Quinine: good for cramp, bad for you

Quinine can help prevent night cramps but the risks with the treatment are so great that they may outweigh any benefits.

Side effects of quinine can include nausea and myalgia, which arguably are worse than the condition the drug is trying to treat.

Quinine sulphate has been considered the most effective drug treatment for night cramps. Others include calcium channel blockers and vitamin E.

Researchers from the Ottawa Civic Hospital analyzed the findings of six major trials and discovered that quinine could reduce the number of nights with cramp by 27.4 per cent, compared with a placebo.

While side effects were uncommon, they were severe but cleared within days of stopping treatment. To be effective, quinine had to be taken on a regular basis and for at least four weeks before any benefits could be seen.

Other treatments to help alleviate cramps thought to affect 70 per cent of elderly people at some time or another include walking, stretching and massage.