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Side Effects and Risks of Taking Valerian
You’ve surely heard of Valerian/ Valerian root being used as plant-based medicine or herbal alternative in discussions about natural healing/therapy.
It can be tricky navigating natural remedies, as they aren’t as regulated as allopathic medications, and their side-effects vary vastly from one person to another.
In this article, we will look at the possible adverse side effects of Valerian to ensure your consumption is safe and effective.
What is Valerian?
Valerian is a perennial flowering plant that grows wild in the grasslands of Asia, North America, and Europe. It flowers in pink, white, and purple colors, but its rhizome root is the star- used for all preparations be they medicinal or otherwise.
What is Valerian Used For?
Historically, it has been used to address sleep disorders, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue both in ancient Rome and Greece and during the Middle Ages. It continues to be used to ease symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome and menopause such as hot flashes and mood swings. It can also relieve migraines and headaches. For
Known colloquially as “nature’s Valium", its primary use is still to treat insomnia, aid peaceful sleep and reduce anxiety by helping you to relax. It has calmative and sedative qualities.
You can take Valerian root in a powdered form as capsules or tablets, as teas - be they tea blends or concentrated liquid extracts. They are also available as tinctures.
How does Valerian Work?
Valerian has several compounds such as valepotriates, valerenic acid, and sesquiterpenes like valerenol. All of these compounds act on the GABA receptors in the brain that modulate the gamma-aminobutyric acid neurotransmitter availability.
Increasing the production of this amino acid in the central nervous system helps with regulating nerve impulses, improves sleep, reduces anxiety, and could elevate mood by also activating adenosine and serotonin receptors and inhibiting the excitability of neurons.
Recommended dosages of valerian root extracts are usually between 100-200 mg for anxiety and between 300-600 mg for insomnia.
However, you should consult a physician to work out what dosages are suitable for you and if there are any possible drug interactions with medications you are already on.
For short-term usage at recommended dosages, Valerian is usually quite safe and effective. However, there are cases where its use should be curtailed due to medical reasons. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified it as GRAS i.e., Generally Recognized as Safe.
Drug Interactions with Valerian
If you are on medications for the following conditions, Valerian could have possible adverse interactions and so you either shouldn’t take it at all or you should only do so under strict medical guidance.
Anti-depressants - be they MAOIs, SSRIs, or TCAs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or tricyclic antidepressants, respectively) anti-anxiety, OCD, anti-seizure and other psychiatric medications.
Medications for hypertension, cholesterol, and cardiac conditions
Medications for infectious diseases like malaria and TB, or medications that impact the immune system e.g., HIV/AIDs, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis.
Medication for asthma, heartburn or GERD, allergies, migraines
Medication for erectile dysfunction
Muscle relaxants or benzodiazepines could include Valium, lorazepam, alprazolam, and oxazepam.
Sedatives and/or hypnotics such as barbiturates like phenobarbital, primidone, or propofol amongst others, narcotics and opiates like oxycodone, acetaminophen, or morphine, and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids like Ambien or melatonin
Plant-based supplements for depression and mood like kava or St. John’s wort. There are many other natural remedies and herbal supplements which can have interactions with valerian.
These include 5-hydroxytryptophan i.e., 5 H-T-P that elevates serotonin levels and improves appetite and behavior, and yerba mansa for colds/flues and accompanying respiratory distress such as coughs and TB or skin and gastrointestinal conditions.
Stay clear of Valerian if you are taking Jamaican dogwood, skullcap, catnip, and chamomile for problems ranging from nerve pain and nervous tension to menstrual aches, inflammation, hemorrhoids, and gas.
Health Conditions Requiring Avoidance of Valerian
Do not take Valerian if you −
Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Have had alcohol which together with valerian can make you drowsy and impair your cognition and awareness. This can be life-threatening in situations that require you to be alert
If you have liver disease, it could exacerbate the damage
Are going to have surgery. General anesthesia can depress your central nervous system activity to dangerously low levels. Similarly, don't take valerian if you have been administered barbiturates before surgery to induce a coma in cases of high intracranial pressure or as an anesthetic.
Children below the age of 3 should not be given valerian under any circumstances.
Side Effects of Valerian
If Valerian doesn't suit your constitution, or if you use higher than recommended amounts there can be a host of side effects you will notice. These include −
Excessive drowsiness even after the anxiety subsides, or the morning after taking it as a sleep aid. Don’t use valerian if you are driving, or operating heavy machinery as daytime drowsiness can be dangerous.
Weakness and light-headedness
Digestive issues like stomach upset or pain, nausea, and diarrhea
Cognitive problems and mental dullness
Irritability, excitability, and uneasiness
Vivid dreams or strange nightmares
Metallic aftertaste in your mouth
Cardiac arrhythmias or other heart discomfort/disturbance
These impacts will increase in intensity the higher the dose of Valerian you take. If you are allergic to Valerian you will notice symptoms like throat, nose, tongue, or face swelling and redness, hives, and difficulty breathing.
Go to the emergency room or contact poison control urgently to prevent fatal anaphylactic shock.
If you have been having Valerian for a short period, but you notice certain serious symptoms, stop its use and seek medical attention immediately.
If you see a yellowing of the eyes and skin suggestive of the onset of jaundice
Significant stomach cramps, nausea, and loss of appetite
Clay-colored stools, dark urine, and exhaustion
If your doctor signs off on Valerian and it seems to suit you – we wish you the deepest sleep, sweetest dreams, relaxation, and peace of mind that you so greatly deserve!
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