Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry, is an herb that possesses antibacterial properties, which are attributed to the glycosides arbutin and methylarbutin. This herb has a long history of use as a remedy for urinary tract and other bladder-related infections.
When the glycosides are ingested, they are transformed in the intestinal tract into hydroquinone, which bears the antibacterial abilities. In addition, uva ursi contains tannins, which have astringent effects that help shrink and tighten mucous membranes and thus reduce inflammation.
These antibacterial and astringent benefits, plus research indicating that uva ursi can effectively treat and prevent urinary tract infections, suggest this herb can be helpful in treating urinary incontinence. (Head 2008)
Scientific evidence that uva ursi can effectively fight urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence is sparse. In a 2017 review, researchers tested fourteen over-the-counter preparations to determine their ability to inhibit urease, a key player for the urinary tract pathogen Staphylococus saprophyticus. Only one preparation was effective: a combination of uva ursi and green tea, which reduced the activity of S. saprophyticus by more than 75 percent and urease activity in whole cells by more than 75 percent. (Deutch 2017)
Several caveats are necessary if you are considering using this remedy. One is that hydroquinone has the potential to cause serious liver damage, so consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider before taking this herbal remedy. Another is that it appears uva ursi is more effective when a person’s urine is alkaline, because a more acidic urine will destroy the herb’s antibacterial effect. It also appears that uva ursi is most effective when taken at the first sign of a urinary tract infection.
Deutch CE. Liited effectiveness of over-the-counter plant preparations used for the treatment of urinary tract infections as inhibitors of the urease activity from Staphylococcus saprophyticus. Journal of Applied Microbiology 2017 Feb 28
Head KA. Natural approaches to prevention and treatment of infections of the lower urinary tract. Altern Med Rev 2008 Sep; 13(3): 227-44