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There are about 500 herbal supplements (out of tens of thousands) that actually have been studied long-term. Valerian is one of them. In the medical literature in English and other European langauges, there are at least 740 published scientific studies going back all the way to 1868.

That's how we know that it's not a great idea to mix valerian with alcohol, and here's why:

  • Another way of describing valerian's ability to relax you is as "depressing" the central nervous system. Alcohol also depresses the central nervous system. You can get a double whammy of calming effects that can take you out of your comfort zone.
  • When you take valerian and then drink, you are less inhibited. You may drink more than you intended.
  • When you drink to excess and then take valerian, you tend to wake up with both a hangover from the alcohol and the drowsiness, lack of coordination, mumbling, and fumbling that comes from taking too much valerian. And if you have been drinking alcohol before you take your valerian, you are more likely to take too much of the herb.

Valerian acts on some of the same receptor sites in the brain as the benzodiazepine tranquilizers. That is, it does some of the same things in the brain that Ativan (lorazepam), Oxpam (oxazepam), and Restoril (temazepam) do. You shouldn't take any kind of benzodiazepine tranquilizer (if you don't know whether a drug you are taking is a benzodiazepine tranquilizer or not, ask your pharmacist) with valerian, and you certainly should not take this kind of drug with both valerian and alcohol. The combination is just too potent.

For the same reason, you should not take valerian with an antihistamine, barbiturate (sleeping pill), opiate (morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Vicodin, and the like), or the herb kava-kava.

The bottom line is: Don't take valerian and alcohol together.

However, valerian is safe and effective when it is used by itself, especially in combinations with hops and passionflower. In fact, a clinical trial found that the combination of valerian, hops, and passionflower was just as effective in treating insomnia as the prescription drug zolpidem (Ambien).

Concerning the potential for liver damage, 23 scientific studies (again, it's a well-studied herbs) have looked at the potential for this kind of problem from the herb and found it to be low. There are certain kinds of liver enzymes that are inhibited or activated by compounds in various herbs and medications, but valerian doesn't interact these enzymes. It basically leaves the liver alone.

However, valerian may interfere with the way the liver activates or deactivates certain antibiotics through a process called glucuronidation. It may also interfere with the way the liver processes estrogen from estrogen replacement therapy and testosterone from injections and patches. So if you are taking antibiotics, estrogen, or testosterone, you shouldn't use valerian, so these products will be maximally effective.

But is valerian safe for the liver?

There have been two case studies which linked liver problems to valerian, but the connection is questionable. In one case, the individual was a heavy drinker who also took valerian and developed cirrhosis of the liver. The authors of the case report skipped over the possibility that cirrhosis of the liver might be caused by heavy drinking and blamed valerian. In another case, a patient experienced liver problems after taking both the antipsychotic drug haloperidol (Haldol) and valerian, and the writers suggested maybe it wasn't the the Haldol, it was the valerian. But if you aren't a heavy drinker, and you aren't on Haldol, there aren't any strong reasons to believe that valerian would be especially toxic to the liver.

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