Uva ursi is a vegetable species known as bearberry and whose scientific name is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. It is a perennial shrub whose berries or fruits are one of the favorite meals of bears. Actually, it is a quite small shrub that can grow 2 meters high at most that blooms around March.
Both the leaves, stem and berries are usable but only the two first are suitable for medicinal formulas. They are harvested throughout autumn.
Regarding more morphological features, its white or pinkish flowers grow in clusters. On the other hand, its berries are similar to cranberries. In fact, they are round, measure between six and eight millimeters of diameter and they become red when they are ripe.
Origin and history of uva ursi
When it comes to its geographical distribution, uva ursi is a plant that adapts really well to subarctic territories. Therefore, it grows specially in the northern areas of Europe, as well as in the mountains of Asia and the Canadian tundra. Nevertheless, it is also quite common to see the fields of the Pyrenees mountains covered with this plant.
Traditionally, uva ursi has been used as a natural remedy to treat urinary system problems both in American and Europe. In fact, physicians used to prescribe arbutin, its most relevant active ingredient, as an antiseptic against urinary infections such as: nephritis, pyelonephritis, cystitis and urethritis.
But that is not its only renowned therapeutic property. For thousands of years, people have used it as a smooth diuretic, astringent and treatment against urinary tract diseases. Actually, it seems that Native Americans used it against headaches and scurvy (caused by a vitamin C deficiency).
Properties and benefits
The bearberry leaves are where most of its active ingredients are for its medicinal properties. One of the most abundant ones are tannins which have an astringent effect, as well as flavonoids, responsible for its diuretic effects.
On the other hand, allantoin has sedative properties and it stimulates the tissue repair. Moreover, it supports the wound healing processes since it encourages the growth of healthy cells. In fact, you can even use a bearberry leaf topically in order to speed up the healing process of the skin after a cut. In addition, allantoin also helps to eliminate bacteria and other substances like toxins, uric acid, an excess of mineral salts and fat. It also has the ability to treat lip herpes and vaginal infections.
Apart from all these pharmacologically active substances, uva ursi also has ursolic acid, a powerful diuretic and astringent.
Bearberry also tones several organs, like the kidneys, liver and pancreas, as well as the ureters and urethra. In fact, it seems that it lowers the formation of uric acid crystals, which cause gout. Moreover, it also has analgesic effects that are useful against gallbladder stones.
We also want to mention the following healing properties of uva ursi:
- Preventing postpartum infections.
- Treating chronic diarrhea thanks to its tannin content, which stimulate the formation of stool.
- Relaxing the muscles and supporting the recovery of irritated tissues.
- Lowering the blood pressure since it stimulates the flow of urine due to its diuretic effect. Moreover, it can support weight loss diets thanks to its ability to counter fluid retention. However, we need to take into account that a higher urine volume will lower our potassium levels. Therefore, we will need to increase the intake of this mineral in our diet.
- Treating nocturnal enuresis, a silent problem that affects many children and adolescents.
Now, let’s deepen a little bit into some of these benefits from uva ursi against certain diseases.
For the skin
Uva ursi is a good supplement to treat minor skin pathologies. For instance, herpes, epidermic infections, eczema, wounds and burns. It seems that this property is connected to its allantoin content.
Part of the cosmetic industry is already using bearberry, exploiting its active ingredients to produce skin whitening creams. In fact, its vegetable extract has become a basic ingredient to produce facial and body creams. Above all, this is to its anti-seborrheic, depigmenting, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Its ability to inhibit the tyrosinase enzyme is useful when it comes to whitening very pigmented skin patches. This is due to the fact that this enzyme is responsible for the oxidation of phenols. To put it briefly, it is a chemical phenomenon that we can clearly see when a cut apple starts to turn brown.
This property is specially relevant when dealing with chloasma. It is a very common skin disease that produces brown patches on the face of pregnant women. In fact, its onset is also connected to the use of oral contraceptives and the climacterium. The chemical constituents of uva ursi have proven to be effective when it comes to treating this problem.
For female health
Surprisingly, some tribes have used it to prevent abortions once they knew a woman was pregnant.
