Why I Would Take Valerian with my Melatonin for Insomnia
by Jim Duke

"Clearly drugs are not the treatment of choice for anxiety or sleeplessness" (Health After 50. The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter, May 1989)

I'm slow to jump on a new bandwagon, but I was quick to try melatonin for jet lag. And since my initial experience in 1994, I have enthusiastically recommended it to friends and family threatened with jet lag. Taken at night after arriving at my destination, three milligrams of melatonin lets me sleep the night, resetting my messed-up internal clock. Russel Reiter (1995) PhD, a prominent melatonin researcher, suggests that 0.1-0.3 mg can induce sleep.

I'm not afraid of melatonin for jetlag or insomnia, and would try it if I had a hopeless cancer. But still blessed with good health and hormonal balance and sound sleep at age 67 (as of April 4, 1996), I see no need for a chronic boost of my melatonin levels. While I'll not take it in the elusive search for the fountain of youth, I will invariably take melatonin with me when I anticipate jet lag.

But there's more to jet lag than a faulty internal clock. There's also the mental and physical stress, sometimes even fear, that accompanies the landing, the customs hassle, meeting your counterpart or taxi, money exchange, getting to the hotel, and a whole new microflora of microbes, hoping to catch you with your immune system down. The stress makes me appreciate valerian even more.

I have not heard melatonin recommended for nervous tension. But that's one of the main indications for valerian in Germany. Bissett (1994) says, "Valerian root tea and tincture are used as a sedative in nervous tension, restlessness, difficulty in going to sleep (only to promote sleep, not as a soporific!), and in stress and anxiety states." (parentheses mine) Regarding contraindications for valerian, Germany's Commission E says "none known", regarding side effects "none known", and regarding interactions "none known".

One need only go to my database to see several reasons why I would prefer to have the whole valerian root mixed with the melatonin silver bullet. From the database, you can extract the list of all the bioactive compounds reported from valerian, with all their activities. There are more than a dozen sedative compounds in valerian. All told, there are dozens of active compounds acting against dozens of (comorbid) ailments for which melatonin is not indicated (or rarely even counterindicated). Those who know me know of my fervent belief that, through evolution, our bodies have evolved to aggressively "grab" needed minerals, compounds, and vitamins from an herb or food, and, to a degree exclude those that it does not need. For example, valerian contains selenium. A pure melatonin pill should not. Mixing valerian with the melatonin, would add selenium to the potpourri of chemicals from which the body could select.

Valerian contains several different compounds that act, often at different levels, and probably synergistically, to combat insomnia and stress. Pure melatonin contains only one compound. I suspect, but have seen no proof, that melatonin and valerian would work together as an anti-insomniac, if not an antistress compound.

Normally, thanks to my life style, which now embraces the recommended levels of exercise and fruits and veggies, I have no need for sedatives or tranquilizers. But friends often ask me what I would do for insomnia. More exercise, more unwinding relaxation, less PM caffeine and less CNS stimulation; those are my first recommendations to the insomniac. If those suggestions didn't help, then I would suggest trying gentle herbs like chamomile, evening primrose, melissa, and valerian, listed in alphabetical order, and coincidentally in order of increasing activity, if my mental evaluation of the four herbs' strength is correct. Then if those four herbs failed, independently or in synergic concert, I might add melatonin to the mix. But I'd only take the melatonin at night. It's a nighttime hormone. I'm not anxious to take too much of any hormone chronically. Deep down inside, I have an unproven suspicion that if you keep feeding a natural hormone to the body, the lazy body might react to continual presence of high levels of the hormone and slow down or even quit its own production of the hormone. So until further long term studies are available indicating long-term safety, I'd advise against chronic melatonin supplementation.

{WARNING: Both melatonin (LRNP) and valerian can have depressant effects. "In psychiatric patients, melatonin has aggravated depressive symptoms." Lawrence Review (Jan, 1996).}


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