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New study: Quinine for leg cramps increases risk of death

Dr. Scot Ackerman weighs in

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As early as the 1930s, people drank quinine to help cure leg cramps.

In 2006, because of efficacy and safety issues, the US Food and Drug Administration cautioned about this off-label use of quinine, citing “665 reports of adverse events with serious outcomes…including 93 deaths.”

A new study suggests that not only does quinine not help with leg cramps or restless leg syndrome, but it may actually lead to an increased risk of death.

Drinks such as bitter lemon or tonic waters contain quinine which may expose individuals to quinine daily, however, they likely don't ingest as much as those who take it in pill form.

"In tonic water, there is 83 mg of quinine per liter. When you prescribe quinine, it's usually 100 mg," said Dr. Scot Ackerman of the Ackerman Cancer Clinic. "So you would have to drink more than a liter per day."

Quinine has also been used to treat malaria.

For those seeking to treat leg cramps, Ackerman said that the first step is to determine the cause of the leg cramps or restless leg syndrome. 

"Leg cramps can be caused by all sorts of things. Early onset Parkinson's, electrolyte imbalance can give you leg cramps. Also, there can be side effects from medications."