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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) Benefits, Uses and Possible Side Effects

Consuming valerian can serve as an adjuvant to calm the nerves and improve sleep quality. This plant, whose scientific name is Valeriana officinalis, has become popular worldwide as a natural tranquilizer since it reduces episodes of anxiety and stress.

It’s estimated to concentrate more than 120 chemical components, among which antioxidants, valerenic acid, and isovaleric acid stand out. In addition, according to a review of studies published in Neuroscience, Neurology & Psychiatry, the root of the plant is the basis of some 11 herbal medicines against insomnia.

Do you know how to take it correctly?

What is valerian?

Valeriana officinalis, better known as “valerian”, is a medicinal plant native to Asia and Europe. Nowadays, it’s also cultivated in other countries of the world, and, in fact, it’s the base of many pharmaceutical products with sedative properties.

Its flowers are also used for the elaboration of perfumes and essential oils. However, its root is the part that is usually prepared for medicinal purposes. It has a strong earthy smell, as it concentrates volatile oils and other compounds that give it its properties.

Valeriana Officinalis properties

Valerian stands out for its sedative properties, as it helps relax the nervous system and the brain. Because of this, it’s one of the most popular remedies to mitigate the effects of stress, anxiety, insomnia and nervousness.

An article published in the Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research attributes these effects to its concentration of substances such as the following:

  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Iridoid
  • Carbohydrates
  • Starch
  • Fatty acids
  • Phenolic acids
  • GABA
  • Glutamine
  • Arginine
  • Traces of alkaloids
  • Resin
  • Flavonoids
  • Triterpenes
  • Essential oils rich in monoterpenes

How does valerian work?

Substances such as valerenic acid, isovaleric acid, and antioxidants provide sedative effects to valerian. Thus, its preparation in extracts and teas helps control sleep disorders and reduce anxiety.

The root of the plant, in particular, has been studied for its interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical component responsible for regulating nerve impulses in the brain and nervous system. According to a publication in Neuropharmacology, valerenic acid decreases the degradation of brain GABA, resulting in a feeling of tranquility.

Other substances, such as hesperidin and linarin, have been positively related to the plant’s sedative and anxiolytic capacity. Because of this, the following benefits are attributed to it:

  • Valerian can help to control states of stress.
  • It can decrease nervousness and restlessness.
  • It can aid in heart rate regulation.
  • Valerian can aid in the reduction of muscular and joint pains.
  • It can provide relief for menstrual pain.
  • Valerian can contribute to the reduction of chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Also, it can provide better sleep quality.
  • Finally, it can reduce abstinence syndrome among those who wish to quit smoking.

How to consume valerian

Although it’s a product of natural origin, valerian should be consumed with caution and in the recommended doses for each case. As with other plants, excessive intake can lead to unwanted side effects.

Today, you can find it in the following presentations:

  • In capsules: The dose should be recommended by a specialist and taken according to the characteristics and needs of each patient. To sleep, it should ideally be taken within half an hour before going to bed and no earlier than two hours before.
  • As an essential oil: This is the most popular and recommended option because it comes from the root of the plant. It can also be used in an aromatic diffuser in the bedroom or next to the pillow. However, it’s important to consult a professional to evaluate possible respiratory allergies to its compounds.
  • As an infusion: This is the most natural option, since you can even take some valerian leaves that you may have in your garden or yard. To do this, add them to a cup of hot water, which you should leave to steep for at least five minutes. Generally, it’s recommended not to drink more than three valerian infusions per day, but your doctor may reduce this dose even more.
  • As dry extract and fluid: In the case of the liquid, it comes in the form of drops.

Valerian consumption according to age and type of symptoms

The safe dose of valerian is not clearly established. Even so, in its various presentations, doctors do know how much to take to avoid adverse reactions.

For example, according to the Online Information Center of Authorized Medicines (CIMA of the AEMPS), the way to consume valerian in a liquid extract is as follows:

  • Nervousness: Take 2 to 6 ml. maximum three times a day.
  • To induce sleep: A single dose between thirty minutes to an hour before bedtime is enough.

This’s what is indicated for adults, older people, and children 12 years and older. For others, make sure to consult your doctor.

Contraindications when taking valerian

When consuming valerian, it’s important to take into account some contraindications. For example, it can’t be mixed with alcohol, because it intensifies the effect of drowsiness. Nor should it be combined with drugs for depression or sedatives.

On the other hand, its consumption is not recommended during pregnancy, during breastfeeding, or in children under three years of age. Valerian oil is also not indicated for children under 10 years of age or for those who suffer from respiratory allergies. In addition, this herb could reduce the speed of action of certain remedies in the liver.

It’s a good idea to remember that it should not be consumed continuously for more than ten days in a row, as it can cause dependence. The best option is to take it when you need it for a short period and then take breaks of 15 to 20 days between intakes.

Consult your doctor if you have any other questions or concerns.

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