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Tonic Water Can Help Prevent Nighttime Leg Cramps

Q. I have suffered with leg cramps for years. I used to buy quinine in the drugstore until the FDA banned it.

Then I discovered tonic water. I drink a glass every other night and my leg cramps are no more. If I don’t, they are back within two weeks.

Someone who has never had these cramps cannot understand the pain. In my case, it lasts for two days. If the FDA ever bans the small amount of quinine in tonic water, I will go out and buy every bottle I can find and store them in my cellar!

A. It is unlikely the FDA will ever ban quinine in tonic water. The dose is low and the hue and cry would be huge, mostly from lovers of gin and tonic.

Many others agree that tonic water helps them avoid nighttime leg cramps. Here are a few stories:

“My doctor prescribed a gin and tonic at night before bedtime for my leg cramps and nervous hand syndrome. I had been getting up almost every night and walking the cramps off. I had tried the soap in the bed and mustard, neither of which helped.

“After starting the tonic before bedtime, I have gotten up only 4 times in the past 12-15 months.” CL Wilder

“I had 3 knee replacements on the same knee and had to wear very uncomfortable braces for 6 weeks each time. I got very painful and long tasting leg cramps while wearing the brace after the first replacement and would scream and yell and scared the heck out of my dogs.

“I called the doctor sobbing and he asked if I had any tomato juice at home and I said yes. He told me pour it down my throat-no sips, just to guzzle it down and the cramp would disappear.

“To my amazement, as soon as I finished the glass the cramp totally disappeared! The leg was still sore but the cramp was gone. I had friends buy me lots of canned tomato juice and always kept them by my bed because it was very had to get moving with a leg brace and a cramp.

“Any tomato juice will do, even V8.

“I have told friends about it and they say it has really helped them. My doctor said that the tomato juice worked because it hit the stomach and didn’t have to be digested.

“I also tried the quinine but it made me sick. There is always tomato juice in my house and at the Senior Center where I volunteer.” Martha

“I’ve been plagued with nocturnal leg cramps for several years, and nothing seemed to keep me from getting up three to six times every night to walk out the cramps…including sugar-free tonic. (I’m an active, youthful 72 with a number of structural aggravations and very mild peripheral neuropathy.)

“I know that over-exercising, including walking, is a major trigger… BUT, just sitting around “resting” makes it worse! For the past year, I have been taking a Pilates class once a week, which I augment with riding my stationary bicycle and a variety of daily calf/shin exercises and stretches that I cleared with my long-time physical therapist. Thankfully, the worst of the problem has disappeared. However, I am puzzled why the only time I have leg cramps now is an hour or so before I am to wake up… maybe two-three times a month. Pursuing physical therapy as a way of life is the most sensible route to relief, since there are myriad other benefits to be gained!” AR McR

Keep in mind that some people are very sensitive to quinine and must avoid it. If you develop rash or unusual bleeding, don’t delay in seeking medical attention. Ask the physician to rule out idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (yes, it’s a huge mouthful; abbreviated ITP).

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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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