The main compounds in Valerian root include Valerenic acid and isovaleric acid. It also contains a variety of antioxidants such as hesperidin and linarin, these chemicals together will show how Valerian works.
GABA GABA HEY!
These compounds are known to affect the brains GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. This produces anxiolytic (anti anxiety) and sedative effects via the central nervous system.
GABA acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It’s natural function is to reduce the activity of the neurons to which it binds. Valerenic acid – from Valerian root. inhibits the breakdown of GABA in the brain and calms nervous activity. This can make a person feel more tranquil and give a sense of wellbeing.
A very detailed report named “Gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity” Suggests that “the pharmacological effects of Valerian extract and Calerenic acid are mediated through modulation of GABA(A) receptor function. … and may potentiate the sedative effects of anesthetics and other medications that act on GABA receptors.”
How Valerian works in the brain
How Valerian works in this situation can be summarised. When you suffer from anxiety or over stimulation, the fear circuits in the brain (the amygdala) are active and excited.
GABA neurons connect to the synapses in the amygdala and essentially, slows down hyperactivity. In doing so you become calmer.
Once the GABA is spent at the synapse it is reabsorbed back where it came from in the GABA neuron. The cycle then continues.
Valerian (and other drugs that affect the GABA pathway) essentially blocks the re-uptake of GABA once it’s been used. When this happens there is now an abundance of GABA floating in close proximity to the synapse of the amygdala. This means there is now a higher chance of GABA binding to the amygdala and more chance of reducing over excitement.
There is plenty more to say on the subject of neurochemistry For those who wish to use Valerian that is all you need to know to start with. In the future you may wish to look into how to improving your body’s own GABA production or try alternative methods such as meditation, reading or praying.
Not to mention, the types of Valerian will also impact the body at different rates. Research and choose the best method for your needs.