Uva Ursi, an excellent remedy for urinary problems
The vegetable spice, Uva Ursi, also known as Bearberry, and which scientific name is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is an evergreen shrub with berries or fruits that are one of bears favourite delicacies. This is where its popular name comes from “Bearberry”. It can be considered a creeping plant, since it hardly ever grows more than 2 meters high and comes into flower in March. Its leaves, stems and fruit can be used, they are recollected throughout autumn, however only the leaves and stems can be used for medicinal remedies. Persisting with the morphological details, its flowers, which are white and pink, are arranged in bunches, while its berries, similar to american blueberries, are spherical, measure between six and eight centimetres and are red when ripe.
Origins and history of Uva Ursi
Regarding its geographical distribution, it has been able to adapt to sub-arctic territories, becoming very abundant in northern areas of Europe, as well as high regions of Asia and Canadian tundra. It is also commonly found in pine and oak forests in the Pyrenean mountains and the plateaus of the Iberian mountain range, covered by a mantle of its tiny leaves.
Uva Ursi has an ancestral trajectory as a treatment for urinary problems, both in America and Europe. In fact, until the discovery of the sulfonamides, Arbutin, its most significant active principle, was the one that the doctors used to prescribe as an antiseptic for urinary tract infections, such as nephritis, pyelonephritis, cystitis and urethritis.
But not only had its therapeutic benefits been recognized. For centuries, at least 2000 years, popular knowledge has used it as a mild diuretic, as an astringent and in the treatment of pathologies of the urinary tract. Apparently, it is known that for the Indians of the New Continent was very appreciated against headaches and to combat scurvy (caused by Vitamin C deficiency).
Properties and benefits
Many of the active principles of this species are found in its leaves. Among them, Tannins are very common, distinguished by their astringent function, and flavonoids, which are renowned for their diuretic action.
The Allantoin, on the other hand, is a component of the plant known for its sedative properties and for stimulating tissue repair, aiding with healing, because it promotes the healthy cell growth. In fact, Bearberry leaf can be used externally as a skin wash to accelerate the regeneration process after cuts and scrapes. Allantoin also helps eliminate bacteria and undesirable substances such as toxins, uric acid, excess mineral salts and fat. And it is also known to be able to treat lip herpes and vaginal infections.
Among its large number of pharmacologically active substances, the Ursolic Acid it contains, has important diuretic and astringent properties.
The Bearberry acts as a tonic for various viscera, especially the kidneys, liver and pancreas, including the ureters and urethra. It seems to reduce the formation of uric acid crystals, which cause the dreaded spells of gout, and even act as an analgesic for colic caused by bladder stones.
The list of curative or palliative properties of Uva Ursi can be completed by adding:
- It can prevent post-partum infections
- Due to its tannin concentration, it helps against chronic diarrhoea caused by malabsorption, stimulating fecal bolus formation.
- When taken as nutritional supplement, it favours muscle relaxation and acts as an adjuvant for irritated or inflamed tissue recuperation.
- It helps against high blood pressure, as a diuretic, it stimulates urine flow and urination; hence its ability to aid weight loss through palliating liquid retention. Regarding this, it must be beared in mind that producing a higher volume of urine during long periods, leads to an excessive elimination of potassium which needs to be compensated through feeding.
- It is also recommended for treating nocturnal enuresis, a problem that affects a high percentage of children, even at adolescent age.
Lets dig a bit deeper in some of the benefits of Uva Ursi for specific pathological situations.
At cutaneous level
Uva Ursi is a great supplement for treating minor skin pathologies, as in Herpes, epidermic infections, eczemas, wounds and burns. This capacity seems to be related with its Allantoin content.
Part of the cosmetic industry has echoed the benefits of Bearberry, exploiting its active principles for making creams for skin whitening or stain removal. In fact, its vegetable extract is a basic ingredient of many skin and body creams, putting to use its anti-seborrheic, depigmenting, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Its ability to inhibit the tyrosinase enzyme, which is responsible for phenolic oxidation (chemical phenomenon which can be observed when an apple or potato turns brown after being exposed to air), makes it interesting for cosmetic application, as a clarifier for hyperchromic or highly pigmented skin stains.
Special metion must be given to the effect on Chloasma, which is a very common skin condition which appears as dark facials stains in pregnant or climacteric women, but is also related to the use of oral contraceptives. The chemical components of Uva Ursi have proven to be effective removing them.
For women´s health
Some tribes have reportedly used it to prevent possible abortion problems, once they were sure a woman was pregnant.
On these terms, there are two possibilities: on one hand, an infusion of a mixture of Uva Ursi stems and Cranberries is a good way to prevent postpartum infections, as well as ensuring the best possible recovery of the mother after birth. On the other hand, it can be helpful right before starting the menstruation period to prevent feeling bloated during these days.
