Researchers Test the Effects of Valerian Root on Sleep Disturbances
in Parkinson's Patients
Can the root
of an "herbal compound" help improve sleep disturbances in patients
suffering with Parkinson's disease (PD)? Emory researchers are taking
a close look at this form of alternative medicine through a multi-million
dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The herbal compound being
studied on Parkinson's patients at Emory is valerian root, a root used
widely in Eastern Europe, Germany and Russia for difficulties in sleeping
and reduction of anxiety. Previous studies have shown that valerian
root has sleep promoting and calming effects. But researchers have never
studied the effects of valerian root when taken by Parkinson's patients.
"This is the first trial
of its kind," says Donald Bliwise, Ph.D., professor of neurology and
a sleep and aging expert at Emory University School of Medicine. "Eighty
to ninety percent of Parkinson's patients have disturbed sleep. We believe
these disturbances evolve because the same systems in the brain that
control motor functions overlap with areas that control the state of
Disturbed sleep in Parkinson's
patients is described as difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining
sleep, excessive movement during sleep, acting out dreams and experiencing
Disturbed sleep is one of
many symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the
central nervous system affecting over one million people in the United
States. Other symptoms include tremor, stiffness, slow movement and
balance difficulty. Emory researchers are focusing on the sleep disturbance
aspect in this trial, hoping that better sleep at night will lead to
improved motor function when participants wake up in the morning.
Participants in this study
will be randomly selected to receive valerian root pills or placebos.
Neither researchers nor participants will know who is taking which pill,
making this a double-blind trial. Participants will take two pills one
hour before bedtime for 16 consecutive nights. They will also be asked
to spend three nights at the start of the trial and two nights at the
end of the trial for observation in the Laboratory for Sleep, Aging
and Chronobiology at Wesley Woods Geriatric Center at Emory University.
Following the end of the 17-day study period (no medication will be
given on the first night in the sleep lab), all subjects will receive
a seven-day supply of valerian root to try during an open-label phase.
Participants will be asked to keep a sleep diary throughout the 17 days
of the trial and through the seven-day open-label phase.
The trial is one of three
studies in the Emory University Center for Research on Complementary
and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Neurodegenerative Diseases. The National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the NIH
awarded Emory a five-year grant for the Center and three individual
research grants totaling $5.7 million.
"The NCCAM focuses on application
of traditional research designs to non-traditional treatments," says
Dr. Bliwise, who is also the lead investigator of the valerian root
and PD study at Emory. "The idea is to test these possible treatments
in rigorous academic environments, such as Emory. Emory is well-known
for its research in Parkinson's disease, so this trial and the creation
of the CAM Center at Emory allow us to really build on our strengths."
Two other Emory researchers
are helping to oversee this study. David Rye, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael
Decker, Ph.D., serve as co-principal investigators.
Recruitment for the study
is underway. Participants must have Parkinson's disease, must be 45
to 75 years old, have disturbed sleep, must be stable on their medications
and cannot have had previous Parkinson's surgery. Participants also
must be willing to spend five nights in the sleep lab during the trial.
For more information on the study, please contact Emory Health Connection
at (404) 778-7777.
Participants are also being
recruited for two other studies in Emory's CAM Center. The studies involve
the use of Chinese mind-body exercises to improve the motor and non-motor
disabilities in patients with Parkinson's disease and the use of repetitive
transcranial magnetic stimulation to relieve depression associated with
Emory's CAM Center in Neurodegenerative
Diseases is not an information or referral center. For more information
on the CAM Center, call Rebecca Portman, administrator for Emory's CAM
Center in Neurodegenerative Diseases, at (404) 727-3251. The Center
offers postdoctoral fellowships, as well as funding for pilot/feasibility
studies, for those interested in CAM in neurodegenerative disease.