This tonic water ingredient is being touted to be a potential cure for the coronavirus—but does the science back up the hype? Learn more about quinine and the COVID-19 connection.

Jessica Ball, MS RD
May 06, 2020
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There have been rumors circulating about the compound quinine and if it might help protect you from COVID-19. One chiropractor touted drinking tonic water as a way to stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic (in a since deleted video viewed over 20 million times). But while there is a connection between the quinine in your tonic water and some medications, it won't protect you from the new coronavirus. The best way to protect yourself and others is to practice CDC guidelines including social distancing, wearing a face mask, washing your hands frequently and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.

Here's what you need to know about quinine and why it's been making headlines recently.

What is Quinine?

Quinine is a compound derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree, and is typically used to treat mosquito borne diseases, like malaria. It is not used to prevent the disease, but rather to kill the organism responsible for the disease after a person falls ill.

The way you've probably seen quinine is as an ingredient in tonic water. One liter of tonic water usually has around 83 mg of quinine, much lower than the therapeutic dose found in quinine medication, which is between 500 and 1,000 mg.

Quinine & Coronavirus

The myth that quinine may cure the coronavirus likely started with the attention brought to hydroxychloroquine, another drug commonly used to treat malaria that was developed based on quinine.

Hyroxychloroquine was touted by the president to be a potential cure for the coronavirus, though it is not yet supported in the scientific community and may have some negative side effects, including one death due to unintentional poisoning from ill-advised use of hydroxychloroquine.

The FDA issued a warning statement to caution against use of these drugs outside of a hospital or clinical trial setting because of the potentially serious side effects.

Because quinine is also used to treat malaria, some sources made claims that it, too, could potentially cure the coronavirus. But, there is no scientific proof that quinine prevents or cures the coronavirus. For many people it can be dangerous, including those with heart conditions or those who are pregnant. For people who are healthy, ingesting the amount of quinine in tonic water is regarded as safe. But you shouldn't be self medicating with quinine pills (or tonic water, for that matter).

Bottom Line

As the race to find a cure for COVID-19 continues, scientists are exploring more effective options in numerous clinical trials across the globe. Quinine is not a cure-all and the amount found in tonic water is minimal. However, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a gin and tonic at the end of the day in the name of mental health.