Against Prostate problems
Male individuals can also benefit from the Bearberry´s properties. In particular, an infusion made of Bearberry, Horsetail, Juniper and Epilobio ( plants of the primrose family), combined with Star Anise to disguise the bad flavour of some of them, has proven to be effective treating prostate problems. There are even some suprising results on bladder cancer. Actually, it acts as a diuresis stimulant and it should be ingested several times a day.
Against liquid retention
Regarding liquid retention, known in medical terms as edema, is the excessive accumulation of fluid in the circulatory system as well as some tissues and corporal cavities. It can have a pathological cause or nor, sometimes it is caused by a simple vein dilatation due to heat excess. Some pathological causes could be cardiovascular problems, premenstrual syndrome, kidney or liver disorders and some types of medication, as in hormone treatments.
Women tend to suffer this problem with more frequency, due to high levels of estrogens, which have a lot of metabolic effects, one of them being sodium retention and the subsequent bloating of peripheral regions.
On this point, there are many opinions in favour of Uva Ursi for weight loss treatments, since Bearberry stimulates urination and reduces inflammation in outer areas of the body.
Weight loss regimes need to undergo constant control and revision, and can be optimised through Uva Ursi supplementation, thanks to the effect it has on liquid retention.
To preserve cardiovascular health
This attribute is closely related to the diuretic effects described above, since Bearberry contributes to balance blood pressure when suffering from hypertension.
In addition, it should be taken in consideration that the effects of congestive heart failure and pericarditis can be relieved or even erased by using this product.
Chronic Diarrhoea control
The astringent properties of the Tannins and Allantoin of Uva Ursi can also be decisive when treating the chronification of some diarheal processes caused by malabsorption syndromes.
The mechanism consists in reducing the epithelial lining (mucous membrane) of the intestinal tract, which facilitates water absorption, that was otherwise compromised and reduces swelling. This leads to a more consistent stool.
Other benefits of Uva Ursi for human health
Apart from the previously mentioned, and its effect on the excretory system which will be addressed next, Uva Ursi can also help reduce the accumulation of Uric Acid, and therefore the formation of Urate calculi in the bladder.
Its intervention in osteoarticular and muscular pathologies, such as back problems, rheumatism and arthritis, should not be ignored.
To complete this chapter of uses, we can mention two fields that are different to human health but have found used for Uva Ursi, such as: its berries for making jam, and its leaves for adding flavour/aroma to pipe tobacco.
Its role in treating urinary infections
However, its most outstanding component is Arbutin, which is known for its great anti-sceptic and anti-inflammatory effects on the urinary tract. Arbutin is a glycoside which is hydrolysed by the bacterial flora of the intestine. Due to this hydrolysis, a sugar and Hydroquinone (a very pharmacologically active substance) metabolites are released by the liver into the blood stream and reach the kidneys, where it reveals its anti-sceptic effects to be later expelled through urine.
The metabolic cycle of Hydroquinone has an important phase, which is the combination with Glucuronic Acid that is released by the digestive system and gives place to an other component that acts on the mucous membranes of the urinary tract, reducing inflammation.
As we see, although the therapeutic process starts with the Arbutin intake, it is the Hydroquinone that converts Bearberry in a potent anti-sceptic and responsible for most of the properties that combat infections in this part of the body.
It is important to know that, in order to be effective, the Hydroquinone requires urine to be alkaline, since it could be inactivated if the pH level is too low. To increase the effectiveness of this substance, it is recommended to include a larger amount of fruit and vegetables in the diet, since they help raise the pH level of the urine. An alternative is to take sodium bicarbonate, although this can have some side effects, so it is preferable to recur to the diet change to alkalise the urine.
It could be considered a powerful argument to support Uva Ursi solvency, the fact that it has been included to the list of substances that are apt for treating uncomplicated cystitis, when the use of anti-biotics isn´t necessary, by the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy.
Side effects and contraindications of Uva Ursi
While there is no doubt about the safety of consuming Uva Ursi during short periods of time, in the event of frequent urination with a burning sensation, vomiting, seizures or dyspnea (respiratory distress) intake should be interrupted, even if it responds to the guidelines recommended by the doctor.
The danger of consuming it in large quantities is related with nausea and vomits, and even intestinal irritation as a result of its high content of tannins.
As a diuretic, it can reduce the amount of potassium in the body, so it is recommended to enrich the diet with the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, especially bananas.
In the absence of reliable data that affirm or deny possible harmful effects of the Uva Ursi on fetal development and the composition of breast milk, preventively it is recommended to be avoided by pregnant and lactating women, as well as by children under 12 years.
There are pathological situations in which the consumption of Bearberry in its different presentations could aggravate the symptoms, such as kidney diseases, high blood pressure, Crohn's disease or stomach and duodenum ulcers.
