Valerian Supplements Review
Initial Posting: 5/25/2018
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- Does it work? Valerian root powders, extracts, and tinctures are commonly used to aid sleep and reduce anxiety and stress. While some studies have shown a sleep benefit, more rigorous studies have not, and the evidence regarding anxiety and stress is similarly weak. (See What It Is and What It Does).
- How to choose? The activity of valerian may depend on its valerenic acids. It may be best to choose a supplement that provides at least 2 mg of valerenic acids per dose. Also choose one that is not contaminated with heavy metals (such as lead or cadmium).
- What did testing find? Unfortunately, three of the valerian supplements we selected for testing did not contain even the minimum amounts of valerenic acids we expected based on their listed ingredients (one contained only 3% of what we expected) and/or were contaminated with lead. These, as well as three others, provided less than 2 mg of valerenic acids per dose. (See What CL Found and use the Results table to compare the amounts of valerenic acids found in products).
- Best products? Among products that met our basic criteria for quality, two emerged as our Top Picks.
- How much to take? To aid sleep, valerian is typically taken about 1 hour before bedtime at a dose of about 600 mg of valerian extract or 2,000 to 3,000 mg of valerian root powder. (See ConsumerTips: Dosage)
- Safety: Valerian has generally been found to be safe, but minor gastrointestinal or allergic reactions can occur. For more details, see Concerns and Cautions.
What It Is:
Valerian is a popular herb used as a sedative to promote sleep and as a calmative agent. The roots (or rhizomes) of the plant, Valeriana officinalis, are the parts used medicinally.
Like other herbal remedies, valerian root has many chemical components. While it is not clear which of these are most important to its possible effectiveness, certain "valerenic acids" are characteristic of Valeriana officinalis, the species used in most clinical studies.
There are three main valerenic acids found in valerian products: valerenic acid (VA), acetoxyvalerenic acid (ACA), and hydroxyvalerenic acid (HCA). (Note: Although imprecise, some products appear to use the term valerenic "acid" to refer to all three forms.) Valerenic acid (VA) has been shown to modulate GABA receptors in the brain, which can cause an anti-anxiety effect. A study in mice suggested that VA may be most important for reducing anxiety while AVA may block this effect. HVA, may enhance the activity of valerenic acid even though it appears to be formed by the degradation of AVA (Felgentreff, Phytomedicine 2012).
What It Does:
Valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid, although the evidence behind this use is mixed. Older studies suggested a benefit, but some of the recent and better designed studies have failed to find valerian more helpful than placebo. A 2007 review of valerian studies concluded that conventional valerian extracts are probably not effective for treating insomnia (Taibi, Sleep Med Rev 2007).
A study among people with Parkinson's disease, who often have sleep disturbances, also failed to show benefit, although further analyses of the results suggested a possible benefit in male participants (Bliwise, SLEEP 2007 Abstract Supplement page A41 and personal communication in 2010 with Dr. Bliwise). ConsumerLab.com confirmed the quality of the product used in this trial, both prior to the start and at the end of the trial. It should be noted that many conventional sedative hypnotic drugs also do not work in Parkinson's disease patients.
A study in Iran evaluated the effect of valerian on postmenopausal women aged 50 to 60 years who were generally healthy but suffered from insomnia. Among those who took a capsule of valerian root extract (530 mg) twice daily for 4 weeks, 30% reported an improvement in their sleep compared to only 4% in a placebo group (Taavoni, Menopause 2011). No adverse events were reported by participants. The quality of sleep was judged according to factors such as how long it took to fall asleep at night, how often a person woke up overnight, and daytime dysfunction. The valerian capsules were standardized to 0.5% to 1% valerenic acids [correspondence by ConsumerLab.com with Dr. Taavoni, lead investigator].
Beside insomnia, valerian also has been advocated for reducing daytime anxiety and stress. One small study failed to find statistically significant differences in overall anxiety among groups receiving valerian extract, Valium, or placebo (Andreatini, Phytother Res 2002), but suggested that valerian may have a potential effect in reducing the psychic symptoms of anxiety (i.e., mental agitation). Other small studies have found weak evidence that valerian may produce calming effects in stressful situations.
More information about the clinical evidence for valerian is available in the Encyclopedia >article on this site.
Quality Concerns and What CL Tested for:
Unfortunately tests conducted by ConsumerLab.com in prior years have found several products with no detectable levels of valerenic acids or with amounts lower than expected from label claims.
Prior testing by ConsumerLab.com has found the heavy metals lead and cadmium in some valerian supplements. Cadmium is a carcinogen and kidney toxin. Lead can impair mental functioning and may affect blood pressure. Arsenic is a carcinogen and can damage organs.
Neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests valerian products or other supplements for their quality. ConsumerLab.com, as part of its mission to independently evaluate products that affect health, wellness, and nutrition, purchased valerian dietary supplements sold in the U.S.
The products were tested to determine the amounts and types of valerenic acids they contained, potential contamination with the heavy metals lead, cadmium, and arsenic, and the ability of products in tablet or caplet form to break apart (disintegrate) properly for absorption. Labels were also checked to be sure the correct valerian species was indicated and that they complied with FDA labeling requirements.