects on multiple neurotransmitters and hormones including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), cortisol, serotonin, and adenosine.

Many of the benefits of valerian root, particularly those for anxiety and stress, are thought to come from its ability to enhance the efficacy of GABA, a neurotransmitter important for calming the body and relaxing the mind.

Recent research suggests that two components of valerian root—valeranol and valerenic acid—are primarily responsible for these effects on GABA. They’re both capable of binding to GABA(A) receptors, which increases the brain’s levels of GABA and thus its efficacy. 2

Furthermore, research on mice has found valerian root to reduce corticosterone levels, which is the equivalent of the human stress hormone cortisol in mice. Consequently, some of its relaxation potential can likely be attributed to a reduction of cortisol levels in humans. 3

Valerian also helps maintain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in modulating mood. 4

When it comes to helping promote optimal sleep, the relaxation benefits described above are thought to be paired with an ability to activate adenosine receptors which play an important role in controlling the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle. By binding with specific adenosine receptors, valerian root may induce drowsiness. 5, 6

Nootropic Benefits of Valerian Root  width=


Nootropics supplements are drugs or natural compounds that may enhance mood, reduce stress, boost cognitive function, and improve brain health.

Proponents of valerian believe it promotes a sense of calmness that can improve sleep and reduce stress, thus categorizing it as a nootropic supplement.

There are limited human studies of valerian root, making it too early to definitively say how valerian may impact humans. However, the studies conducted thus far provide a good reason to be optimistic about how valerian may help individuals sleep better and relax.

Some of the top nootropic benefits of valerian root are highlighted below.

Reduces Sleep Latency


Many people struggle with falling asleep once they’ve gotten into bed. This may be due to an overactive mind with racing thoughts keeping them awake. Oftentimes, this is caused by residual anxiety or stress from the day or from worrying about the future. For others, it’s hard to fall asleep due to pain or discomfort. Such causes may include chronic pain, menopause, or menstrual cramps.

In a 2010 meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled human studies, researchers found that valerian was an effective therapy for sleeplessness compared to the placebo. 7

Multiple studies have found benefits for valerian in reducing the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep, also known as sleep latency. One of the earlier studies included eight volunteers with mild insomnia. Researchers found that both 450 mg and 900 mg valerian root use was correlated with a reduction in sleep latency. The findings of this study must be taken with caution because the sample size was fairly small. 8

One larger study in 2011 on 119 cancer patients undergoing treatment found that patients taking 450 mg of valerian one hour before bed fell asleep faster than those in the placebo group. 9

Thus far, research shows promise for valerian root reducing the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep, but more studies are required before it is known who can benefit and to what degree.

 width= Enhances Sleep Quality


Many individuals toss-and-turn all night long, slightly waking up, again and again, struggling to stay comfortable and sleep the whole night through. Others are sensitive sleepers who wake up easily and oftentimes have difficulty falling back asleep.

Whatever the cause, restless sleep doesn’t allow individuals to get the quality of sleep that is needed to fully recover from the day. It can also interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a type of deep-sleep important for memory, learning abilities, and mood. 10

When individuals struggle to sleep soundly, feelings of fatigue can last throughout the day. It’s all too common to try and fix the symptoms with coffee, but this never-ending battle will not cease without addressing the root issue: poor sleep.

A large meta-analysis in 2006 found that valerian root may improve sleep quality without producing side effects, but more studies are needed to validate these findings. 11

It’s possible that this benefit may apply to others who have trouble sleeping and suffer from related fatigue throughout the day.

Relieves Stress and Reduces Anxiety


For centuries, valerian root extracts have been used to promote a calm mood and relieve anxiety. Recent animal research has confirmed anxiolytic benefits of valerian root in mice subjected to multiple types of stress-inducing tests.

In a human study of 56 healthy adults, it was found that valerian helped curb physical responses to stress, including lower blood pressure and heart rate when compared to the control group. 12

While there have been few human studies directly examining the impact of valerian root on mood and anxiety conditions, one study on 2,462 patients with both depression and anxiety found that those who took both St. John's wort and valerian together for six weeks experienced significant improvements in anxiety symptoms when compared to just St. John’s wort alone. 13

These preliminary results support the traditional use of valerian root for promoting a calm mind and body.

