Quinine a Dangerous Tonic For Cramps

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  Last updated May 10, 2017 at 5:23 pm

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The medicinal properties of quinine has been around for centuries but this modern study reports there could be some danger.


European research published today in the journal JAMA has found a link between the long term use of quinine to treat muscle cramps or restless legs and an increased risk of death.


The study included 175,195 people in the UK and looked at individuals who took an average daily dose of around 200mg per day of quinine for either restless leg syndrome or cramps for at least a year. The study followed these people for a median of 5.7 years.


There were 11,598 deaths (4.2 per 100 person-years) among the quinine takers against 26,753 deaths (3.2 per 100 person-years) among those without. The increase in death risk was around three times greater in those younger than 50 years.


Quinine is most widely used to treat malaria and has been prescribed for restless legs syndrome and muscle cramps but it is not recommended for these conditions due to the risk of side effects. There is conflicting evidence for quinine’s ability to reduce cramps and it can cause serious, even fatal adverse events, especially in over dosage. Quinine may cause serious and life-threatening bleeding problems and kidney damage.


In Australia quinine is no longer approved for the treatment of cramps but the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) still has reports of its ongoing use.


And gin lovers need not panic – to get the same dose of quinine you would need to drink around one litre of bitter lemon or tonic water a day.



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About the Author

Paul Willis
Paul is a respected leader in the science community with an impressive career in science. He has a background in vertebrate palaeontology, studying the fossils of crocodiles and other reptiles. He also has a long history as a science communicator, with a career spanning as Director of The Royal Institution of Australia, presenter and host for Australia’s Science Channel, working for the ABC on TV programs such as Catalyst and Quantum as well as radio and online. He’s written books and articles on dinosaurs, fossils and rocks and is finding new ways to engage the people of Australia with the science that underpins their world. Follow him on Twitter @fossilcrox.

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The Royal Institution of Australia is an independent charity, and the sister organisation of the prestigious Royal Institution of Great Britain, tasked with promoting public awareness and understanding of science.


The Royal Institution of Australia is passionate about building and connecting communities engaged with science, and as such works closely with scientific organisations, institutions, universities from Australia, and leaders to inspire the next generation of innovators and to create a lasting legacy for Australia.


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