What Are the Benefits of Quinine in Tonic Water?


Quinine is a drug used to treat malaria. It has been used off-label to treat leg cramps, but the side effects outweigh the benefits in this case. Modern tonic water contains much less quinine than is necessary for any medical treatment.


  • Quinine is found in cinchona bark and was used by native South Americans to treat malaria. Europeans first encountered the drug in the mid-seventeenth century.

Early Uses

  • Quinine was originally added to tonic water as an anti-malarial treatment. According to legend, gin and tonics were born as a way to mask quinine's bitterness.

Malaria Treatment

  • Both natural and synthetic quinine are still used today to treat strains of malaria that have grown resistant to other safer drugs.

Leg Cramps

  • The FDA has not approved quinine as a treatment for leg cramps. It has dangerous side effects, including blood clotting and death, that may be an acceptable risk for life-threatening disease but not for less serious conditions.

Modern Tonic Water

  • Today, tonic water only contains twenty milligrams of quinine per six ounces. It would take up to five gallons of tonic water a day to treat malaria.

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