Many researchers believe that it is not just one chemical that is responsible for valerian’s effects, but a combination of the plant’s components.
According to the National Institutes of Health, several of valerian’s chemical compounds have individually demonstrated sedative properties in animal studies.
It is also uncertain how valerian affects the brain. The most common theory is that valerian extract stimulates nerve cells to release a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA slows down nerve cell activity instead of exciting it.
Valerian extract may block an enzyme that destroys GABA, which means that more GABA is available for a longer amount of time.
All of these factors together might produce the calming effect that many who try valerian experience. Drugs such as Xanax and Valium also increase the amount of GABA in the body, and their effects are much greater than valerian.
The most popular use of this versatile herb is, without doubt, as a sleep aid. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. Its role is to inhibit or reduce the activity of neurons or nerve cells. In large enough quantities GABA can cause a sedative effect – Valerian root has been shown to increase GABA levels in the brain which can in turn not only reduce the amount of time taken to fall asleep, it can also improve the quality of sleep too.
The aforementioned GABA also helps to calm anxiety with its regulation of nerve cells. The valerenic acid and valerenol contained in the Valerian root act as anti-anxiety agents, stabilising the central nervous system. The improved GABA levels make it easier for the mind and body to relax, meaning Valerian root can also help to keep your stress levels down – significantly helping with daily stress management.
Naturally sedative and antispasmodic, Valerian root acts as a powerful muscle relaxant and can be especially helpful in easing menstrual cramps. It can effectively calm the severe uterine muscle contractions experienced by some women during menstruation.
Extensive studies have found that GABA also regulates blood pressure. Properly regulated blood pressure has a direct positive impact on the health of the heart, with high blood pressure increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
My experience helping people with ADD and ADHD has shown that taking 1-2 drops under the tongue every 4-6 hours helps to focus and multitask without making them drowsy. There has been research on Bipolar disorder using small doses of Valerian that is promising, but more research is needed.
For insomnia, take 8-10 drops under your tongue or in water or herb tea after dinner, then again before bed. If you are one of those people who wake up in the middle of the night, and can not fall back to sleep, often taking only 1-2 drops under your tongue will have you back in dreamland in no time.