Be Wary of Valerian Herbal Sleep Aids

WHITE PLAINS, NY — reported that most of the valerian herbal supplements recently selected for testing contained less of the herb than expected and/or were contaminated with lead.

Valerian is a popular herbal sleep aid used by approximately 6% of the U.S. population. Valerian accounted for $68 million in sales in the U.S. in 2009, up 10% from the prior year, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

Among nine products selected by for review, only two passed testing. Of the seven that failed, one contained no detectable key valerian compounds and four others had only 26.7% to 82.5% of amounts expected from ingredient listings. One of these products was found to be contaminated with lead, as were two other products. These results were confirmed in independent laboratories. Lead is a heavy metal that can impair mental functioning and may affect blood pressure. The amounts of lead found in the products (which ranged up to 3.5 mcg of lead per daily serving) are not likely to cause toxicity alone, but it is best to avoid unnecessary lead exposure. Lead contamination was found to be an issue in products consisting primarily of valerian root powder as opposed to valerian root extract. The extraction process removes heavy metals.

“Valerian may help some people with sleep problems, although the evidence is mixed,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of “Unfortunately, it appears that many people may not be giving valerian a fair try because the brand they buy lacks the expected ingredient. And some brands unnecessarily increase one’s exposure to lead.” found similar problems in earlier reviews of valerian supplements in 2001, 2004, and 2006. Dr. Cooperman added, “If you use valerian, it would seem prudent to choose a product that passed’s testing.”

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