Sunday, December 4, 2011
What’s the story on valerian and anxiety?
On November 28th Joe and Teresa Graedon’s People’s Pharmacy had a brief article titled Public Speaking Phobia Dissolves with Herbs. Someone wrote them about how taking a valerian capsule had reduced her anxiety, which let her speak at her retirement party. If it worked for her, will it work for you?
People’s Pharmacy articles also appears as newspaper features. Sometimes the articles get different titles. The Durham, North Carolina Herald-Sun and the Athens (Ohio) Banner-Herald both used the same title. The Houston Chronicle said that Valerian takes the edge off public speaking, while the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger just said Capsule may relieve anxiety. Which title is closest to the truth?
When we look up valerian at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, we find their summary web page says that:
“* Research suggests that valerian may be helpful for insomnia, but there is not enough evidence from well-designed studies to confirm this.
* There is not enough scientific evidence to determine whether valerian works for other conditions, such as anxiety or depression.”
In September 2009 I blogged about herbal remedies for anxiety, and mentioned two review articles about valerian - one by Ernst and a Cochrane review. Both concluded there was no clear evidence for it reducing anxiety.
Ten years earlier Carolyn Mar and Stephen Bent published An evidence based review of the 10 most commonly used herbs. They also said the evidence for valerian being effective then was inconclusive. (See the summary table in the full .pdf file version. It was printed too light to show in a scan for the single page.) In 2008 Stephen Bent took a look at the current top ten herbs in Herbal Medicine in the United States: Review of Efficacy, Safety, and Regulation, but valerian wasn’t on that list.
What can we learn from this? Just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it is effective (or completely safe). Do your own homework. Don’t uncritically believe someone else’s story, even if it got whispered right in your ear.
The image came from here at the Library of Congress.