Actually, there are two possibilities: on the one hand, a mixed infusion from uva ursi stems and cranberries is a good remedy against postpartum infections. Moreover, it supports the recovery of the mother after giving birth. On the other hand, it is also useful to buffer the feeling of bloating before and during the menstruation.
Against prostate problems
Men can also benefit from the properties of bearberry. Particularly, they can drink an infusion made from bearberry, horsetail, juniper and willowherbs. Add some star anise to mask the flavor of some of them. This drink has proven to effectively treat prostate problems. In fact, there are surprising results in bladder cancer. All in all, it stimulates the diuresis and you need to drink it several times a day to benefit from its effects.
Against fluid retention
When we talk about fluid retention, what is known as edema in medicine, we mean the following. It is an excessive accumulation of fluid in the circulatory system, as well as some tissues. Sometimes, this is due to how our body responds to heat by dilating the veins. In fact, some of its causes are cardiovascular problems, premenstrual syndrome, kidney and liver disorders.
In fact, many people believe that uva ursi could play a role in weight loss treatments. Above all, this is due to the fact that bearberry stimulates the micturition and reduces the swelling.
Weight loss diets need to be controlled and reviewed frequently. Moreover, it is advisable to take uva ursi supplements to increase their efficacy due to its impact on fluid retention.
For the cardiovascular health
This property is closely connected to the effects on fluid retention. Mainly because the diuretic properties of bearberry help to lower the blood pressure if we suffer hypertension.
To control chronic diarrhea
The astringent properties of tannins and allantoin from uva ursi are also determinant against chronic diarrhea due to a malabsorption syndrome.
This mechanism consists of reducing the epithelial lining (that is, the mucosa layer) from the intestinal tube. Consequently, this improves the absorption of water and reduces the inflammation, giving more consistency to the stool.
Other benefits of uva ursi for health
Uva ursi also helps to lower the accumulation of uric acid. Consequently, it prevents the onset of gallbladder stones.
Moreover, let’s not forget about its use for bone, joint and muscle diseases, such as back problems, rheumatism and arthritis.
Let us finish this point by mentioning two uses of bearberry that have nothing to do with human health: its berries can be used to make jam and its leaves are used as flavoring for pipe tobacco.
Its role in urinary infections
However, its most outstanding substance is arbutin, which produces an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effect on the urinary system. Our bacterial flora hydrolyzes the arbutin glycoside. Consequently, the resulting metabolites produce a sugar a hydroquinone, a pharmacologically active substance. When our liver releases to the bloodstream and it reaches the kidneys, it starts producing its antiseptic effects. Then, it is excreted through the urine.
There is a very important phase in the metabolic cycle of hydroquinone. That is the combination with glucuronic acid released by the digestive system. Consequently, this produces another component that works on the mucous membranes from the urinary tracts, reducing the inflammation.
Therefore, hydroquinone is the substance responsible for the effective antiseptic properties of bearberry. Although the therapeutic process starts off with the intake of arbutin.
However, it is important to note that hydroquinone will be effective if the urine is alkaline. Otherwise, it will become inactive when the pH is low. Therefore, it is advisable to follow a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables to improve its functioning. Another choice that we should bear in mind is the intake of sodium bicarbonate, although said substance can trigger some side effects. That is why it would be better to alkalize the urine with our diet.
To support the efficacy of uva ursi even further, the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy has included it in its list of substances suitable for treating cystitis when it is not indispensable to use antibiotics.
Side effects and contraindications of uva ursi
There is no doubt that taking uva ursi for short periods of time is regarded as safe. Although, we should stop taking it if we experience frequent micturition or vomits, convulsions or dyspnea (shortness of breath). Even if the dose has been prescribed by a physician.
As a diuretic, it can lower the potassium levels of the body. Therefore, it is advisable to eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, specially bananas.
Pregnant and lactating women should avoid taking it, as well as children under the age of 12. Above all, this is due to the lack of information regarding the possible harmful effects on the fetal development and composition of breast milk.
Taking bearberry could worsen certain pathologies and intensify their symptoms. For example, renal diseases, hypertension, Crohn’s disease or stomach and duodenum ulcers.