Eases Obsessive Tendencies  width=


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common condition that is poorly understood and difficult to treat. While the cause of OCD is unclear, researchers have discovered that those with OCD tend to have lower levels of the neurotransmitter GABA than do those without OCD.

Because of valerian’s ability to boost the effects of GABA, researchers hypothesize that it may help relieve OCD symptoms.

To see if valerian helps those with OCD, 31 patients with OCD were assigned to either 750 mg/day of valerian root or placebo for eight weeks. After four weeks of treatment, there was a significant improvement of symptoms in the treatment group when compared to the placebo group. This trend continued to the end of the eight-week study. 14

Enhances Cognitive Function and Memory


One preliminary study on mice found that those treated with valerian extract or its main active component, valerenic acid, experienced enhanced cognitive function and cell proliferation, which is important for memory formation and brain function. They also found improvements in performance on multiple learning and memory tasks. 15

Cognitive decline following heart surgery is a problem that scientists are looking for ways to ease. In one human study, researchers found a reduction in the risk of cognitive decline one month after surgery with valerian when compared to placebo. 16

While these studies show promise for valerian root when it comes to brain health and function, more human studies are needed to fully elucidate the benefits that it may offer.

 width= Reduces Menopause Symptoms and Menstruation Pain


Both menopause and menstruation can be difficult times for women that can interfere with sleep, clarity of thought, and mood. Because of this, many women are in search of safe, natural remedies that help relieve these symptoms.

In one study of women between 18 and 29 years of age, valerian root was found to reduce both the duration and severity of pain related to menstruation more than placebo. 17

In another study on 68 women going through menopause between 45 and 64 years of age, 225 mg of valerian root three times daily for eight weeks led to a reduction in hot flash frequency and severity when compared to the placebo. 18

Relieves Hyperactivity and Improves Focus


Because of valerian’s ability to promote calmness and reduce restlessness, researchers have begun to evaluate its ability to help reduce hyperactivity in children. 19

In one study, 169 primary school children with hyperactivity were given 640 mg valerian root extract plus 320 mg of lemon balm extract for seven weeks. Over this time, the percentage of children having strong or very strong symptoms of hyperactivity fell from 61 percent to 13 percent, with focus and impulsivity also improving. 20

These results suggest that valerian root may help improve focus and decrease hyperactivity in children with difficulties in these areas.

Valerian Root Dosage  width=


When it comes to encouraging optimal sleep, research suggests that a dose of 400 to 450 mg one hour before bedtime is optimal. Larger doses of 900 mg do not appear to work significantly better than 450 mg and may come with an increased incidence of side effects. The common side effects when a high dose is taken is lethargy come morning time. 21

If you are hoping to experience improved sleep, stick with daily valerian root for three or more weeks before determining if it has a beneficial effect for you personally. Studies thus far suggest that it may be most effective following extended use.

Is Valerian Safe?


Valerian root is considered to be quite safe, with human studies finding few side effects compared to individuals who took a placebo.

If you experienced increased sedation or fatigue the day following use, try cutting down on your dose to see if that changes.

Another side effect that has been found in human studies is diarrhea. If you experience this side effect, cut down on or eliminate valerian root.

Conclusion


Valerian root is a safe herbal nootropic ideal for those looking for something to enhance sleep and promote a calm mood. Some people may find additional, pain-reducing benefits for both menopause symptoms and menstrual pain.

Be sure to monitor how your body responds to valerian root, as taking too much can enhance lethargy the following day. If this happens, decrease your dosage and see how you feel.

PhotoCredits: IrynaImago/shutterstock.com, HandmadePictures/shutterstock.com, fizkes/shutterstock.com, KasparsGrinvalds/shutterstock.com, MarcosMesaSamWordley/shutterstock.com, MonicaWishiewska/shutterstock.com

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