a glass of tonic water with a slice of lemon

The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of quinine to treat leg cramps. Although this drug has been available for centuries, the FDA has determined that it is far too dangerous to use for anything but malaria.

Quinine Dangers

The trouble is that some people are extremely sensitive to quinine’s toxic effects. This drug can cause headache, rash, ringing in the ears, nausea, dizziness and blurred vision.

The most serious reactions are rare but can be life threatening. Blood disorders can lead to hemorrhaging. Dozens of hospitalizations and two deaths are linked to quinine.

What about Tonic Water?

Clearly, quinine can be dangerous for certain people, but the FDA has not banned quinine from tonic water. Quinine gives this beverage its distinctive flavor. Either the FDA doesn’t consider tonic water a danger to public health or the agency worries about arousing the ire of millions of gin and tonic drinkers.

Because of this loophole, many people have discovered that drinking tonic water can help prevent muscle cramps. One reader related her experience:

“I suffered with nightly leg cramps until one magic day on the Greek island Santorini. I had gone on tour as a guest singer of the New York Choral Society. One free afternoon, a group of us went to a black sand beach where I swam. The only other member of the group who also swam was a New York trauma surgeon. I developed a cramp and was trying to walk it out when he told me about Schweppes tonic, which contains a very small amount of quinine.

“I couldn’t find any tonic on Santorini or in Athens, but as soon as I returned home I started drinking a large glass (diet, with cranberry) every night. It has worked for me for several years, but I definitely know if I skip a dose!

“I asked a pharmacist friend to search the literature to see if anything else contains a small amount of quinine. She couldn’t find anything and told me the dangers of using high-dose quinine. I have checked with my doctors and have heard nothing against my practice of drinking Schweppes.”

Tonic contains 83 mg. of quinine in a liter. An eight-ounce glass or tonic would only have about 20 mg of quinine, considerably less than the dose that used to be prescribed for leg cramps (200 to 300 mg).

Tonic Water Works for Muscle Cramps

Despite the low dose, however, many readers maintain that it works:

“My doctor recommended tonic water for nocturnal leg cramps. It works every time very quickly. In less than five minutes I get relief and can go back to sleep. I suffer NO pains if I drink half a glass before I go to bed.”

Even Tonic Water Has Some Hazards

Some people find even the small amount of quinine in tonic water can pose problems. These folks may experience ringing in the ears, rash, itching or blurred vision and should steer clear of tonic water altogether.

There are those who are so sensitive that even a little bit of quinine could prove life threatening.

“Quinine in tonic water proved almost fatal for me. Nighttime leg cramps have been an ongoing problem, so I bought a bottle of tonic water.

“On Saturday I had a 5-ounce glass before supper. Sunday morning by 9 am I was in the emergency room with a frightening skin reaction. I was hospitalized for many days and diagnosed with a dangerous blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). My hematologist said it was triggered by the quinine water.”

We have also heard from people who developed tinnitus after drinking tonic:

“I have just developed a hissing sound in my ears. The onset was very rapid! The doctor diagnosed it as tinnitus, but would give me no reason for the problem. He said there wasn’t anything I could do. I’ve noticed some days it is less disturbing than others but some nights it awakens me because it has become so loud.

“I was drinking large quantities of tonic water, which contains quinine, when this started. Do you have any suggestions to help me?”

The quinine in tonic is the likely culprit. Ringing or hissing in the ears can be a complication of quinine. Tonic water should be discontinued completely.

For such people, home remedies may be the best way to get relief from nocturnal leg cramps. Our Guide to Leg Pain has instructions on stretching as well as a range of remedies.

