VALERIAN. (Gods Valium)
Would you like a good night’s sleep without the morning hangover from sleeping pills? Or a cure for anxiety without the overkill of high-potency sedative drugs? Or a muscle relaxant that does not have the side effects of valium? Valerian, a natural mild herbal sedative, could be a solution.
It’s a splendid sleeping pill and a fix for anxiety and it doesn’t make you feel bad later. What more could you ask?
The herb valerian tranquilizes safely and gently without a risk of addiction, and is widely used and approved in other countries as an alternative to our potent, dangerous sedative drugs and there’s plenty of evidence that it works to calm you down, tame the brain, reduce anxiety, induce sleep, relieve stress, and even relax muscles without a morning hangover or permanent harm.
What Is It?
The root of valerian, a tall, fernlike plant, has served for thousands of years as
a mild sedative. From 1820 until 1942 valerian was listed in the U.S. pharmacopoeia as a tranquilizer. It’s widely used and approved in Europe as a
mild hypnotic to induce sleep and relieve anxiety. More than 5 million units of
valerian are sold in Germany and about 10 million in France every year. In the
United Kingdom valerian is also a popular and government approved sleep aid. It
is also approved in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy as an over the counter
medication for insomnia.
The mechanism of valerian in the brain appears similar to that of the benzodiazepine drugs Halcion and Valium. These tend to sedate by stimulating activity of the nerve transmitter GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid), which dampens the brains arousal systems. In animals, valerian does the same thing, triggering release of GABA from the brain cortex. In mice, both valerian and Valium prolong sleep. Research at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology in Marburg, Germany, showed that sedating constituents in valerian can bind to the same receptor sites on brain cells as barbiturates and benzodiazepines off the receptor sites of animal brain cells.
Which constituents in valerian sedate the central nervous system is
still a matter of dispute. Several have been identified, including valerenic
acid and valepotriates, chemicals unique to valerian. Valerenic acid is a prime
constituent in European products and is often combined with other mildly
sedating herbs, such as lemon balm, passion flower, and chamomile. According to
naturalist Stephen Foster, more than 120 active chemicals have been detected in
valerian. Foster suggests that a combination of valerians compounds work
together synergistically to promote sedation.
What’s the Evidence?
Of all plant sedatives, valerian appears most effective, says medicinal plant expert Dr. Varro Tyler. So convincing is the evidence of valerians efficiency and safety that a coalition of European manufacturers of phyto-medicines (plant medicines) have petitioned the FDA to allow claims for valerian as an over the counter nighttime sleeping “aid,’’ defined as an agent that relaxes and mildly sedates. More than 200 scientific studies on the pharmacology of valerian have been published in the scientific literature, mostly in Europe in the last thirty years.
Valerian is a well-tested sleeping potion. At least six controlled
clinical trials in Europe show that valerian can shorten the time to fall
asleep, prolong sleep time, increase deep sleep stages, increase dreaming,
reduce night time awakenings, and significantly improve the quality of sleep in
both normal sleepers and insomniacs. Classic is the study of 128 volunteers at
the Nestle Research Laboratories in Switzerland in the mid-1980s; for three nights
at a time they took either valerian extract or a sugar pill. Valerian won out;
37 percent on valerian said they fell asleep faster, compared with 23 percent
on placebo. Further, 43 percent said they slept better versus 25 percent on placebo.
Even 45 percent of good sleepers said they “slept better than usual” on valerian. But habitually bad sleepers got the most benefit. The same was true in a double-blind Swedish test. Forty four percent of poor sleepers said they had “perfect sleep” after taking a product with 400 milligrams of valerian.
Eighty nine percent said their sleep improved.
VALERIAN OR HALCION?
Valerian even equaled the powerful drug Halcon as a sleeping pill. A 1992 German study compared a combination valerian pill (160 milligrams of valerian and 80 milligrams lemon balm) with Helicon (0.125 milligrams triazolam) in twenty people, ages thirty to fifty. Over a period of nine nights, the valerian combination put subjects to sleep just as fast and produced the same sound sleep as Halcion. It was most effective on so-called bad sleepers. However, unlike the valerian takers, the Halcion users suffered hangovers and loss of concentration the next day.
Virtually all tests clearly pinpoint the big difference between valerian and prescription drugs, such as Valium and Halcion. The herb does not produce morning hangovers of drowsiness, reduction in concentration, and impaired
physical performance. Nor does it interact with alcohol to accentuate impairment
as do prescription drugs. A 1995 German study found no interaction between
alcohol and valerian that lessened concentration, attentiveness, reaction time,
or performance in driving a car. In short, valerian is okay to take when you
are awake and active, as well as when you are going to sleep, making it much
more desirable, especially in cases when a person simply wants to put a mild
damper on anxiety or stress during the day.
Nevertheless, experts also point out that valerian has many fewer side effects precisely because it does not hit your brain with a hammer the way many prescription drugs do. In other words, valerian is much milder. “Valerian and
plant drugs do not have the degree of activity of prescription drugs, nor do they
drawbacks,” says authority Dr. Varro Tyler.
Who Should Take It?
You can use valerian as a remedy to help you relax, sleep better, calm in moments of mild anxiety and stress even before giving a speech or before getting on an airplane if you are afraid to fly or as a muscle relaxant. You can take it during the day or at night for sleep. Valerian can also ease the symptoms of withdrawing from Xanax, Valium, and other benzodiazepines and can serve as a substitute for these drugs in people with mild to moderate anxiety and insomnia.