Combine this with Valerian for Better Sleep
Valerian is well established as a safe and effective herbal sleep aid. However, they are other herbs with sedative properties that are also traditionally used to treat sleep disorders. One of these is hops. Although hops is not as thoroughly studied as valerian, there is solid evidence to indicate that its combination with valerian is not only better than either herb but just as good as prescription sedative drugs. Is hops truly a sedative herb? What is unique about the combination of valerian and hops? Read on to find out.
Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Asia and Europe and introduced to North America.
It has long been a prized plant both for the medicinal uses of its root extract as well as the usefulness of its flower extract in the manufacture of perfumes.
As a medicinal herb, valerian is known for its sedative and anxiolytic effects. The calming effect of the herb is believed to involve the neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and it works by lowering the activities of certain brain cells.
Outside the central nervous system, GABA contributes to muscle tone. Therefore, valerian can also be used to relax the muscles and to treat conditions involving muscle spasms.
GABA is one of the bioactive phytochemicals in valerian. The major phytochemicals found in the herb are listed in the table below.
Even though valerian contains GABA and is known to serve as a mild sedative and potent anxiolytic by acting on the GABA receptors in the nervous system, the exact mechanism of its action is still unknown.
Because GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier, it is unlikely that the GABA content of valerian contributes significantly to its sedative effect.
Although valerian is sold as a dietary supplement, it easily qualifies as a drug and it is regularly recommended as an effective alternative to sedative and hypnotic drugs. Besides its use in the treatment of insomnia and sleep disorders, valerian is also used to treat anxiety.
In addition, its analgesic effect is utilized in the treatment of migraine, gastrointestinal pain and joint pain.
Other uses of valerian in traditional medicine include the treatment of depression, epilepsy, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome) and the hot flashes of menopause.
The herbal remedy known as hops is prepared from the female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus.
Hops is commonly used as a stabilizer and flavoring agent in beers onto which it impacts a bitter, tangy taste.
As an herb, hops share a similar medicinal profile to valerian. This means that it is also a sedative and a hypnotic herb. It is, therefore, used in the treatment of insomnia, restlessness and anxiety.
Although it is a popular folkloric remedy for sleep problems, there are fewer studies on the sedative and hypnotic effects of hops than for valerian. However, animal studies have confirmed that hops is indeed effective for inducing sleep.
These studies indicate that the relaxing effect of hops is partly due to a compound known as dimethylvinyl carbinol.
Like valerian, hops is safe and well-tolerated. However, it can lose its potency after a few months especially when exposed to air and light.
Bioactive phytochemicals in hops include humulene and humulone which are responsible for its bitter taste; phenols such as xanthohumol; and a potent phytoestrogen.
As a sedative and hypnotic herb, hops is seldom used alone. Rather, it is combined with other sedative herbs such as valerian, passionflower and lemon balm. The resultant polyherbal preparations are usually more potent than the individual herbs.
Valerian and hops are combined in herbal sleep aids because of their complementary mechanisms of action.
While valerian boosts the production and activity of the neurotransmitter, GABA, hops is believed to induce sedation only by increasing the activity of GABA. Therefore, hops improves the effect of valerian on the GABA pathway.
This means that the addition of hops to valerian further lowers the activity of certain brain cells and fully blocks the effects of excitatory neurotransmitters.
In addition, the valerian-hops combination is preferred because it has a strong effect on GABA receptors.
Therefore, this combination can produce stronger sedative and anxiolytic effects. In addition, the combination of both herbs easily overcomes the effects of stimulants and excitatory chemicals in the brain.
Support for hops’ enhancement of valerian’s GABA activity is provided by a study that demonstrated that the combination of valerian and hops can neutralize the excitatory effect of the stimulant, caffeine.
Caffeine causes the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. Therefore, its effects counteract the GABA-promoting activity of valerian. However, because hops reinforces the GABA-enhancing effects of valerian, the combination of the two herbs easily overcomes the stimulatory effects of caffeine.
The last benefit of combining valerian with hops is that the combination requires lower doses of both herbs to induce sleep.
Although studies show that valerian and hops are both safe sedative herbs and generally well tolerated, taking smaller doses can further reduce possible side effects of the herbs.
In a 2010 study published in the journal, Sleep Medicine, a group of reviewers conducted a meta-analysis on past studies investigating the effectiveness of valerian for the treatment of insomnia.
The outcomes the reviewers were testing included improvement in sleep quality, the duration of sleep and the rapidity of sleep onset.
For the study, the reviewers combed through reputed databases of science journals including Medline and the Cochrane library. They found 18 well-designed, randomized clinical trials that met their selection criteria.
The results of this meta-analysis showed that valerian was effective for treating insomnia. In the studies pooled, most of the participants who were given valerian extract reported improvements in sleep quality, sleep duration and onset of sleep.
While the reviewers called for more studies into the sedative and hypnotic effects of valerian, they considered the results of their review enough to justify the use of the herb in the treatment of sleep disorders.
More recent studies echo the conclusions of this meta-analysis even as researchers try to understand exactly how valerian induces sleep, reduces anxiety and relaxes the muscles.
A 2012 study published in the journal, Acta Physiologica Hungarica, investigated the sedative effects of hops on a group of common quail.
