Anxiety disorders are quite common in our society. Anxiety can vary in intensity and can severely affect one’s lifestyle. There are many medications available to treat anxiety but none is ideal and all of them have side effects. For this reason, many individuals with anxiety have now been turning to alternative health care for treatment of anxiety. One of the natural substances high highly recommended by the herbalist for anxiety is valerian.
Valerian is a herb sold as a dietary supplement in health food stores. It is a common ingredient in natural products recommended for sleep, tension, and stress relief. As far as clinical evidence about its sedating ability is concerned, most of the data are inconclusive and not supportive. Nevertheless, the herb is found to be safe when ingested for a short time, but there are no long-term data.
As far as anxiety is concerned, the effectiveness of Valerian is a puzzle. To date, all reports about valerian for treatment of anxiety are anecdotal and most are made by the vendors of this product. Individuals who take valerian seem to indicate that it does not work all the time. Other individuals have tried out different brand names of the same herb and found no difference in the anxiety symptoms.
As far as clinical evidence is concerned, there is very little data. However, recently Cochrane reviews looked at one randomized study involving 36 patients with generalized anxiety. This 4-week study compared valerian to diazepam and a placebo. The patient population was homogenous and various scales were used to measure anxiety symptoms. At the end of 4 weeks, valerian was no different from the sugar pill when it came to relief of anxiety symptoms. Diazepam was more effective than valerian when it came to symptom relief for anxiety. The only good news about valerian was that no patients reported side effects.
So what about the consumer with anxiety?
This was only one small study but again, despite all the hype about valerian, it did nothing for relief of symptoms of anxiety. Even though benzodiazepines have side effects and are addictive, these drugs still remain effective for anxiety. The other negative about benzodiazepines is that they are expensive and often interact adversely with other drugs. For the individual with anxiety, the choice of how to treat anxiety is difficult. Should one take a herb which is useless and moderately expensive or take a drug which is very expensive, has side effects but works?
The answer- neither. Try Buspirone. This non-addictive drug does not impair mechanical performance such as driving. Response to Buspirone occurs approximately in two weeks, as compared to the more rapid onset associated with benzodiazepines. The only negative- individuals who have previously taken benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety generally do not respond well to Buspirone.