What is Tonic Water & How Is It Bad For You?

by Jay | Updated on November 16th, 2022

What is tonic water?

Tonic water is a bitter-tasting soft drink that contains quinine. Quinine is a frequent malaria therapy. Some individuals feel it can also aid in treating leg cramps and restless legs syndrome.

Tonic water is a carbonated beverage with a high concentration of quinine. Quinine is a bitter crystalline chemical found in cinchona bark used as a tonic, malaria, and babesiosis medicine.

close-up photography of chilled wine glass with clear beverage and slice of lemon

Quinine is derived from the cinchona tree’s bark. This tree is endemic to Central and South America, the Caribbean islands, and western Africa.

For ages, people have ingested quinine in tonic water to help cure malaria infections.

What is quinine?

Quinine imparts a bitter taste to tonic water.

Doctors continue to utilize quinine in the treatment of malaria. However, evidence indicates due to quinine’s unfavorable effects at therapeutic dosages, other medicines may ultimately replace quinine as a malaria therapy.

Researchers are concerned about frequent medicinal usage because of the drug’s poor tolerability and difficulty complying with sophisticated dosage protocols.

Quinine has a harsh flavor when used as a food ingredient. Therefore, it is typically added to tonic water by manufacturers.

Some individuals use tonic water to ease overnight leg cramps, although there is little proof that it works.

Is quinine safe?

Quinine is considered safe to eat in modest dosages by experts. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States has permitted up to 83 parts per million in carbonated beverages.

The FDA also requires manufacturers to include quinine on the label so that people may readily find it.

Quinine may cause allergic responses in certain persons. If this is the case, a person should avoid tonic water and other quinine-containing goods.

The following people should avoid using drugs containing quinine:

  • Those who are pregnant or nursing, as well as those who have irregular cardiac rhythms
  • people suffering from liver or renal illness
  • people who have low blood sugar levels

Some drugs have the potential to interact with quinine. These are some examples:

  • antidepressants
  • antacids
  • statins
  • blood thinners
  • neuromuscular-blocking drugs
  • antibiotics
  • seizure medication

The amount of quinine in tonic water is unlikely to interfere with a person’s prescription or cause problems for those with the above medical conditions. However, people with these risk factors should not use quinine supplements or drugs unless a doctor has prescribed them.

The Advantages of Drinking Tonic Water

Tonic water has no proven nutritional advantages.

Many individuals feel that drinking tonic water aids in the treatment of nightly leg cramps and restless legs syndrome. However, there is no scientific data to back up this claim.

The FDA has advised clinicians not to use quinine to treat leg cramps or restless legs syndrome.

Tonic water is a carbonated soft drink with no nutritional value and may include sugar. In addition, tonic water has a characteristic bitter flavor due to the presence of quinine. While not harmful, tonic water provides no advantages and may result in an unneeded increase in calorie consumption.

Side effects of tonic water

Tonic water has a very low concentration of quinine. The chances of suffering any adverse effects from drinking tonic water are small. However, quinine side effects might include the following:

  • ringing in the ears
  • stomach pains and vomiting
  • nervousness
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • confusion

Quinine, as a drug, may have more severe negative effects. The following are some of the possible negative effects of using quinine as a medication:

  • erratic heartbeat
  • kidney harm
  • a very severe allergic response
  • eyesight or eye problems due to electrolyte imbalance
  • hemorrhage thrombocytopenia complications (decreased blood platelets)
  • Toxicity of the lungs

People who drink tonic water daily may want to think about the extra sugar and calories they are ingesting. Soft drinks, especially tonic water, have minimal nutritional value but contribute to an individual’s daily calorie consumption.

The quinine in tonic water contributes to its bitter flavor. Tonic water should not be mistaken for a healthy drink because it contains sugar and adds no nutritional value.
Tonic water will not aid a person suffering from leg cramps or restless legs syndrome. This is because tonic water has a very low concentration of quinine.

