Q. I am devastated that quinine is no longer available. I have taken it safely for decades to reduce leg cramping, especially at night. Since I ran out and cannot get more I have a terrible time sleeping. I spend most of the night pacing the floor to work out the cramps. Why would the FDA ban quinine when it is the only thing that works?
A. Many people do well with quinine but for some it is extremely dangerous. One reader wrote: “I took quinine for nighttime leg cramps. I was working for a physician who said quinine might help and wrote me a prescription.
“I took one pill and within a couple of hours, I was deathly ill, not knowing what was going on. My doctor sent me immediately for blood work. My liver function results were worse than my husband's when he died from liver cancer. It took more than two weeks to get my body back on track. I would not recommend quinine to anyone.”
The FDA reasoned that since leg cramps are not life threatening but some reactions to quinine are, the benefit/risk balance did not favor the drug. There are, unfortunately, no other approved medications for leg cramps.
People with nighttime leg cramps may benefit from home remedies. Tonic water, which contains some quinine, is one option. Others include yellow mustard, low-sodium V-8 juice or soap under the bottom sheet. More details on these and many other remedies are available in our Guide to Leg Pain.