My friend Tim is a healthy 40 something non smoker who is pretty active at hiking and fixing up his house and has no significant health problems. That said he’s, been dealing with some leg cramps for the last couple of months. His doctor, suggested he start drinking tonic water for a few weeks. This was because tonic water has quinine. Let’s talk about quinine and see if it may be something that’s right for you.
What is Quinine?
Quinine, (also called Chinarinde and Peruvian Bark) is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and has been used to treat malaria for centuries. It's the quinine in tonic water that is linked to its leg cramp benefits.
Even though it has been used as a drug in the past, small amounts of quinine are allowed in over the counter products like tonic water if the product says on the label that it contains quinine. It is quinine that is mostly responsible for the bitter taste of tonic water
Quinine and Leg Cramps
Even though it appears that most of the quinine in the US is taken to help leg cramps (it may also be taken to help fibromyalgia a type of arthritis too), the practice has not been FDA approved. This makes it an “off label” use.
The term off label means that a doctor recommends / prescribes a drug for something other than what the FDA recommends it for. They do this when there is some evidence that the medication may work for a condition even though it has not been given FDA approval.
Some studies do show that quinine may help reduce leg cramp pain.
Conversely, other studies show that it doesn't work.
Because of these mixed results the FDA recommends that people don’t use quinine for muscle cramps.
Quinine Side Effects
Because both the liver and kidneys help remove quinine from the body, those with liver or kidney problems should avoid quinine until they talk to their doctor.
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) is a possible side effect of quininie. See your doctor if you have this symptom.
One study reported that quinine caused blindness in a women who took too much. This person took betwen 8 to 12 grams which is MUCH more than what is recommended. This is also much more than is in a bottle of tonic water.
As a rule, speak to your doctor if you:
- Take blood thinners / supplements than “thin” the blood
- Take antidepressants
- Have seizures / take seizure medications
- At least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Pregnant or nursing
Leg pain can be caused by several conditions and could even be a sign of heart disease. Because of this its best to speak to your doctor before before self medicating with tonic water or quinine.
Remember also that tonic water has calories. Check the label to see how many calories tonic water contains per serving.
Is quinine helping Tim's leg pain? Its been a couple of weeks since he started using tonic water but as of right now he says it is not working. If things change I will update this. Yes, everybody is different but this is all the more reason to get checked out by your doctor before experimenting with tonic water for leg cramps.
Here is Tonic Water on Amazon if you want to see what others are saying
What do you think?