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  1. Sando

    As a 25 year+ sufferer of peripheral neuropathy and RLS, the combination of both had a marked effect on my everyday life, whether it be the nightly cramps and the subsequent lack of QUALITY sleep that caused so many other issues. Enter Tonic water 3 weeks ago and even allowing for the sugar content, I am a convert.
    My quality of sleep has improved remarkably which has had such a great effect on the way I function throughout the day.
    I have not taken any prescribed drugs for over 10 years now as I simply don’t trust them, especially to the side effects that kept getting “covered up” or no explanation given. If I have to deal with a little extra sugar in my life with Toni Water then I’ll reduce it other ways. (Forget artificial sweetners in Diet Tonic, their worse)
    God knows how though as I don’t drink soft drinks or eat commercially prepared foods or fruit juices, sauces etc.
    The benefits of even the quality of sleep I now get far outway the previous daily sufferings I endured.

  2. maribel
    United States

    Ive been having a Eyespasm for a whole month throughout the day non stop it’s driving me crazy I read about the Quinine and I’m giving it a try I’m on my second day and I still have the Eye spasm hopefully by tonight it will cure wish me luck

  3. sassy

    I have just recently heard of this remedy for leg cramps. I have always drank pickle juice for cramping it works just fine. I do drink a little tonic water and it seems to have some good properties. I feel you should discuss any changes to your health care with a medical professional. But if it works for you without side effects I suppose it is just as good as prescription meds (Chemicals).

  4. Elaine

    Have always liked Quinine in Diet Tonic. Easy to find, lots of grocery stores have their own store brand in 1 liter bottles for under a buck, ie K-Mart, Acme, Giant Eagle.

    But am now an old woman with heart issues and it’s occurred to me that Quinine might not be so good considering the other meds I take. I usually mix 4oz Diet Tonic Water with 4 oz of Cranberry juice, or OJ. I think, after reading some remarks online, that I will ask my Cardiac Doc if Quinine is OK for me because I take blood thinner and statin meds. I will be upset if he says to stop, because I really love this stuff.

  5. BJ

    I suffer from Charlie horse like pains in my ankles legs and feet at night, my husband heard about tonic water with quinine – I drink a small bottle each night and it is very rare I have the severe pains in my feet and legs. It is best if you put it in the freezer for a couple of hours and let it get slushy. Also a great thirst quencher and good for an upset stomach.

  6. joyce

    I have peripheral neuropothy in feet and partly in my legs. My podiatrist said to drink 8oz tonic water at night. I did, and I have had 3 cramp free nights. Before that it was EVERY night and worse if I did more walking than normal. GOSH, what a GREAT feeling to sleep ALL night with no horrible feet and leg cramps. I also take Magnesium oxide and potassium (which are normal readings in blood work). I also get the sugar free tonic water and drink it through a straw.

  7. Lore Harmison
    Meadville PA 16335

    This was very interesting to me. I have had RLS for some time, last night for the first time I drank almost a whole Bottle of the Tonic, slept for the first time all through the night, however I think I do not need to drink that much. I also have Depression and Anxiety and am on Medication, this morning I feel a little bit more jittery, any suggestions???? Schweppes is familiar to me, because I am German, I will try to see if I get it through the German Deli in Texas, thought I saw it advertised. The Tonic Water does not taste good by itself, thank you for everyone who had different suggestions. Perhaps a Glass at night would be enough????? Also the Sugar Content is very high and thank you for mentioning that Tonic Water also comes Sugar free. To each and all best Wishes.

  8. Michael

    My Gran has been drinking tonic water to help with leg cramps she’d get at night, per the suggestion of a family member. Tonight she was having some after after her foot was cramping in bed. She commented on how quickly it worked, after just a few ouncesounces, & said she wondered why it did. Curious myself I googled it & was amazed at what I found! She’s 83, has been using it as a natural remedy for years, & swears by it. I understand the risks of side effects & know what to look out for, but I think I’ll try it for myself. I work in construction as a framer in the hot desert climate of Phoenix, AZ. I read comments about it also helping with back pain so I’m curious if it’ll help with my back pain & occasional muscle spasmsspasms/cramps. I’ll try to remember to follow up with the results. Thanks for sharing everyone, whether it helps out not I learned something new today!

