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Valerian Root ( Valeriana officinalis ) is a plant native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was first cultivated in the Middle Ages. It has been used medicinally since ancient times, but its use in modern medicine is relatively recent. Valerian root extract has shown some promising results when tested against various types of cancer cells and leukemia cells in vitro. It has also shown some positive effects in animal models. Valerian root extract may have anti-inflammatory properties, which could possibly explain why it has been used for centuries to treat pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and rheumatism. However, there are no human studies testing the effectiveness of valerian root extract in treating or preventing disease symptoms. Valerian root extract has not yet been studied in humans for any other indications.

The active constituents of valerian root include: 1) a flavonoid called valerenic acid; 2) a terpene, linalool; 3) and several alkaloids including valencine, datura stramonium, and quercetin. All these compounds have been shown to possess antioxidant activity.

Human studies have shown that the terpene linalool can increase alertness and concentration, while valerenic acid seems to reduce anxiety.

Are there any interactions with medications?

Valerian root, due to its sedative effects on the central nervous system, should not be combined with CNS depressants such as alcohol, opiates or benzodiazepines. It increases the effects of these drugs and therefore may increase the risk for undesirable side-effects. Valerian root may also decrease the effectiveness of anti-psychotic drugs.

What side effects might I notice from taking valerian root?

Valerian root is generally well-tolerated. Some people experience headaches, dizziness, upset stomach or diarrhea.

If you are taking valerian root as a sleep aid, it may take a few weeks before you begin to see any therapeutic benefits.

What should I know about taking valerian root?

If you are pregnant or nursing, do not take valerian root without first speaking to your physician.

People with glaucoma or bowel obstruction should avoid using valerian root.

In addition to valerian root, other herbs and supplements that are commonly used for insomnia or anxiety include melatonin, 5-HTP and passionflower. Always check with your physician before taking any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.

What are some alternatives to valerian root?

Valerian root is not the only herbal or dietary supplement that may help with sleep disturbances or anxiety. Melatonin has been used as a natural sleep aid for many years. 5-HTP is an amino acid that may have a mild sedative effect. Passionflower is commonly used as an herbal remedy for anxiety.

What do I do if I think I am having a negative reaction to valerian root?

Consult your physician. You may need to discontinue the use of valerian root.

Nevertheless, if you experience serious problems such as rapid heartbeat, chest pain or hallucinations, seek emergency medical attention.

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