Q. My niece told me that drinking tonic water helped her restless legs syndrome. I tried sipping some before I went to bed, and it helps.

After I read in your column that the FDA bars doctors from prescribing quinine, I looked on the label. Quinine is listed as one of the ingredients. Is quinine harmful?

A. Some people are susceptible to quinine and develop irregular heartbeats or a life-threatening blood disorder when they consume it. It can also cause birth defects. The FDA banned it for treating leg cramps to prevent the serious side effects it can cause. Doctors are still permitted to prescribe it for malaria.

The dose of quinine found in tonic water is low, but we heard from one reader who suffered a severe reaction from drinking it: “One evening I drank 5 ounces of tonic water; the next morning I was in the emergency room with a frightening skin reaction. I was hospitalized for many days.

“My platelet count dropped to 1,000. Now it has gradually come back up to 266,000. I was diagnosed with ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura), triggered by the quinine in the water. It nearly killed me.”

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  1. aw
    Reply

    Is it possible to be sensitive to it without actually being allergic? I too heard tonic water was good for leg cramps and had a couple of glasses of it that afternoon, while I sipped it I had a bit of a rush (not unpleasant) then a few funny rhythms and then my heart started racing, I was shaking and shivering cold then flushing red, dizzy and it upset my stomach. It did settle down after a few hours but left me feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, it was very frightening.

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