Update 8/1/20. My friend Tim is a healthy 40 something nonsmoker 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 primarily 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 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 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 quinine. See your doctor if you have this symptom.
One study reported that quinine caused blindness in a woman who took too much. This person took between 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 it's best to speak to your doctor 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?
Donna Gore says
My doctor told me to drink pickle juice for leg cramps. He said his sons’ coaches gave pickle juice to the team while playing soccer to reduce cramping. I bought the canned pickle juice and it works instantly. You can even drink the pickle juice from a jar of pickles. The canned juice and the bottled were from dill pickles not sweet pickles. No side effects except the taste. Even though pickle juice doesn’t have the most desirable taste, it certainly works for me.
Hi Donna, thanks for sharing that. I remember many years ago, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles football team giving them pickle juice too. My guess is its because of the salt in the pickle juice. Either way, Im happy the pickle juice has been helping you 🙂
I have an Rx for Quinine Sulfate 250mgs. I only take it when the cramps wake me up 3+ times a night. They only happen when I’m laying down, starting at the 2′ mark.
I take 500mgs. of Magnesium a day b/c 250mgs. doesn’t help. I’ve have found if I also don’t have Calcium that day, that they may get bad. Some nights I just get out of bed b/c I’m tired of being woken up to such severe calf/feet/big toe cramps. Yes, the big toe cramping I just figured out. I’d stand up, out of bed, and see that my big toe was sticking up and not making contact with the floor. I then remembered when I had severe heel spur treatment and the Dr. wrapped my foot in a inward twisted position; which is the direction I have to push my big toe towards to relive the cramp.
Had these cramps since I was a kid. My Father also suffered from these and used to go to bed with a heating pad on his calves to get any sleep.
I also take Calcium, B-6 (carpal tunnel), D3 and Zinc per my Dr. orders.
Tonic water absolutely worked for me. I would get terrible leg cramps during the hot summer days when you sweat a lot. As soon as the cramping started I would open a small 8 oz. bottle of tonic water and chug it down. Withing 5 – 10 minutes, the pain starts to subside. Sometimes I needed 2 bottles (16 0z.) but it has always worked. I don’t know about drinking it daily for prevention, but for active cramping, there isn’t a better cure that I have found that works as quickly as this.
Thanks Dot, glad quinine helped you 🙂
I have tried the calcium + D and magnesium ( also heard potassium was important). Those alone did not work for my terribly painful leg cramps (mostly in the a.m.). But I drink a glass of tonic water in the evening & no more leg cramps. I don’t like carbonation so I stir the drink strongly with a fork & most bubbles go. Also do not cover bottle tightly to help remainder in bottle to go flat. I thought I read something about quinine cancelling effectiveness of some supplements…does anyone know about this???
Sasha, do you know which specific supplements you heard of that quinine might interact/interfere with? if so, I can try to do a little research on them for you.
After 2 years, I finally found the cause of my leg cramps with the help of an allergist/immunologist. Sulfites were the culprit! Usually, people who are allergic to sulfites have respiratory symptoms; however; hideous leg cramps were mine! There are lots of websites to look at regarding what sulfites are and where they are found. One needs to be quite careful. And, btw, I tried the quinine cure and it did not work. So, you may have a sensitivity and not a lack of a vitamin or mineral. Good luck!
Magnesium is the thing to take for leg cramps; but it should be taken with Calcium and Vitamin D. It works 100% for me. You can get it all in one pill but most often you will find Calcium & Magnesium with Zinc. Be careful which manufacturer you use. Some company’s pills do not work well for some reason, so if this does not fix the problem, switch brands. Nature Made & Natures Bounty are good. You don’t need to buy at the specialty stores.
Do not over dose on Magnesium as it will cause you to evacuate you bowels. An extreme overdose could slow your heart beat and cause low blood pressure.
I suggest you try about 320mg Magnesium with around 600mg Calcium, only when you need it, as it works very quickly; within 1 half hour. While you are waiting for the Magnesium to take effect, if you stretch out the cramping muscle and hyperventilate slightly, the muscle should relax.
Eventually you will understand the signs that your body needs the magnesium so you can prevent a cramp before it starts.
A friend told me about his old family doctor prescribing quinine for cramping years ago, and that he’s experienced that quinine stopped his leg cramps. I personally have lots of issues with cramping in my hands after doing things like running hand tools, chainsaw, etc., for extended hours on any given day. Since receiving the information from my friend, I have been drinking tonic water during and after wood cutting days and can say that my hand cramping has been dramatically reduced.
I was advised to take this for leg cramps during pregnancy. I read up on-line and sounds like it’s safe during pregnancy so long as you don’t drink too much of it. Not sure if it worked, as I didn’t drink it often enough to do the experiment properly.
Sarah, did your doctor advise you to take quinine during pregnancy? Just curious.
Another great review!