Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, happen to nearly half of all women at some point in their life (
They often require antibiotic treatment. But if you get them frequently, you might wonder whether there’s a more natural way to treat or prevent them.
Uva ursi is one popular over-the-counter remedy for UTIs. It’s also a common ingredient in some skin care products.
This article examines the research on uva ursi and whether it may help fight urinary tract infections.
Uva ursi is an herbal extract made from the leaves of Arctostaphylos uva ursi, or bearberry. This is a small, evergreen shrub native to North America (
The shrub also has small orange berries that bears enjoy. The name “uva ursi” means “grape of the bears” in Latin (
The herbal leaf extract has a long history of use in traditional Native American medicine as a diuretic and a treatment for urinary tract infections, painful urination, and kidney stones (
Arbutin is the natural chemical in uva ursi that’s mainly responsible for its urinary tract benefits. Once it’s metabolized in your body, arbutin is converted to hydroquinone, which passes through your kidneys into your urinary tract (
Hydroquinone may relieve pain and inflammation in the bladder or urinary tract. It may also prevent harmful bacteria from growing, supporting a healthy bacteria balance (
Uva ursi is an herbal extract used as a natural remedy for urinary tract infections. It’s made from the leaves of the bearberry bush. Some of the compounds in the leaves have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Despite its history of use for urinary tract and bladder infections, there’s limited research on how well uva ursi really works.
Research on its effectiveness
Test tube studies show that uva ursi may inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus saprophyticus and E. coli, two of the most common types of bacteria that cause UTIs (
However, UTIs can also be caused by other bacteria strains, and it’s not clear how well uva ursi works against all of them.
When tested on a group of women with mild UTI symptoms to see whether taking uva ursi could delay antibiotic use, uva ursi didn’t relieve their symptoms or clear the infection, nor did it delay the use of antibiotics (
However, in another small randomized study on 57 women who had recurring UTIs, those who took a uva ursi extract with dandelion root (a diuretic) had fewer UTIs over the course of a year than those who received a placebo (
This suggests that uva ursi may be more effective if you take it at the first sign of an infection. Furthermore, the hydroquinone in uva ursi also seems most effective against bacteria if your urine is alkaline, with a pH over 7 (
Normally, urine has a pH of 4.5 to 7.5. A diet low in animal proteins and higher in plants tend to create more alkaline urine.
Taking sodium or potassium citrate may also alkalize your urine and make uva ursi more effective. That said, you should ask your healthcare practitioner before taking uva ursi or sodium or potassium citrate (
Dosing instructions vary among products, so it’s important to read the product label and not use more than what’s recommended or take it for longer than recommended.
The leaves’ active compounds seem to work better together, so look for standardized products to provide a daily dose of 400–840 mg of arbutin in a whole plant extract (
When choosing uva ursi or any herbal supplement, look for those made with organic ingredients from companies that follow the current good manufacturing practices set by the Food and Drug Administration.
One indicator of product quality is certification by a third-party testing service like NSF, USP, or Consumer Lab.
Most evidence for uva ursi comes from studies done in a lab rather than on humans. If you have a UTI, it may or may not clear it up. If you want to try it, look for a whole plant extract that provides 400–840 mg of arbutin in a daily dose.
Side effects are uncommon, but they might include nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, or tinnitus (ringing in your ears) (
However, it’s important to avoid high doses of uva ursi because as little as 1/2 ounce (15 grams) of the leaves can be toxic. You should also limit its use to fewer than 2 weeks at a time (
The main safety concern is with hydroquinone, the chemical that comes from arbutin. There is some concern that long-term exposure to hydroquinone can cause cancer (
Uva ursi is not recommended for children or if you’re pregnant, chestfeeding, or if have any intestinal, liver, or kidney diseases (
If you want to try uva ursi, it’s best to talk with your doctor because it may interact with medication for another health condition.
Furthermore, if you delay antibiotic treatment for a UTI, the infection might worsen and affect your kidneys.
As long as you stick to the dosing instructions recommended by the manufacturer, uva ursi shouldn’t cause significant side effects or safety concerns. Still, it’s always best to discuss the use of this or any herbal supplement with your doctor.
You might find uva ursi or its active compound, arbutin, in multi-ingredient dietary supplements promoted for weight loss or wellness, although no studies support this use (
It’s also sometimes used as a diuretic to relieve menstrual symptoms, but this effect has only been shown in animals, not in studies including humans (
Another function of hydroquinone is that it may interfere with your body’s melanin production, the pigment that gives color to your skin.
Thus, arbutin and hydroquinone are common ingredients in skin cream products because they may promote skin lightening and help eliminate brown spots and freckles (
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety considers cosmetic face creams with up to 2% concentration of arbutin safe to use (
Uva ursi is sometimes added to weight loss or diuretic products, but there’s no research to support those uses. You can also find its active compounds, arbutin and hydroquinone, in skin creams because they may work as skin lightening agents.
Uva ursi is an herbal extract made from the leaves of the bearberry shrub. It has traditionally been used as a treatment for urinary tract infections.
Although lab tests show two natural compounds in uva ursi may prevent the growth of bacteria, there isn’t much proof that uva ursi supplements are effective in treating urinary tract infections in people.
It can also be dangerous if you use it in the long term, so never use it for more than 2 weeks. Also, children and people who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t take uva ursi.
Be aware that uva ursi might not be effective in treating a urinary tract infection. So, if your symptoms don’t clear up or they worsen, you should contact your doctor.