It should be used with caution by those who are affected, even temporarily, by gastrointestinal alterations, since they are preparations that, due to the high amounts of tannins mentioned above, can irritate the membrane that internally covers the stomach and intestines.
In those who are being treated with diuretics, Uva Ursi taken simultaneously can contribute to an imbalance in electrolytes (mainly: calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium) that can result in nervous reaction and muscle function disorders.
Interaction with medication
Although there are not many adverse reactions registered produced by Uva Ursi consumption simultaneously with drugs, it is true that the main interactions occur with one of the most commonly used drug groups: anti-inflammatories.
On the one hand, there is the non-steroidal type, such as Ibuprofen or Indomethacin, whose effects, in both cases, are accentuated due to the presence of Arbutin in arthritis or contact dermatitis treatments, while the mixture is dangerous by the exacerbation of hypersensitivity to the second. And on the other hand, within the group of corticosteroids, the same active principle potentiates the effects of Prednisolone and dexamethasone when applied in contact dermatitis or edema.
Therefore, it is recommended to proceed with caution when consuming Bearberry along with all types of anti-inflammatory drugs, both corticosteroids and non-steroids.
In second place, Uva Ursi can interact synergistically with pharmacological agents that stimulate urinary production, and in the case of urine acidifiers (one of them is Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid), these can mask the antibacterial function of the Uva Ursi.
Certain medications can have similar effects such as Ammonium chloride or Rosehip and foods such as cranberry juice, which can acidify urine in excess.
On the contrary, it may be interesting to benefit from the alkalizing effect of some foods such as mint, honey, raisins, spinach or beans, and some antacid medicines or sodium bicarbonate.
Interaction with other vegetable species
The combination of Uva Ursi and Aloe Vera, due to the Aloesin or Aloin contained in the latter, enhances the natural capacity of inhibition of the tyrosinase enzyme which is responsible for phenol oxidation, which intensifies the de-pigmenting function of Bearberry.
Arbutin is also present in Marjoram (used as a condiment) or Damiana (useful to combat states of exhaustion and respiratory problems), for example, so the use of any of these can cause increased blood and urinary levels of Hydroquinone.
How to take Uva Ursi?
As discussed in previous chapters, since Uva Ursi works better in alkaline urine, when considering a diet, we must avoid everything that acidifies organic fluids, as logically the urine will be affected. This means basically, staying away form especially acidic foods (although, bear in mind that all foods are, at least, slightly acidic with the exception of egg white).
When Uva Ursi is taken to treat high blood pressure, it is important to consider the loss of potassium. Therefore, the consumption of more fresh vegetables and fruits especially rich in this macromineral is recommended.
The most widespread use of Uva Ursi is to fight urinary infections. Although there is no conclusive clinical evidence that gives a specific dosage, it is normally prescribed in daily doses of 8-10 grams of leaf.
The dose can vary depending on the intensity of the pathology you wish to combat, but usually 3 or 4 daily doses of two or three grams of extract that guarantee 100 or 200 mg of Arbutin are usually taken. But as a basic rule it must be accepted that its consumption should not be prolonged beyond one week and five weekly treatments per year.
To achieve some degree of homogeneity in the composition of the products that are commercialised, the European Pharmacopoeia establishes a minimum of 7% of Arbutin in relation to the weight of the dry leaf, although it is not uncommon to find concentrations close to 15%.
Studies have shown that nausea, vomiting, tinnitus (ringing in the ears due to the concentration of hydroquinone), convulsions, difficulty in breathing and cyanosis (where the body acquires a bluish hue) derived from the latter can occur in doses that exceed ten times the recommended. Likewise, taking a dose of 30 grams or more can be lethal.
As for the different presentation formats:
- Infusion: it consists in boiling the Bearberry alone or combined with any of the several possibilities: One teaspoon of Bearberry leaves per cup of water and drinking three cups a day. In a litre of water, a spoonful of thyme, Bearberry, goldenrod and heather. The same with thyme, horsetail, Bearberry, calendula and flax seeds. To combat vaginal infections, a mixture of equal parts of horsetail, thyme, Bearberry and chamomile.
- Tisane: Very useful to combat bladder and urethra inflammations combined with other plant species with antibacterial action, such as corn whiskers, mallow flowers or cat's tail. It is recommended to mix 20 grams of each and boil for a few minutes. 3-4 cups a day should be taken.
- Uva Ursi tea: highly reputed for its ability to combat the following bacterial species: Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus spp, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Ureaplasma urealyticum, Proteus vulgaris and Friedlander mycoplasma, which causes severe pneumonia, as well as the Candida albicans yeast. This tea is used to treat urate accumulation in kidney stones, bronchitis, nephritis, back pain and cystitis.
- The Bearberry also comes in powder, capsules and tincture (5ml applied 3 times a day).