Historically valerian root has been used to treat a variety of physical ailments as well as to ward off demons and lure rats into traps! No one wants to take a prescribed pill if they can avoid it. Herbs are just more appealing (Caron 1999). Just what is valerian root and is there a relationship between valerian root and social anxiety?
Valerian refers to a plant that has upwards of 250 species around the world! The part of the plant used in herbal medicine is the root, which is gray and about the size of a finger (Caron 1999). Valerian is currently used for a variety of things but primarily touted for sleep and sedative effects. Scientists have been working on determining the mechanisms by which this occurs but haven’t quite figured it out. Despite the lack of knowledge as to just how it helps, you will find valerian in almost every over the counter herbal sleep aid there is (Yuan 2004).
Unfortunately there is no compelling evidence that valerian root can help with social anxiety. The best evidence right now suggests that good cognitive behavioral therapy including exposure therapy, pharmacological treatment, or both are the best options.
Are you getting good therapy? Behavioral and targeted therapy work best with social anxiety disorder. If you are going to a therapist, and they are listening to you talk about your anxiety, but not providing you with specific tools to deal with and face it, you are not getting evidenced based treatment. Group therapy is also recommended in a structured format.
SSRI’s or SSRI’s with Benzodiazepines are usually the preferred choice. Dosing schedules vary depending on the kind of social anxiety. Treatment guidelines suggest discontinuing the Benzos as soon as the SSRI’s kick in because of the withdrawal issues. The Benzos will help with you feel relaxed immediately, but they will not help you learn new ways to relate to your anxiety and they can create a long term dependence. Those with specific social anxiety usually respond to medication prn, ( as needed) while those with more generalized social anxiety don’t. Learn more about types here. Evidence suggests that medication will treat social anxiety quicker than cognitive behavioral therapy but that the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy are much longer lasting (Saeed, 2009).
may choose to use valerian root rather than prescription medicine, due
to cost or the fact that the side effects may be less disruptive.
Also, the lack of good evidence does not mean it isn't helpful. It just
means that there is no evidence. It stands to reason that if a root
causes sedation it may make you feel physically relaxed enough to be
less socially anxious. If like many of my clients you are opposed to
using prescription medicines, natural remedies may be a better option.
Valerian root seems well tolerated by all subjects in clinical trials but the long term effects aren’t known. Although a root, it should be treated as any medication. It can cause allergies, interact with other drugs and cause side effects. Consult with your doctor before taking it in any form. Additional evidence has suggested possible interactions with alcohol. Warnings suggest not driving or operating heavy machinery while taking it.(Caron 1999)
Caron, Michael F., and June E. Riedlinger. "Valerian: A Practical Review for Clinicians." Nutrition in Clinical Care 2.4 (1999): 250-257. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 12 May 2011.
Saeed, S. a. (2009, May 12). www.psychiatrictimes.com. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from Psychiatric Times: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/cme/display/article/10168/1413291?pageNumber=1
Yuan, Chun-Su et al.The Gamma-Aminobutyric Acidergic Effects of Valerian and Valerenic Acid on Rat Brainstem Neuronal Activity Anesth Analg February 2004 98:353-358