In the United States (U.S.), valerian dietary supplements are usually sold as sleeping aids. In Europe, people more often take them for restlessness and anxiety.There are actually over 250 valerian species, but Valeriana officinalis is the one most commonly used for medicinal purposes.While medicinal valerian dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times, strong clinical evidence for valerian's effectiveness in treating insomnia and anxiety is lacking.Still, valerian is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and is gentler than synthetic drugs, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. For these reasons, valerian could be worth trying for anxiety or insomnia relief.
Some possible benefits of valerian that have been reported by users include:
falling asleep faster
better sleep quality
relief from restlessness and other anxiety disorder symptoms
no "hangover effect" in the morning
However, stronger evidence is needed to be confident that valerian, and not some other factor, is responsible for these effects.
It is also necessary to determine whether a person's insomnia and anxiety improvements are statistically significant.
Weaknesses in the studies
While there have been many studies exploring valerian's effects, many of them have weaknesses that make their data unreliable.
Even with carefully controlled studies, it is still difficult to compare and combine data across studies. Some of the reasons for these problems include:
a small number of study participants
high rates of study participant withdrawal
wide variation across studies in methods of measuring sleep quality and anxiety relief
wide variation across studies in dosage and duration of valerian treatment
the severity of a person's anxiety or insomnia is not well defined
flawed statistical analyses
Many of these issues are revealed in a review paper published in the American Journal of Medicine, which carefully analyzed the methods and data of 16 different valerian studies.
The paper produced conflicting results about the soundness of these studies. For example, one issue was that only six of the studies used similar methods to measure sleep quality, which meant that sleep quality improvement could not be compared across all studies.
Combined data shows improvements in sleep
A combination of studies showed that valerian root may improve sleep quality significantly.
On the other hand, the combined data of these six studies did show a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality for the group of participants using valerian.
These studies also happened to have the largest sample sizes, perhaps giving them more strength than the others.
Still, the authors of this review warn that the results should be taken with caution, as there were many flaws in their statistical analyses.
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