Uva ursi

Overview

Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry because bears like eating the fruit, has been used medicinally since the 2nd century. Native Americans used it as a remedy for urinary tract infections. In fact, until the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics, uva ursi was a common treatment for such bladder and related infections.

Through modern day scientific research in test tubes and animals, researchers have discovered that uva ursi's ability to fight infection are due to several chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. The herb also contains tannins that have astringent effects, helping to shrink and tighten mucous membranes in the body. That, in turn, helps reduce inflammation and fight infection.

Today, uva ursi is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections and cystitis (bladder inflammation). But uva ursi can be toxic: Hydroquinone, a component of uva ursi, can cause serious liver damage. Conventional medications that have fewer risks are available to treat urinary tract infections.

Researchers believe the herb works best when a person's urine is alkaline since acid destroys its antibacterial effect. Uva ursi works best at the first sign of infection. However, more research is needed to see if uva ursi works in humans.

Plant Description

Uva ursi is a trailing evergreen shrub that produces red berries and flourishes in alpine forests in many regions, including North America, Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Siberia, and the Himalayas. It grows slowly but succeeds in places where other plants cannot, such as the walls of canyons. It has short, creeping, reddish brown branches and pink or white bell-shaped flowers that bloom in the summer, followed by clusters of berries. Bears are said to be fond of the shiny, bright red or pink fruit, which is edible but tastes sour.

Parts Used

Only the leaves -- not the berries -- are used in herbal medicine.

Available Forms

Uva ursi is commercially available as crushed leaf or powder preparations.

How to Take It

Pediatric

Do not give uva ursi to children.

Adult

Because uva ursi can be toxic, talk to your doctor before taking it. Recommended adult doses are:

  • Dried herb (available in capsules): 2 - 4 g per day, standardized to 400 - 800 mg of arbutin.
  • Tea: Soak 3 g of dried leaves in 5 oz. of water for 12 hours. Strain and drink hot or cold 3 - 4 times per day.

Uva ursi should not be taken for more than 5 days at a time. (See "Precautions" section.)

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

One of the chemicals in uva ursi, hydroquinone, can damage the liver. Uva ursi should be taken only for short periods -- no longer than 5 days -- under a health care provider's supervision. You shouldn't take a series of doses of uva ursi more than 5 times in 1 year. Do not take more than the recommended doses.

Reported side effects are generally mild and include nausea and vomiting, irritability, and insomnia.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with high blood pressure, should not take uva ursi. People who have Crohn's disease, digestive problems, kidney or liver disease, or ulcers should not take uva ursi.

Possible Interactions

If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use uva ursi without first talking to your health care provider.

Lithium -- It's possible that taking uva ursi may cause lithium, a drug taken to treat bipolar disorder, to build up to dangerous levels in the blood.

Drugs and supplements that make urine more acidic -- These include vitamin C, cranberry juice, orange juice, and other citrus fruits and juices.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids -- Animal studies done in Japan suggest uva ursi may increase the anti-inflammatory effects of these drugs, although it isn't known whether the herb would have that effect in people.

Iron -- If you take iron supplements, take them at least 2 hours before or 2 hours after uva ursi.

Supporting Research

Beaux D, Fleurentin J, Mortier F. Effect of extracts of Orthosiphon stamineus Benth, Hieracium pilosella L., Sambucus nigra L. and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. in rats. Phytother Res. 1999;13(3):222-225.

Chauhan B, Yu C, Krantis A, Scott I, Arnason JT, Marles RJ, Foster BC. In vitro activity of uva-ursi against cytochrome P450 isoenzymes and P-glycoprotein. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007;85(11):1099-107.

Grases F, Melero G, Costa-Bauza A, Prieto R, March JG Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol. 1994;26(5):507-511.

Head KA. Natural approaches to prevention and treatment of infections of the lower urinary tract. Altern Med Rev. 2008;13(3):227-44.

Larsson B, Jonasson A, Fianu S. Prophylactic effect of UVA-E in women with recurrent cystitis: a preliminary report. Curr Ther Res. 1993;53:441-3.

Matsuda H, Nakamura S, Tanaka T, Kubo M. [Pharmacological studies on leaf of arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. V. Effects of water extract from arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. (Bearberry leaf) on the antiallergic anti-inflammatory activities of dexamethasone ointment.] Yakugaku ZasshiJ Pharm Soc Jpn. 1992;112(9):673-677.

Matsuda H, Nakata H, Tanaka T, Kubo M. [Pharmacological study on Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. II. Combined effects of arbutin and prednisolone or dexamethazone on immuno-inflammation] Yakugaku Zasshi. 1990;110(1):68-76.

Matsuda H, Tanaka T, Kubo M. [Pharmacological studies on leaf of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.). Spreng. III. Combined effect of arbutin and indomethacin on immuno-inflammation.] Yakugaku Zasshi. 1991;111(4-5):253-258.

Parejo I, Viladomat F, Bastida J, Codina C. A single extraction step in the quantitative analysis of arbutin in bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) leaves by high-performance liquid chromatography. Phytochem Anal. 2001;12(5):336-339.

Rakel D. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008;24.

Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, Penn:Hanley & Belfus, Inc. 2002:351-354.

Shimizu M, Shiota S, Mizushima T, et al. Marked potentiation of activity of beta-lactams against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus by corilagin. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2001;45(11):3198-3201.

Wang L, Del Priore LV. Bull's-eye maculopathy secondary to herbal toxicity from uva ursi. Am J Opthalmol. 2004;137(6):1135-7.

Alternative Names

Arctostaphylos uva ursi; Bearberry; Beargrape

Uva Ursi

Version Info

  • Last Reviewed on 01/15/2012
  • Reviewed by Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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This page was last updated: May 7, 2013

         
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