Valerian is one of the most effective natural remedies for high blood pressure, where this is linked with anxiety and stress. The roots of Valerian officinalis have been used as a sedative since mediaeval times to calm anxiety, reduce muscle tension and improve sleep quality. Valerian is recognised as one of the most calming herbs available.
Valerian for anxiety
Valerian contains a number of unique substances, including valeric acid that have beneficial effects against stress. Its sedative effect occurs through a direct inhibition of enzymes that break down an inhibitory brain chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. By allowing GABA levels to rise, it damps down the over-stimulation that causes whirring thoughts during times of anxiety. It produces a gentle lowering effect on the raised blood pressure that often accompanies stress.
Valerian and sleep quality
One study compared the effects of taking a valerian extract (600mg) or the prescribed sleeping tablet, oxazepam, for six weeks. Bboth treatments showed similar improvements in feelings of refreshment after sleep, exhaustion in the evening, duration of sleep and dream recall. More patients taking valerian assessed their treatment as very good (82.8%) compared with those on the prescribed drug (73.4%), however. The researchers concluded that valerian extracts were as effective as oxazepam for treating insomnia, but did not have the same negative side effects on reaction times, daytime alertness or concentration the morning afterwards.
The results from 16 studies involving 1093 people showed that taking valerian improved sleep quality by 80% compared with placebo, with no side effects. Those taking valerian extracts tended to fall asleep more quickly and wake less frequently during the night than those taking placebo.
Valerian is often used together with other calming herbs such as Lemon Balm, or hops, to ease nervous anxiety, insomnia and to reduce panic attacks. These herbs work in synergy to reduce symptoms of tension and mild depression, especially around the time of the menopause.
Valerian extracts are also helpful for people experiencing restless legs syndrome. A study involving 37 people with restless legs syndrome showed that valerian was more effective than placebo for reducing symptom severity and improving sleep quality.
Valerian is classed as a traditional herbal medicine within the UK and is licensed to aid sleep and for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances.
Valerian is non-addictive, and does not produce a drugged feeling or hangover effect, as it promotes a natural form of sleep whose architecture is preserved. However it may cause mild drowsiness which will affect your ability to drive or operate machinery. These effects may be increased by alcohol so avoid excessive intakes when taking valerian.
NB Do not take Valerian if you are on prescribed sleeping tablets, and check with a doctor or pharmacist for interactions if you are on any other prescribed medicines.
As with other medicines and herbal products, do not use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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