Medicinal use of valerian root dates back thousands of years to the second century, but how it is used has changed significantly over time. Treating stomach cramps was one early use, although it is no longer used in this regard today because it is ineffective. When taken as directed, valerian root is generally regarded as safe, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, you should always consult with a qualified medical practitioner before using valerian root to improve your health.
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One of the earliest medicinal uses of valerian root was to treat insomnia, and this use continues today. This is because certain chemicals in the plant are believed to have a sedative effect. The mechanism by which valerian works as a sleep aid is up for debate. Some scientists believe chemicals called valepotriates are responsible, while others believe the byproducts of the breakdown of valepotriates play a role, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Studies about its effectiveness as a sleep aid have had mixed results, although research continues. Always speak with a trusted health professional before using valerian root to ease your insomnia.
Supplements containing valerian are also sometimes recommended as a herbal treatment for people suffering from anxiety. The potential benefit in this regard appears to be related to chemicals in the plant that bind to certain receptors in the brain, according to the University of Michigan Health System. However, despite this effect, studies into its effectiveness in treating anxiety have not been well-designed and more research is needed to fully understand this effect, MedlinePlus advises. Anxiety can be a serious mental illness. Always consult with a doctor before using valerian to improve your symptoms.
Valerian root has never specifically been studied as a sedative, but because of other known effects it may be useful in this regard. For example, its effects on the central nervous system with regard to reducing anxiety as well as inducing sleep may also make it useful as a sedative, according to MedlinePlus. However, when taken at the recommended safe dose it may not be potent enough to induce sedation. Never take valerian root supplements as a sedative unless under the direction and care of a knowledgeable medical professional.
Though Valerian is generally considered safe, the National Institutes of Health reports that it may cause some uncomfortable side effects, including headache, unrest and insomnia. Using valerian with alcohol may cause excessive drowsiness, and it may enhance the effects of certain medications such as sedatives.