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Valerian Root and Restless Legs

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

As many of 10 percent of the population may have restless legs syndrome, or RLS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It occurs in both men and women and is characterized by pain and uncomfortable sensations in your legs that trigger the urge to move them. Data suggests valerian root, an herb known for promoting sleep, may benefit people with RLS. However, it's best to avoid taking it without your doctor's OK.

Characteristics of Restless Legs Syndrome

RLS is classified as a neurological disorder. Your neurological system consists of your brain and spinal cord, and it controls movement, among other things. RLS symptoms occur or get worse at night. When you're lying down and try to relax, you may experience throbbing and pulling sensations in your legs. Moving your legs relieves the symptoms. People with RLS often have trouble getting restful sleep and experience daytime fatigue as a result.

Valerian Root Sedative Properties

Valerian root is available as a dietary supplement and is a common ingredient in supplements marketed for promoting sleep. It's widely known for its sedative effects. Valerian contains various compounds, but science has yet to agree which one is responsible for its effects. Data suggests valerian increases gamma aminobutyric acid -- an inhibitory brain chemical that calms the nervous system -- according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. In addition, valerian contains GABA, which may contribute to its sedative properties. However, it's unknown whether the GABA in valerian can cross the blood-brain barrier.

Clinical Support for Valerian Root

Because valerian root acts as a sedative, researchers set out to determine whether it offered benefits to people with RLS. The journal "Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine" published a small study in 2009 involving 37 participants with RLS who took 800 milligrams of valerian daily before bedtime for eight weeks. The study found that taking valerian significantly improved symptoms of RLS and decreased daytime sleepiness as a result. The authors concluded that valerian may offer an alternative treatment to help manage RLS.

Valerian Root Safety

Herbal supplements do not take the place of traditional treatment. Work with your doctor if you are considering taking valerian to help manage RLS symptoms because it may cause side effects including dizziness, headache, gastrointestinal upset and itching. Avoid taking valerian with other sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates and alcohol, as it may interact with these to increase the sedative effects, leading to an adverse reaction.

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