Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Valerian Root information... and recent study: "Valerian May Aid Menopausal Sleep Problems"

I wanted to have this new study available to you to look over (below), and briefly summarize it. There are other studies, but this is just a very recent one (again, below these first paragraphs).

But I do want to take a second to tell you about Valerian Root since I will try to promote natural supplements when I think there is some validity to their use. And there is with Valerian Root.

It's considered a calming herb and is known by some other names such as Vandal root, All-heal, Capon's Tail. There are three species but the one normally used for its calming effects is valeriana officinalis. It has been used to treat muscle spasms & stomach colic, mood swings, uterine cramping as a menstrual/pre-menstrual symptom, as a sedative, seizures, chronic cough, arthritis, headaches (EVERYTHING has been tried for headaches it seems), aroma therapy when its oil is extracted (although many find this smell... less-than-nice, which is why it is usually mixed with other aroma therapy herbs when used)... now just because it's been used for all these reasons and more, does NOT mean it actually works well if at all for these. In fact, almost all the actual controlled studies on this herb do NOT support much efficacy for the reasons it usually taken. In the past, people saw its effects on other animals and assumed it would work the same way on humans. For instance, it actually does calm horses very well... much more than you could ever expect in a human being.

It is NOT related to Valium. I get asked this question sometimes.

I do believe it is a good natural sleep agent.... as long as some other cause for sleep disruption has been ruled out. It will NOT resolve or treat sleep apnea, leg movements during sleep, bad sleep habits, etc. You have to have these other possibilities addressed as well.

If it is used, I recommend first trying 150mg to 200mg each night. If you notice no improvement, you can try 300mg to 600mg each night, an hour or two before bed. More is NOT necessarily better, and if you take with another sleep agent, the 200mg is probably sufficient as a complement. If you take it with Ambien, benzodiazepines like Klonapin or Valium, antidepressants, you might be more likely to get drowsiness (not the good kind of sleepy but the groggy kind). Other side effects, depending on how you metabolize it include nervousness and anxiety which would obviously be counter to what you would want.

You should start to see a difference at a certain dose after a day or two, but up to 3 or even 4 weeks often. So be patient before ramping up the dose.

How long should you take it? It is not intended to be a part of your permanent nighttime regimen. You should take it for about 6 weeks, then come off for awhile. If you stay on it, it WILL become less effective until it is no different than eating grass root. I would recommend staying off for a month or two before going back on again.

By the way, a lot of people try it as a tea... I think it tastes bad and think that the boiled water may break down some of the active compounds, but that's more opinion than fact. If you were intent on making a tea, then I would use only fresh, not dried, herb. The capsules probably work better and the dose is more reliable.

I don't recommend using it for your children. We do NOT know if it is safe for a child. That of course goes for pregnancy too. There's over 150 compounds isolated from this root. How can anyone guarantee they are all safe for a rapidly developing brain?

The flower can violet, purple...

or white.

But the root is the part we consume.

This is my summary of the study:

-They took 100 women who had already gone through menopause.

-All of them claimed to have difficulty sleeping well at night.

-Half took a placebo non-medication, and the other half took valerian root. The study was one month of use.

-Neither the doctor, nor the patient, knew if the woman was getting the real thing or not.

-For this study, they took 530mg twice a day (although this dose and twice-a-day use may not be necessary but they were looking for a "surely-this-dose-has-to-be-high-enough" dose). ***This is an important point, because, again, more is not necessarily better. This is a study don't forget, looking for some change, so they are going to more likely use higher doses. In my stroke prevention patients, a handful of aspirin do NOT help you prevent a stroke better than one... they just make your stomach bleed, as some unfortunate souls learned in Europe during some of their stroke trials... I digress.***

-In the group taking the fake pill, 4% felt that their sleep was better. In the group taking the valerian root, 30% felt that their sleep was better.

-That's a good result to me. The results might even be better if they spent more time ruling out any other cause for disruption of sleep in these women (which they did not).

Now the actual study if you want to read a more detailed account:

Valerian may aid menopausal sleep problems: A study

The popular herbal sleep aid valerian could help ease some of the sleep problems that can come with menopause, a small study suggests.
Valerian root has been used since ancient Greek and Roman times for various health problems, including insomnia. Modern science is split on whether the herb works: some studies have indicated that it can ease insomnia, but few rigorous clinical trials have put valerian to the test.
For the new study, researchers in Iran randomly assigned 100 postmenopausal women with insomnia to take either two valerian capsules or inactive placebo capsules every day for a month.
That type of clinical trial -- in which neither researchers nor participants know who is taking the real treatment or the placebo -- is considered the "gold standard" of medical evidence.
Overall, the study found, 30 percent of the women assigned to valerian reported an improvement in their sleep quality -- which includes factors like how long it takes to fall asleep at night and how often a person wakes up overnight.
In contrast, only four percent of women taking the placebo reported better sleep.
Simin Taavoni and colleagues at Tehran University report the findings in the journal Menopause.
Sleep problems tend to become more common as people age, with studies suggesting that about half of older adults have insomnia symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
For women, menopausal hot flashes and night sweats can add to sleep problems.
The current findings are "encouraging," according to Dr. Jerome Sarris of the University of Melbourne in Australia, who was not involved in the study but has researched herbal approaches to treating insomnia, anxiety and depression.
And for women with sleep problems who are interested in valerian, "there is no harm in trying it," Sarris told Reuters Health in an email.
Women in this study reported no side effects, according to Taavoni's team. And in general studies suggest that any side effects from the herb are mild, like headache or upset stomach.
Valerian is also fairly cheap, with 100 capsules generally costing less than $10.
On the other hand, there's no research on the safety of long-term use, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
And despite the positive findings in the current study, there are still questions about valerian's effectiveness. In a recent review of clinical trials on alternative remedies for insomnia, Sarris and his colleagues found only weak evidence that valerian -- or other herbs -- work.
There was better evidence in support of yoga, tai chi and acupressure.
Lifestyle changes like cutting down on caffeine and getting regular exercise (but not too close to bedtime) are often recommended for insomnia. When those don't work, the mainstream medical fixes include prescription medications and cognitive behavioral therapy.
According to Sarris, future studies should look at valerian's effects on other measures of sleep -- like the total amount of time that people taking the herb are able to stay asleep and their daytime functioning.
Women in the current study took two valerian capsules a day, each containing 530 milligrams of valerian root extract. Both the valerian and placebo capsules they used were made specifically for the study.
One question that arises when taking valerian is whether you are actually getting the amount listed on the product label.
A recent report by ConsumerLab.com, an independent testing company, found that of nine valerian supplements sold in the U.S., five had lower amounts of the herb than indicated on the packaging. That included one product with no valerian in it at all.
In the U.S., valerian and other medicinal herbs are considered dietary supplements, and not regulated in the same way as drugs.
SOURCE: Menopause, September 2011.