  9. Kim

    I have had severe cramps for years. I used to take prescription Quinine until the FDA changed it’s uses.
    After finally giving in and going to the doctor last week she ran a lot of tests. She told me to drink 2 glasses of tonic water with added lime slices everyday. I’m happy to report I’ve been cramp free since that day! And I really like the taste of my concoction.
    I have also been taking magnesium oxide for years to help relax the tight muscles.

    • Mary

      You might try magnesium malate – I’m a bariatric patient (with night leg cramps), and the malate absorbs better. I heard about drinking tonic water and tried it last night for the first time, and I had a very good night. The sugar is nasty for my system so I’m going to look into herbal/pill alternatives.

      • Rich

        Tonic water is also available in ‘diet’ version without sugar from several brands.

      • BJ

        try the sugar free – you really can’t tell the difference. Although artificial sweetner is not very good for you either.

  10. Keith
    Fo Ryan Lauderdale, FL

    My wife gets up at nights rubbing her calves and screaming for pain. We tried 8ozs can of quinine water and pain went away.

    • Salome

      I was suffering from Rsl for over 6 years,at night it’s the worst,during the day and even going to the movies it was shocking .I am 66yrs old. I was on Sifrol pills for so long,and took 2 pills 2 hrs before bed mmmmm .But last weekend I started looking on the Webb and came across someone that’s using the tonic ,now 6 days ago I am off my pills and drinking a 3/4 glass of Schweppes Diet Indian Tonic just before I sleep….what a find ,what a gem….I sleep like a baby,no more restless legs at night nor during the day…..I even had pain down my leg in front ,that’s gone too….my hubby is happy ,I am happy and a HUGE thanks to Schweppes for putting some Quinine in the tonic…..if you know of anyone that has RSL tell them to give it a go …..loving my legs now.

      Sent from my iPad

  11. Geoff L
    St. Louis

    If you live in England or anywhere else they sell Schweppes, try the Bitter Lemon. I love that stuff, especially in the summer. Unfortunately, after drinking it for 20+ years I developed an allergy to quinine, so I can’t drink it anymore. If you live in North America try the Canada Dry Bitter Lemon.

  12. Mike

    I stumbled upon my remedy for lower back pain. I got half way through a glass of gin & tonic and immediately felt better.
    I had assumed it was the gin.
    I tried other alcoholic drinks with no benefit.
    Then during a conversion with a strange they informed me it was the quinine, not the gin.
    Absolutely true.
    I have not seen any comments about tonic water relieving back pain, but if you suffer, try it.
    Magic for me.

  13. John

    About three hours ago I drank about a full glass of tonic water,* which contain quinine… not knowing what quinine was, I googled it. Now that I am aware of its’ side affect, I will be more careful on how I consume it: how much and at what time. As of now I have not experience any side affects. *My Dr. recommended it.

  14. kimann

    Dr told me that this may help with calf pain spasms. I can’t believe how much it has. I only drink 6 oz @ night time. No don’t add booze! The only thing with me I got the lime one which has has high fructose. It only has been a few days but it’s been such a relief to be able to stretch & turn while sleeping instead of painful muscle spasms so bad I can see my calf muscle hard as a rock & looks like it want’s to burst out of my leg.

  15. Greg

    If they know its the quinine in the water producing the reaction, then it’s not idiopathic.

  16. louise
    hartland mi

    Try 2 teaspoons of yellow mustard, excellent for leg cramps

  17. Barbara
    Southern orange county

    I have had unbearable leg cramps since I was 10 and RLS for the last four years. I take calcium, magnesium, potassium but yet no relief. I have been asking my Doctors at Kaiser and my current health care provider. Absolutely no one cares. I go for days and nights with no sleep. Today its three days with no sleep. No one understands and never has. I sympathize with every one that suffers with this hell. I have tried everything and after reading these comments I will try the tonic water which I absolutely love. Mix it with cranberry juice…its delish. If it works, its very worth it.

