Tonic water benefits: Is tonic water good for you? The 7 side effects to watch out for

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Tonic water has been around since the 1950s but has become more popular in recent years. The original formula for tonic water consisted of small quantities of powdered quinine, sugar and either sparkling or soda water. People continue to love tonic water for its signature bitter but sweet taste – perfect alongside alcoholic spirits such as gin. Quinine is the compound that gives tonic water its bitterness, and is the same chemical compound used to embolden bitter flavours in other products, such as bitter lemon drinks.

Quinine in tonic water can be used to treat two main health conditions, which can vary in severity.

The compound can help treat malaria, a serious illness that causes a fever and is brought on by a protozoan parasite that invades the red blood cells.

Quinine pills are available to assist in the treatment of malaria by killing the parasite that caused it, but these pills don’t work as a preventative measure.

Decreasing leg cramps is also a benefit of quinine, and tablets can be available over-the-counter depending on where you live.

Is tonic water good for health?

In short, no, tonic water isn’t the best for a healthy lifestyle due to its high amounts of added sugar.

The small amounts of quinine found in tonic beverages isn’t enough to help treat diseases or symptoms like leg cramps.

Tonic water is also a relatively high-calorie, high-sugar drink that is often made with high fructose corn syrup or aspartame.

While you might think swapping out the full-fat kind for diet or slimline tonic water may do the trick, it won’t as diet drinks are loaded with artificial sweeteners.

Drinking sweetened drinks can contribute to weight gain and blood sugar imbalances if consumed in high quantities, especially when mixed with alcohol, juices and other sugar-laden ingredients.

Quinine has been officially approved for use in carbonated drinks as a flavour additive, meaning it’s fine within this context.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved quinine for use in drinks as long as it is present in amounts less than 83 parts per million (PPM).

When consumed in exceedingly high amounts, it’s even possible to experience side effects from quinine in tonic water.

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However, this is not likely to happen as the quantities used in drinks today is considered minimal and extremely unlikely to pose a risk.

For example, the amount of quinine found in half-a-litre of tonic water – assuming it contains 83 ppm – equals about 41.5 milligrams, but malaria treatments often contain about 540mg or more and are recommended three times a day.

This means that malaria treatments involve taking 40 times more than is found in half-a-litre of tonic water.

Quinine and tonic water have the potential to react adversely to some medications, as well, so they should be avoided by people on:

  • Blood thinners
  • Antidepressants
  • Antibiotics
  • Antacids, seizure medications
  • Statins

While drinking normal amounts of tonic water isn’t likely to cause adverse side effects, some people may do so if they’re drinking too much or are overly sensitive to quinine.

These side effects can include:

  • Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps
  • Ringing in the ears and hearing loss
  • Changes in vision
  • Weakness and shakiness
  • Confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Changes in blood sugar

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