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Natural Solutions For Troubled Sleep
Passion flower, valerian and hops are among the most widely used sedative botanicals. Their track record of efficacy is well known and long standing. But are these botanicals popular because they are the only options? As it turns out, the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” Here, then, is a short introduction to some other calming herbs with which you may not be familiar.
The Chinese jujube or red date Ziziphus jujube, also known simply as jujube, is a staple in Asian medicine for soothing nerves and reducing stress. Current research suggests that its action may result from the modification of levels of the neurohormone serotonin, which is known to affect mood and sleep.
Albizia kalkora – also known as silk tree or Albizia julibrissin, is a medium sized tree that is common in Asia. Although silk tree has a long history of use in traditional medicine,,, our understanding of how it works is limited. Research has shown that the seeds of silk tree contain a biologically active substance, albizziin, which is an analog of the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine has many physiological functions, including regulation of moods. While there is no direct evidence so far, it may be that albizziin exerts a calming effect by mimicking the action of glutamine in the brain.
Biota orientalis – also known as Biota, is another plant that is used extensively in Asian medicine. It has many traditional uses and is known to be sedating. Biota appears to exert its effect by partially engaging a brain receptor for the neurohormone GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). It has been reported that the actions of Biota can be compared to some sedative/anxiolytic drugs.
You may have noticed a trend with respect to the actions of these herbs; they all act on brain receptors for neurotransmitters. Hops, passion flower and valerian do this too. Hops contains a constituent, 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol, which is believed to act on GABA receptors. Valerian extracts have several neurologically active constituents, including GABA; valerian has been shown to act on GABA receptors, and may also act on receptors for serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Finally, passion flower seems to exert its action on GABA receptors as well.
When dealing with a condition like insomnia which can have many possible causes, it is important for treatment purposes to distinguish occasional insomnia from chronic. Each of the herbs above is traditionally used for the short-term treatment of occasional insomnia. The fact that some of them have different but complimentary methods of action means that they may act more effectively in combination then singly, and this would be a common approach used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example.
There may be contraindications to taking any of these herbs, and one should consult a naturopathic doctor or licensed herbalist before taking them. Use them with caution until you know how they affect you, and do not use them at times when you need to be alert, especially when driving.
Janet McKenzie is a graduate of the University of the British Columbia School of Nursing, Queen’s School of Business and the Canadian School of Naturopathic Medicine. She practices in Toronto, and has taught at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.