    • Lucky

      I’ve had Restless Leg Syndrome for about 10 years. Most people don’t understand what torture it is. At first my doctor put me on Requip, but the side effects were serious. Every afternoon I would start taking the Requip, and within 1/2 hour I would be groggy and unable to function for the rest of the evening. Then another doctor put me on Mirapex. What a wonderful relief. No side effects for me, and If I miss a pill, I take one, and in 15 or 20 minutes the shakes and jerking go away. I no longer suffer just knowing that relief is that close anytime I need it

    • Brad

      I mix mine with Gatorade, tastes OK.

  18. Adam

    I told my dr about my restless leg. My doctor suggested a product from the local pharmacy that was marketed for that that the active ingredient was Quinine.

    I tried one dose and my neck started swelling up and my joints started hurting. I was on the job site so they dosed me with Benadryl and took me to the ER. Was told that I was allergic to it.

    • Cheryl
      Rockford, IL

      My neurologist prescribes garapentin for the restless legs. It does wonders. I am taking 3 -300 mg capsules a day. One in the morning because I’d sometimes get RLS during the day and two in the evening. The maximum that can be taken a day is 9, so I have a ways to go. I also started taking iron supplements at the same time an my energy level is now beyond belief. By the way, I am 71 and have had RLS for decades.

  19. Duane

    I was at my eye doctor last week for my annual check up and mentioned that I was experiencing a slight “fluttering” in both my eyelids. She said that quinine water might help reduce the fluttering. I bought a bottle on the way home and had a glass that night. The flutter seemed to leave BUT I noticed that my tinnitus was elevated. This morning I decided to resaerch quinine and have discovered that tinnitus is one of the side effects of quinine water. My tinnitus had been a low level (easily ignored) but is now VERY present. I hope that it will return to its low, tollerable low level soon. I wish I had not tried the quinine treatment for my eye flutter.

  20. Larry
    United States

    Any information about restless legs would be appreciated

    • Lucky

      About 10 years ago I started having symptoms of RLS. My legs needed to move. Occasionally they would jerk for no apparent reason. I had to get up several time at night just to walk until my legs calmed down. I began to understand why RLS could drive people to be come alcoholics or commit suicide. My doctor first prescribed Requip, but the side effects would make me groggy and unable to function for the rest of the evening. Then a doctor switched me to Mirapex. It’s a miracle for me. Quick relief with no side effects. I am near the maximum dosage so I just hoping that it doesn’t get worse.

      I’ve never used it, I just read a note from another person who claims that relief was excellent with Gabapentin.

  21. rose
    Campbellton, New Brunswick

    this is my first time drinking this tonic water, not too bad tasting, but only one glass, I do not have the leg cramps, mine is more like a crawling feeling, hate it so bad, feeling fed up! Also can’t sleep with this problem, living on 3 hrs a night

    • Trudy

      That sounds more like Restless Leg Syndrome – entirely different. Google that because there are some things that might help. Good Luck!

    • C. H.

      What you are describing sounds like Restless Legs Syndrome. I have Sensory Polyneuropathy (disease of the nerves in the feet) and RLS. I really believe that they are one in the same in my case. Your doctor can put you on medication to help. Even with my medication, I still sometimes have symptoms and have to take an extra pill. It’s funny, but my RLS was not bad until I was put on Ropinirole. I experienced an immediate augmentation (increase) of my symptoms (sometimes this happens with this drug, according to what I read) and now have to take the medication every evening. It sounds like your symptoms are already bad, and you need some help so that you can get some sleep!

  22. Paul
    St Petersburg , Fla

    I had trouble with hip and groin pain, until I stopped drinking Tonic, it seems statins and tonic are a bad combination.

  23. J

    I too get feet and leg cramps. I hate the taste of coconut water but will try Schwepps Tonic water. I will try drinking more water. Another person said I needed more iron.

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