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Clinical applications of herbal medicines for anxiety and insomnia; targeting patients with bipolar disorder

Objectives: Patients with bipolar disorder frequently continue to experience residual anxiety and insomnia between mood episodes. In real-world practice, patients increasingly self-prescribe alternative medicines.

Methods: We reviewed case reports, open-label, and placebo-controlled trials investigating the use of herbal medicines to treat anxiety and insomnia, and discussed their potential applications for bipolar disorder.

Results: Eleven herbal medicines that have been studied in human subjects are included in this review. Mechanisms of action, efficacy, side effects, and drug-drug interactions are discussed. Based on currently available evidence, valerian seems to be the most promising candidate for insomnia and anxiety in bipolar disorder.

Conclusions: Adjunctive herbal medicines may have the potential to alleviate these symptoms and improve the outcomes of standard treatment, despite limited evidence. Physicians need to have a more in-depth understanding of the evidence of benefits, risks, and drug interactions of alternative treatments.