There is much confusion with regards to diabetes and quinine, whether in the form of Quinine Sulphate (prescribed in the past for diabetic leg cramps), or tonic water, which contains small amounts of quinine. Originally discovered in cinchina tree bark, Europeans in the 17th century first used quinine to treat fevers caused by malaria. It has since been used to treat lupus and arthritis, and most commonly leg cramps, a frequent problem for people with diabetes. Quinine sulfate was often prescribed for leg cramps as an “off-label” treatment; that is, not officially approved for that purpose. However, it has been found that larger doses can pose serious health risks, and some people are sensitive to even the smaller amounts in tonic water. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning against its use [].


Diabetes, Quinine Sulfate, and Side Effects


An overdose of quinine is actually known as cinchonism. Milder symptoms include headache, abdominal pain, sweatiness, itchiness and rashes, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, impaired hearing or blurred vision. In rare cases, there are far more serious conditions that can occur, including anaphylactic shock, heart irregularities or kidney failure.


Diabetes and Quinine: Tonic Water


For people dealing with leg cramps due to diabetes, quinine is still discussed as a possible treatment. The quinine in tonic water is strictly regulated; therefore, tonic water sold in supermarkets contains very little quinine. However, even this small amount may be dangerous for those who are sensitive to it. While some people say they’ve been cured of leg and foot cramps after drinking tonic water, and that they have been drinking it for years with no problems, others report serious reactions which back up the scientific data. This can include skin rashes, potentially fatal blood disorders and high fever. Because it’s impossible to know who will be sensitive to quinine, it is safest to try alternative methods of treatment and prevention.


Diabetes and Quinine: Alternatives


There are alternative ways to treat and perhaps even prevent foot and leg cramps due to diabetes. Quinine substitutions that may help alleviate cramps include diet supplementation, if vitamin or mineral deficiencies are found (low potassium is a common culprit, as is low iron). Some medications may contribute to leg cramps, including those for blood pressure, allergies, and anti-depressants, so changing the dosage or eliminating these may offer relief for sufferers of diabetes. Quinine might not be necessary if alcohol and caffeine consumption are curtailed, as they have been found to contribute to leg cramps. There are physical activities that can help also, such as gentle walking, massage, relaxation techniques and hot baths. Practicing these before bedtime may reduce the risk of developing cramps in the middle of the night.