It is uncommon that a person may encounter even minor negative effects from drinking tonic water. Still, if they take quinine as a prescription, they should be cautious and report any side effects to a doctor.

Is tonic water healthy?

No, in a nutshell.

In truth, the term “tonic water” is a bit misleading. The bubbly drink begins with carbonated water spiked with quinine, a bitter chemical traditionally used to treat malaria.

That’s not bad, but most store-bought variations include fruit extracts and sugar. When you add 4 ounces of tonic water to a normal cocktail, you’re drinking 11 grams of sugar – the same amount as if you poured 4 ounces of Sprite.

What science has to say

We all know that eating too much sugar is unhealthy for you. The more sugar-sweetened drinks we consume, the higher our chance of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer, especially among women.

The sweetness in tonic water is sometimes derived from high-fructose corn syrup, but the news isn’t much better. Researchers discovered a relationship between consuming syrup-filled drinks and an increased risk of heart disease in 2015.

Tonic water appears to be distinct from the soft drinks that come to mind when we hear those numbers. However, looking at the nutrition labels on a bottle of tonic water and a bottle of Coke, you’ll discover that the two have nearly comparable calorie counts.

Most of us drink Coke and tonic water in different ways — perhaps a full can of the former but only a few ounces to complement a cocktail. So, although the first gin and tonic isn’t a cause for concern, the extra sugar becomes an issue after you’re on your third or fourth.

What about diet tonic water?

Making healthier choices isn’t as simple as drinking diet tonic water. For example, calorie-free sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet’N Low) are controversial in the health community.

According to some studies, artificial sweeteners prepare your body for a sugar fix but fail to deliver. On the other hand, the research found that if you’re left desiring sweets after drinking a soda, you’re more likely to eat – and keep eating.

The long-term influence of sweeteners is unknown. And they have minimal effect on weight loss. In reality, the inverse may be true: Diet-beverage users may acquire weight and be at a higher risk of chronic illnesses.

What should be used instead

We’re all for a good gin and tonic now and then. But, instead of tonic water, try seltzer, which is often pure water with bubbles.

To improve the taste, put in a squeeze of lemon. Finally, add a few bitters to simulate quinine flavor if you’re using the seltzer as a cocktail mixer. Cheers!

Who should stay away from quinine?

If you’ve had an allergic response to tonic water or quinine in the past, don’t attempt it again. You should also avoid taking quinine or drinking tonic water if you:

  • Have an irregular cardiac rhythm, particularly a longer QT interval, and have low blood sugar levels (because quinine can cause your blood sugar to drop)
  • Are pregnant, have kidney or liver disease, are taking medications such as blood thinners, antidepressants, antibiotics, antacids, and statins (these medications may not prevent you from taking quinine or drinking tonic water, but you should tell your doctor about these, and any other medications you take if quinine is prescribed to you)

Where can you get quinine?

While gin, tonic, vodka, and tonic are bar classics, tonic water is becoming increasingly adaptable. It’s now blended with tequila, brandy, and just about any other alcoholic beverage you can think of. In addition, citrus tastes are frequently added, so if you see “bitter lemon” or “bitter lime,” you know the drink contains tonic water flavored with sour fruit.

Tonic water, on the other hand, isn’t solely used to blend with alcohol. For example, tonic water can be used in the batter to fry fish or in desserts that incorporate gin and other liquors.


If tonic water is your preferred mixer, you’re probably fine with a touch now and again. But don’t drink it expecting it to heal nocturnal leg cramps or other disorders like restless leg syndrome. The research does not support tonic water or quinine used to treat these illnesses.


Jay is a health and wellness enthusiast with expertise in water quality and nutrition. As a knowledgeable advocate for holistic well-being, Jay successfully manages Type 2 Diabetes through informed lifestyle choices. Committed to sharing reliable and authoritative insights, Jay combines firsthand experience with a passion for enhancing health."