What Is It?
Guidelines for Use
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale
What Is It?
Also referred to as "bearberry" in honor of the bears so fond of its bright red or pink berries, Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) is an evergreen shrub that has long been popular for fighting urinary tract infections. Its leathery green leaves are formulated into teas, tinctures, capsules, and extracts for this purpose.
In the early 1900s prior to the development of antibiotics, official physician handbooks in the United States listed Uva ursi as a urinary antiseptic, but it is no longer listed in the United State Pharmacopoeia. The plant grows throughout colder northern climates from North America to Asia and continues to be popular in Europe as a urinary tract antiseptic.
The antiseptic compound in Uva ursi is arbutin. The body converts arbutin into a substance called hydroquinone, which has proven astringent and bacteria-killing powers. Interestingly, arbutin taken alone is not as effective as the whole Uva ursi plant in controlling urinary tract infections. Intestinal bacteria can break down arbutin, but they are less likely to do so in the presence of other Uva ursi compounds. In addition to its antiseptic and astringent actions, Uva ursi may help to flush out bacteria by promoting urination.
Specifically, Uva ursi may help to:
Ward off urinary tract infections. The antibacterial properties of Uva ursi help to fight against invaders, and the anti-inflammatory, astringent properties of the plant help to reduce Inflammation and edema in the urinary tract to combat and prevent infection. In the laboratory Uva ursi preparations are active against a wide variety of the bacteria known to cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). (10) However clinical research is limited. (1-3) A preliminary study indicates that taking a combination product containing both Uva ursi and dandelion as a preventative measure significantly reduces the recurrence rate of UTIs in women. In the double-blind trial, 57 women prone to recurrent UTIs received either the Uva ursi combination or Placebo. After one year, five of 27 women in the placebo group had a UTI recurrence, while none occurred in the 30 women in the treatment group. No side effects were reported in either group. (4) A 2008 review of alternative methods for the prevention and treatment of UTIs found Uva ursi to be an effective treatment when taken at the first sign of infection or as a short-term preventative measure. (5) However, larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Dissolve kidney stones. Uva ursi also has a long history of use by alternative practitioners to treat kidney infections and kidney stones, which form when minerals and crystallized salts in the urine are deposited in the collecting system of the kidney. (1-3) Preliminary animal studies indicate some efficacy of Uva ursi in dissolving the crystallized salts of kidney stones in rats. (6, 7) More research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy in humans.
Treat bronchitis. The anti-inflammatory properties of Uva ursi may be beneficial in treating bronchitis, inflammation of the windpipe (trachea) and bronchial tubes – the air passages between the windpipe and the lungs. Alternative resources indicate Uva ursi also has a long history as treatment in this area. (2, 8) However, clinical trials are needed to confirm or refute the benefit of Uva ursi in reducing airway inflammation in bronchitis.
Uva ursi is also available as a homeopathic medicine where general indications for use in urinary and bronchial affections are similar. However homeopathic materia medica note that its use is particularly appropriate when there is excessive secretion of Mucus in these conditions, e.g. the urine may be “slimy”. Additionally, bladder symptoms are improved while lying on the back. (9) Please see the WholeHealthMD entry on Homeopathy for more information on individualized prescribing with homeopathic medicines.
- Dried herbs/tea
- Homeopathic pellets
Typical doses are:
- 500 mg in capsule form three times a day
- 100-200 mg daily of liquid Extract standardized to contain 10% to 25% arbutin per dose three times a day
- Uva ursi Infusion prepared using 3 gms of Uva ursi steeped in 5 oz. of cold water for 12 to 24 hours then strained. Take three to four times a day
- Uva ursi 30C homeopathic pellets dissolved under the tongue three times daily
The German Commission e (analogous to an FDA for herbs in Europe) advises that arbutin containing medicines not be taken for more than a week at a time or more than five times per year. (10) Additionally, for urinary tract indications, the urine must be alkaline (pH 8); thus use with other agents for UTIs that acidify the urine is likely to be counterproductive.
There are no known nutrient interactions associated with Uva ursi.
The Diuretic effects of Uva ursi may interfere with lithium (used in treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) by reducing excretion of lithium and increasing plasma levels of the metal. Only use this combination with a physician’s guidance.
While some people with sensitive stomachs develop nausea and vomiting with Uva ursi, the Herb appears to be quite safe for most people when taken at recommended doses. High doses can cause a disconcerting--although apparently harmless--greenish-brown discoloration of the urine.
- Many people experience urinary tract infections as a frequent urge to urinate and a burning or otherwise painful sensation when voiding. Consult a doctor if these kinds of signs or symptoms persist for more than 24 to 36 hours because potentially serious complications can develop, including kidney problems.
- Extremely high doses of Uva ursi, in the range of ten times greater than the commonly recommended amount, can cause vomiting, ringing in the ears, shortness of breath, convulsions, and collapse in some cases. Liver damage is also a risk with high doses taken over extended periods of time.
- Because of a lack of information regarding safety, people with kidney disease, pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers, and children under twelve years of age should not take Uva ursi.
1. Bisset NG, ed. Max Wichtl Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers. 1994;510-11.
2. Michael T, Murray ND. The Healing Power of Herbs. (Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition). New York: Gramercy Books. 1995;336-337.
3. Balch PA, Balch JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing (3rd edition) Penguin Putnam INC. New York: Avery. 2000;110,484.
4. Larsson B, Jonasson A, Fianu S. Prophylactic effect of UVA-E in women with a recurrent cystitis: a preliminary report. Curr Ther Res. 1993;53:4441-3.
5. Head KA. Natural approaches to prevention and treatment of infections of the lower urinary tract. Altern Med Rev. 2008 Sep;13(3):227-44.
6. Grases F, Melero G, Costa-Bauzá A, et al. Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol. 1994;26(5):507-11.
7. Kieley S, Dwivedi R, Monga M. Ayurvedic medicine and renal calculi. J Endourol. 2008 Aug;22(8):1613-6.
8. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs, and cosmetics. New York: John Wiley, 1996:505-6.
9. Clarke JH. The Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica. Boericke&Tafel, Philadelphia, 1900.
10. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications. 1998, 428.
Evidence Based Rating Scale
The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.
Long history of use by alternative practitioners. Scientific evidence is lacking. Studies are needed to confirm or refute efficacy. (2, 8)
Long history of use by alternative practitioners. Preliminary animal studies indicate potential efficacy. Human trials are needed. (6, 7)
|Urinary tract infections
Long history of use by alternative practitioners. Preliminary scientific evidence indicates potential efficacy as prophylactic and as treatment. More research is needed. (1-5)