Quail was chosen because its sleep cycle closely resembles the typical human sleep-wake rhythm.
The researchers first pointed out that the sedative effect of hops was due to its bitter resins. The most active phytochemical in this resin was identified as the compound, 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol. This compound is believed to induce sleep by promoting the activity of GABA in the central nervous system.
For this study, the researchers divided the quails into 4 groups. While one group was given placebo, they gave the other 3 groups different doses (1mg, 2 mg and 11 mg per day) of hops for 1 week.
The results of the study showed that the group given 2 mg/day of hops extract (the concentration normally found in beers) had the most significant reduction in night activity and the highest improvement in sleep duration.
The researchers, therefore, concluded that hops is an effective and safe sleep aid.
In addition, they recommended non-alcoholic beer for improving nighttime sleep because of the sedative effect of its hops content.
In a 2009 paper published in the journal, Holistic Nursing Practice, the author confirmed that the combination of valerian and hops can improve sleep.
The herbal combination used in the case study was Dormeasan, a fluid extract of valerian and hops.
What was remarkable about this case study was the use of a single dose of the valerian-hops combination to induce and improve sleep.
This study shows that valerian and hops can provide a rapid onset of action that rivals prescription sedatives. Therefore, people who have difficulty sleeping can use this herbal combination and expect rapid relief.
A pilot study on the effectiveness of combining valerian and hops in the treatment of insomnia was published in 2000 in the European Journal of Medical Research.
In that study, the researchers recruited 30 patients suffering from mild to moderate insomnia. These participants were given 2 tablets of a fixed-dose (250 mg valerian extract plus 60 mg hops extract) combination of valerian and hops (Ze 91019) in the evening for 2 weeks.
After the treatment, the patients were given polysomnographic (to measure sleep activity) examinations.
The results of the study showed that the herbal combination reduced the onset of sleep as well as the frequency of waking during the night.
In addition, the results showed that the participants’ sleeping cycles were more efficient (longer slow wave sleep and shorter Stage 1 sleep). To confirm the polysomnograph readings, the patients reported that the treatment improved the quality of their sleep and produced no adverse effect.
Based on their findings, the researchers recommended the combination of valerian and hops for the treatment of insomnia but called for well-designed clinical trials to confirm the benefits of the combination.
One such clinical trial was published in the journal, Phytotherapy Research, in 2007.
This randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study took 4 weeks and also used the same fixed-dose combination of valerian and hops, Ze 91019 (in this cases, 500 mg valerian extract and 120 mg hops extract).
In addition, the researchers gave a second group of the participants an herbal extract containing only valerian (500 mg valerian extract) while the third group of patients received placebo.
The results of this study showed that the combination of valerian and hops was superior to both placebo and the single valerian option in the treatment of sleep disorders.
This combination significantly reduced sleep latency (the onset of sleep). Therefore, the researchers strongly recommended the addition of hops extract to valerian extract as the better herbal preparation for treating sleep disorders.
A review of past studies investigating the effectiveness of valerian-hops combination in the treatment of insomnia was published in the journal, Australian Family Physician, in 2010.
The reviewers searched multiple databases of science journals and looked for studies published between 1950 and 2009. They found 16 studies that met their criteria. Of these, 12 studies found valerian, with and without hops, effective for reducing sleep latency and improving sleep quality.
In a 2004 study published in the journal, Planta Medica, a group of researchers demonstrated the competition between caffeine and the combination of hops and valerian in the adenosine pathway of the nervous system.
First, the researchers gave the participants 200 mg of caffeine. Then they were divided into 3 groups. One group received placebo while the two other groups received two doses (2 tablets and 6 tablets) of the valerian-hops combination known as Ze 91019.
The participants were then given EEG (electroencephalogram) examinations every 30 minutes.
The results of the study showed that it took 60 minutes for the competition between caffeine and the herbal mixture to become observable.
The arousal triggered by caffeine was reduced by 2 tablets of the valerian-hops combination but 6 tablets fully blocked the effects of caffeine.
The results of this study showed that valerian-hops combination can be used to overcome caffeine-induced insomnia. In addition, the study hints that one of the mechanisms by which valerian and hops promote sleep is through the inhibition of the adenosine pathway.
A 2005 study published in the journal, Sleep, compared the efficacies of valerian-hops combination and diphenhydramine in the treatment of insomnia.
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine medication with sedative effects. It is the active ingredient of Benadryl.
The researchers recruited 184 adults suffering from insomnia. While some of these participants were given a valerian-hops combination, some got placebo while the third set of participants got diphenhydramine for half the duration of the study and placebo during the other half.
The results showed that the valerian-hops combination produced significantly better improvements in sleep duration and quality than the placebo group and slightly better sleep outcomes than the diphenhydramine group.
Another study published in a German medical journal in 1986 also showed that the combination of valerian and hops was a safe and suitable alternative to prescription sedative drugs.
In that study, the researchers compared the sedative effects of a valerian-hops combination to that of bromazepam, a benzodiazepine. Their results showed that valerian-hops combination, in appropriate doses, was an effective and safer alternative to bromazepam.
These two studies provide solid evidence to support the substitution of prescription sleep aids with the combination of the herbal sedatives, valerian and hops.
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