Valerian helps improve symptoms in restless leg syndrome and GABA helps you relax

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a nerve condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. RLS symptoms include feelings of itching, creeping, pulling, tugging or gnawing, which begin or intensify while resting, and subside as the legs start to move. People with RLS often have trouble falling or staying asleep as their legs spasm two or three times per minute. Doctors suspect that the brain chemical dopamine, which controls muscle movement, may be out of balance. 

This RLS study was triple-blind, meaning participants, researchers and statisticians analyzing the results did not know who had taken 800 mg of the herb valerian per day or a placebo. After eight weeks, all 37 participants reported fewer symptoms and better sleep. 

Among the 17 who took valerian, those who had been sleepy during the day at the start of the study were much less sleepy at the end and reported far fewer RLS symptoms. Doctors concluded that valerian may be an alternative treatment for RLS symptoms, “...with positive health outcomes and improved quality of life.”

In another study, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—a type of amino acid the brain makes naturally—helped people relax. In this brain-wave study, researchers recruited 13 participants who took water, GABA or the amino acid L-theanine. After waiting 60 minutes, using electroencephalography (EEG), doctors attached electrodes to the scalp to detect electrical wave activity in the brain. Compared to water only or L-theanine, GABA increased alpha brain waves, which occur when people are not aroused, are resting or meditating, and decreased beta brain waves, which occur when people are aroused, actively engaged or hyperactive.

Doctors believe that GABA encourages relaxation and sleep by reducing nerve cell activity. Prescription drugs for insomnia increase GABA activity but have many side effects including addiction. Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, recently reported that GABA levels are typically lower in clinical or major depression. The typical dosage range for GABA is 100 mg to a maximum of 1,200 mg per day in divided doses. 

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