If you suffer a gastrointestinal problem, even temporarily, you should be careful too. In fact, these products can irritate the stomach and gut linings due to its high tannin content.
Moreover, those who are taking a diuretic treatment should know that taking uva ursi simultaneously can unbalance the electrolytes. These are mainly made up of calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Consequently, it could trigger nervous reactions and muscle function disorders.
Interactions with medicines
There are not many reports about its interactions with other medicines. However, its main interactions occur with one of the most commonly used medicines: anti-inflammatories.
On the one hand, we have the non-steroidal ones, such as ibuprofen or indomethacin. Their effects tend to be stronger due to the arbutin present in treatments against arthritis or contact dermatitis. On the other hand, within the group of corticosteroids, the same active ingredient enhances the effects of prednisolone and dexamethasone. These are used for contact dermatitis and edema.
That is why it is advisable to be extremely careful when it comes to taking bearberry and all kinds of anti-inflammatories.
Second, uva ursi can interact with pharmacological agents that stimulate the production of urine. Other substances (like vitamin C or ascorbic acid) can mask the antibacterial function of uva ursi.
Other medicines can have similar effects, such as ammonia chloride or rose hip or cranberry juice.
On the contrary, it could be beneficial to use the alkalizing effect of other products. For instance, mint, honey, raisins, spinach, kidney beans or anti-acid medicines or sodium bicarbonate.
Interactions with other vegetable species
Uva ursi and aloe vera: due to the aloin from the latter, it enhances the ability to inhibit the tyrosinase enzyme. Consequently, it intensifies the depigmenting effect of bearberry.
The arbutin that is available in marjoram (seasoning) or damiana: it is useful to deal with exhaustion and respiratory problems, for instance. Therefore, using one of these can increase the hydroquinone levels in the blood and urine.
How to take uva ursi?
Like we mentioned before, it works better in alkaline urine. Therefore, we should avoid all those products that increase the acidification of our bodily fluids. Although we should not forget that all food is slightly acid, except for egg white.
If we are going to take uva ursi to lower the blood pressure, let’s not forget about the potassium loss. Therefore, it is advisable to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables rich in this macromineral.
However, people tend to use uva ursi mostly to treat urinary infections. Although there is not concluding evidence to support a specific posology, it is advisable to take 8-10 grams of leaf daily.
The dose may change depending on the severity of the pathology we want to treat. In general, it tends to be around two or three grams of extract 3 or 4 times a day. Consequently, we will be taking 100 or 200mg of arbutin. But we should not prolong this treatment more than a week or more than five weeks per year.
The producers have tried to reach some kind of agreement in terms of the composition of the products that are sold. The European Pharmacopoeia suggests a minimum of a 7% of arbutin regarding the weight of the dry leaf. Although it is common to find concentrations that are close to a 15%.
There are studies that show how those doses that are ten times higher than the recommended dose can cause: nausea, vomits, tinnitus, convulsions, difficulty to breathe and cyanosis. On the other hand, taking a dose of 30 grams or more can be lethal.
- Infusion: boil bearberry alone or combined: use one teaspoon of bearberry leaves per cup of water, drink three cups a day. Take a liter of water and add a spoonful of thyme, bearberry, goldenrod and heather. You can also use thyme, horsetail, bearberry, marigold and linseed. To treat vaginal infections, mix the same amount of horsetail, thyme, bearberry and chamomile.
- Herbal infusion: Quite useful to treat bladder and urethra inflammations when combined with other vegetables with antibacterial properties. For instance, corn silk, mallow flowers or hemp-agrimony. It is advisable to mix 20 grams of each one. Boil it for a few minutes and drink between 3-4 cups a day.
- Uva ursi tea: it is lethal against the following bacteria: Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus spp, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Ureaplasma urealyticum, Proteus vulgaris and mycoplasma Friedlander. The latter triggers severe pneumonia, apart from the yeast Candida albicans. Above all, this tea is used to treat the accumulation of urate in kidney stones, bronchitis, nephritis, back pain and cystitis.
- Bearberry is also available in powder, capsules and ticture (apply 5ml 3 times a day).
Buy Uva Ursi Supplements in different formats here at HSN.
- Urinary tract infections, how to prevent them
- Natural Diuretics