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Quinine in tonic water: Safety, side effects, and possible benefits

Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree. This tree is native to central and South America, as well as some islands in the Caribbean and western parts of Africa.

People have consumed quinine in tonic water to help treat cases of malaria for centuries.

In this article, learn about what quinine is and what its side effects and possible benefits are.

Quinine uses

Doctors continue to use quinine as a part of malaria treatment. However, research suggests that newer treatments may eventually replace quinine as a malaria treatment.

Researchers cite the poor tolerability of the drug and difficulties complying with complex dosing routines as a reason for this.

As a food additive, quinine offers a bitter taste. Manufacturers usually add it to tonic water.

Some people use tonic water to help treat nighttime leg cramps, but there is little evidence to suggest that this is effective.

Many people believe that drinking tonic water helps with nighttime leg cramps and restless legs syndrome. However, there is no scientific evidence verifying this belief.

In fact, the FDA have warned doctors against prescribing quinine to treat leg cramps or restless legs syndrome.

Tonic water is a carbonated soft drink that may contain sugar and has little nutritional value. The quinine present in tonic water provides a distinctive bitter flavor. While not dangerous, tonic water does not have any benefits and could lead to an unnecessary increase in calorie consumption.

Side effects

Quinine is very diluted in tonic water. The likelihood of a person experiencing any side effects from drinking tonic water is slim. However, side effects of quinine can include:

  • ringing in the ears
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • nervousness
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • confusion

As a medication, quinine may have more severe side effects. Some of the possible side effects of taking quinine as a medication include:

  • abnormal heartbeat
  • kidney damage
  • severe allergic reaction
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • vision or eye issues
  • problems with bleeding
  • thrombocytopenia (decreased blood platelets)
  • lung toxicity

People who regularly drink tonic water may also want to consider the extra sugar and calories that they are consuming. Soft drinks, including tonic water, have little nutritional value but contribute to a person’s daily calorie intake.


The quinine in tonic water helps give it a bitter taste. People should not mistake tonic water for a healthful drink, as it may contain sugar and provides no additional nutritional value.

Tonic water cannot help a person with leg cramps or restless legs syndrome. The quinine in tonic water is very diluted.

It is unlikely that a person will experience even mild side effects from drinking tonic water, but they should be cautious if they are taking quinine as a medication and try to report any side effects to a doctor.

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