In the heat of a summer afternoon, a tall cold glass of tonic water can seem very appealing. It may even have health benefits, such as warding off nighttime leg cramps. But if you get carried away and turn one glass into two or three, is that dangerous? (Mind you, we are talking only about the tonic WITHOUT the gin. Three alcoholic drinks have clear dangers.) How much tonic water is safe for you to drink?
Unexpected Advantages of Drinking Tonic Water:
Q. I am normally a mosquito magnet. By this time of year I would usually have dozens of bites and the itching would be intolerable. I would turn into a bloody mess from constant scratching.
This year I have been drinking tonic water two or three times a day and I haven’t had a mosquito bite in weeks. As an added bonus, I haven’t experienced leg cramps while cycling. In hot weather I used to cramp up after two or three hours of hard riding.
Is there a limit on how much tonic you can drink before overdosing on quinine? I have read in your column that too much could be dangerous, but how much is too much? How much tonic water is safe?
Tonic Water as a Source of Quinine:
A. Doctors used to prescribe quinine pills to prevent leg cramps. The standard dose was between 200 and 300 mg of quinine.
The FDA banned quinine for this purpose but continues to allow it in tonic water. A liter normally has 83 mg of quinine. An eight-ounce glass would therefore have roughly 20 mg, about one-tenth the lowest dose doctors prescribed for leg cramps. Even three glasses daily should be OK as long as you are not sensitive to quinine.
Some susceptible people develop a dangerous blood disorder after even small doses of quinine. For them, no amount of tonic water is safe! Symptoms of quinine toxicity include digestive upset, headache, ringing in the ears, visual disturbances, skin rash and arrhythmias.
It makes sense to pay attention to your reactions, as the threshold for problems such as tinnitus may vary from one person to another.