Teas made from bearberry leaves (Uvae ursi folium) are widely used in the self-treatment of urinary tract infections. The medicinal plant is used because it inhibits the growth of bacteria and is also supposed to promote urine excretion. In contrast to many other medicinal plants, most medical professionals are convinced of the effects of bearberry.
The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) lists several so-called positive monographs for bearberry leaves in inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract. In a sense, this means that the authorities have recognized the benefits of the medicinal plant. So far, however, there are no scientifically meaningful studies on effectiveness.
The Stiftung Warentest assesses drugs made from bearberry leaves as “unsuitable” for bladder problems. Above all, the product testers complain that the long-term effects of ingestion have not been adequately investigated.
Medicinal plant bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in brief
- inhibits the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, slightly dehydrating
- Do not use for more than 7 days and more than 5 times a year
- Evidence of liver-damaging effects and possibly carcinogenic
- Not suitable for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under 12
- some products contain alcohol
- Area of application: Treatment of infections of the lower urinary tract when the use of antibiotics does not appear necessary.
Critical Ingredients Could Damage The Liver And Genome
Bearberry leaves contain arbutin and methyl arbutin, among others. These are substances that are converted into hydroquinone in the body (especially in the liver). This hydroquinone is suspected of damaging the liver with long-term use. There is also evidence that hydroquinone could damage the genetic makeup.
This critical effect of the bearberry leaves also explains an effect on inflammation of the urinary tract. The hydroquinone gets into the urine through the kidneys. And there – according to the concept of pharmacy – it inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi. In any case, it has been shown in the test tube that hydroquinone can kill pathogens typical of urinary tract infections. These include E.coli bacteria, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, Proteus, and Klebsiella as well as Staphylococcus species.
Tannins from the medicinal plant support the antibacterial effect of bearberry leaves. Tannins help the surface of the fabric to contract. This means that pathogens are less able to establish themselves there.
There is no explicit explanation for the weak diuretic effect of bearberry.
Apply bearberry leaves
In principle, bearberry leaves are considered an easy-to-use medicinal plant. However, the knowledge about possible liver damage and carcinogenic properties does not allow an unreserved recommendation.
Basically, you should not use bearberry leaves – whether as a tea or medical product – for more than 7 days and not more than 5 times a year. The maximum daily dose is 12 g of dried bearberry leaves. Most manufacturers point this out in the package inserts.
Watch out for alkaline urine
Bearberry leaves are most effective in an alkaline environment. Therefore the urine should be alkaline. You can do this by consuming mainly plant-based foods and avoiding protein-rich foods. When using bearberry, you should avoid foods that acidify the urine. This particularly includes meat and fish as well as legumes.
Do not take bearberry leaves with medicines that cause acidic urine. This can reduce or even cancel the germicidal effect of the bearberry. Urinary acidifying drugs often contain the active ingredient methionine. Methionine is given, among other things, to prevent the formation of new kidney stones or to strengthen antibiotics, which work best in acidic urine.
Many people are sensitive to tannins. Constipation, stomach pain, or nausea are possible side effects of taking it. If you have bloody urine and you have to urge yourself to urinate, stop using bearberry leaves and consult a doctor. These symptoms suggest an overdose. In naturopathy, bearberry leaves are also used as a means of labor. As a precaution, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use medicinal plants. This also applies to children under the age of 12. Ingredients in bearberry may be able to impair the formation of the skin pigment melanin. Therefore, you should avoid extensive sunbathing and solarium visits while taking the leaves.
Interactions With Alcohol
Some bearberry leaf products contain alcohol. This makes these products unsuitable for alcoholics and those with liver problems. It is also forbidden to take it if you are taking other medications at the same time. Alcohol can change the way a number of drugs work in unpredictable ways. Such drugs are for example
Process Bearberry Leaves Yourself
The bearberry is one of the heather family and is also widespread in Central Europe. However, it has now become so rare that it was placed under protection years ago. Collecting bearberry leaves is therefore prohibited in Europe. But you can grow the medicinal plant in the garden.
Bearberry leaves should be dried quickly after harvesting. If the fresh leaves are stored for too long, the phenol glycoside arbutin, from which the active substance hydroquinone is formed in the body, is lost.
Bearberry Leaf Tea Recipe
Bring 1 teaspoon of bearberry leaves to a boil with 150 ml of water. Then strain through a filter. Many people think the cold approach is more effective. To make this approach, add 1 teaspoon of bearberry leaves to 150 ml of cold water. Then let the infusion steep for about 12 hours in a place protected from light. Then pour through a filter and, if necessary, warm the tea to drinking temperature.
If you use the bearberry leaf tea as part of a so-called flushing therapy against urinary tract infections: Please make sure that you take in at least 2 liters of additional liquid in addition to the tea (3 times a day).
And: irrigation therapies are not suitable for people with weak heart or kidney problems. Signs of these diseases are water retention in the tissue (edema).