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Would valerian in the diet help my anxious dog?

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a perennial herb that is often planted as ornamentals and for use in herbal medicine. 

With a Latin name thought to be derived from the Latin word ‘valere’ which means ‘to be healthy’, there are a LOT of reasons why we include valerian in The Om daily health boosters - designed to help with anxious behaviour.

By the way, if you've ever had valerian tea, you know it's a bit stinky! But it's effective in The Om, and dogs like it. 

What's so healthy abut valerian?

In herbal medicine, Valerian is used for its sedative, calming, and sleep-inducing effects. The extract, which is obtained from the strong-smelling roots and rhizomes of the Valerian, is used for a variety of ailments including restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety.

Valerian extract is also used in herbal teas, perfumes, and as a flavouring of various food products. Today, Valerian plants are cultivated in Europe to produce an over-the-counter (OTC) tranquillizer.1

Valerian is also used by homoeopathic doctors as transition medication when discontinuing intake of diazepam, clonazepam, and similar drugs.

Chemical constituents of valerian

Valerian is a good source of essential oils, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, flavonoids, alkaloids, amino acids, and lignanoids. The time in which Valerian plants are harvested has a very significant effect on the levels of these chemical constituents.

  • Essential oils

Valerian contains over 150 chemical compounds and many of them are physiologically active and mainly include monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.

  • Iridoids

There are more than 130 iridoids from Valerian that have been identified. Experts believe that these chemicals possibly contribute to the plant’s sedative, antidepressant, and anti-tumour activities.

These chemical constituents with sedative properties are categorised into two. The major constituents of the first category include volatile oils, such as valerenic acid and its derivatives. The second category consists of the iridoids.

  • Flavonoids

Linarin, a flavonoid from Valerian has been shown to have sedative and sleep-enhancing properties. 

  • Alkaloids

One of the alkaloids extracted from Valerian is a cat attractant. It has the same effects as nepetalactone, the active compound in catnip. 

Table 1. Chemical Composition of Valerian (per 100 g)

 

Chemical Constituents

Amount

Moisture (g)

7.6 ± 0.11

Protein (g)

4.3 ± 0.10

Fat (g)

1.1 ± 0.08

Insoluble fibre (g)

71 ± 0.20

Soluble fibre (g)

6.8 ± 0.10

Carbohydrate (g)

9 ± 0.05

Vitamin C (mg)

44.9 ± 0.40

Total carotenoids (mg)

132.7 ± 0.10

Calcium (mg)

766 ± 0.80

Phosphorous (mg)

303 ± 1.0

Iron (mg)

252 ± 0.89

Zinc (mg)

4.4 ± 0.00

Copper (mg)

2.5 ± 0.00

Manganese (mg)

10.6 ± 0.00

Chromium (mg)

230 ± 0.00

 

Source:Evaluation of nutritional composition and antioxidant activity of Borage (Echium amoenum) and Valerian (Valerian officinalis)

 

How does Valerian work?

Valerian extracts contain considerable amounts of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a type of neurotransmitter. How Valerian works has not been fully established and understood, but experts believe that there are two ways by which the extract has a calming effect.

  • First, it increases the level of GABA at the synaptic cleft where they exert an inhibitory action, producing a calming effect in the brain. This mode of action is similar to that induced by benzodiapenes which are a group of drugs that are used to reduce anxiety and have a sedative effect.
  • Second, valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA. 

Valerian also has cardiovascular effects

In humans, valerian exhibits a wide range of biological activities such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, anti-myocardial ischemia reperfusion injury, anti-arrhythmia, and regulation of blood lipid levels.

Valerian extract can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Essential oils and iridoids in valerian have been shown to enhance micro-circulation perfusion of the heart and kidney.2

In rabbits, the essential oils from valerian have a remarkable anti-lipid effect, reduce the levels of serum total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride (TG), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and MDA, and elevate the levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and superoxide dismutase (SOD).3

Valerian for dogs and cats

Valerian root extract is a common traditional therapy for anxiety in dogs. Integrative veterinarians also use Valerian root to control seizures. The herbal supplement offers mild sedative qualities. Its actions are similar to Valium, Xanax, and other benzodiazepines.

Valerian has a stimulatory effect on cats, just like catnip. One study showed that 50% of cats exhibited euphoric behaviour when a Valerian plant was introduced to their environment.4 Valerian roots and leaves are often used as alternatives for cats that don’t react to catnip.

The chemical compound that is believed to act like a feline pheromone, is actinidine. Some veterinarians are using Valerian to address stress-related over-grooming or fearful behaviour in cats.

A study5 conducted on dogs showed that introducing a valerian-scented cloth to the kennel was effective at reducing excessive barking and activity. Dogs appear to rest and relax more when exposed to Valerian.

Valerian supplementation in pets has also been shown to alleviate symptoms associated with fear, anxiety, and stress of visits to the veterinary hospital, separation anxiety, and phobias (such as fear of loud noises). That's why it's a key ingredient in The Om!

In general, valerian extract is considered a relatively safe supplement for pets with minimal adverse side effects. However, cats and dogs may also differ in their reaction; it may work well with some while it doesn’t with others. Monitor for any side effects, and check in with your vet first if your dog is on any other medications.

List of References:

  1. https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287433
  1. Yang, C.-K. Xue, X.-Z. Zhu et al., “Evaluate the effect of some TCMs extracts on improving micro circulation reperfusion volume of both cardiac and renal tissues by 86Rb tracer,” Chinese Journal of Microcirculation, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 15–17, 1998.
  1. -X. Hu, D.-B. Zhang, H. Li et al., “Effects of Valeriana officinalisL. var Latifolia Miqon blood-lipid metabolism in rabbits with hyperlipidemia,” Journal of Nanjing Military Medical College, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 65–68, 1999.
  1. Bol, S., Caspers, J., Buckingham, L. et al.Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria)BMC Vet Res13, 70 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6
  1. Bink J, Taylor S, Wills A, and Montrose T. The behavioural effects of olfactory stimulation on dogs at a rescue shelter. (2018) Applied Animal Behaviour Science 202:69-76
  1. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F: Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Medica 2: 144-148, 1985.

 

 

 

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