October 2, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Quinine/Tonic Water

The tonic water I drink says "contains quinine" across the front?

What is that? Is it some sort of health claim?

-- Amanda Navarra

(city unknown), TX

Quinine was discovered in the 17th century by Spanish conquistadores "visiting" Peru.

Although it can be created synthetically, it was originally extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree and mainly used as an anti-malarial agent.

Since the flavor was so appalling, it was added to sugar water (hence the idea of "tonic" water) for more pleasurable consumption.

In the 20th century it became a popular remedy for people experiencing leg cramps or arthritis.

However, the Food & Drug Administration banned over-the-counter sales in 1994 due to troublesome cardiac side effects.

There is nothing particularly healthy or unhealthy about it; it is not a nutrient.

The reason why tonic water lists quinine prominently is because some people are highly sensitive to it.

So, even though tonic water contains extremely low levels, the warning is there mainly as a 'cover your arse' tactic.

By the way, tonic water contains as many calories -- and just as much sugar -- as regular soda. It is not bitter seltzer water!

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