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Is Bitter Tonic Causing Your Terrible Headache?

In people who are very sensitive to quinine, just drinking a few ounces of tonic water might be enough to trigger a terrible headache.

Many readers recall the days when their doctors prescribed quinine to prevent nighttime leg cramps. That era is long gone; the FDA banned over-the-counter sale of quinine products in 1994. In late 2006, it announced that no quinine-containing drugs were to be manufactured, distributed or prescribed for any reason other than the treatment of malaria. The agency made it clear that the potential for serious or even lethal reactions outweighed any potential benefit of relief from leg cramps through quinine use.

Tonic Water Is Still on the Market:

The FDA has never banned tonic water, and many people find that drinking a few ounces of tonic water in the evening helps ward off midnight attacks of cramps. Keep in mind that, although the dose of quinine in tonic water is low, some people are sensitive even to small amounts of this compound.

Q. I’ve been drinking tonic water for leg cramps, but I developed severe pressure in the right side of my head and my temple. I was taking a few ounces of tonic water each night for leg cramps. Could this be causing the problem?

Is Quinine Causing a Terrible Headache?

A. The active ingredient in tonic water is quinine. This natural compound gives tonic its distinctive bitter taste.

Quinine was once prescribed for nighttime leg cramps, but the FDA no longer permits that use because of serious side effects. Although rare, a blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) can be lethal.

Some people are very sensitive to the other possible adverse effects of quinine, which include headache, ringing in the ears, anxiety, confusion, visual disturbances, skin rash and fatigue. Perhaps your evening beverage is causing your terrible headache.

Other Ways to Prevent Leg Cramps:

We are sending you our Guide to Leg Pain with other remedies for nighttime leg cramps including pickle juice, yellow mustard, soap under the sheet and stretches before bedtime. All of these are well worth a try, and we don’t believe any of them will cause a terrible headache or have other potentially dangerous side effects.

3/26/18 redirected to: https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/articles/sensitive-to-quinine-beware-tonic-water/

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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