or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bitter Pill

I'm not the one to be giving medical advice, god knows, but did you know that if you have muscle cramps, you might be able to treat them with plain old tonic water?

You can't just rub it on your muscles: you have to drink it, which, I understand, would be a problem for some people. The thing that gives tonic water its delicious/ghastly taste (depending on your point of view) is quinine, which is, to say the very least, a bitter substance. My friend Ansuya, who grew up in South Africa, had to take quinine as a preventative against malaria, so she's experienced its full-force bitterness in a way I can only imagine. Once when we were out on the town she asked me how I could enjoy a gin and tonic (the answer is "on ice"): I believe her exact words were, "How the hell can you drink that?"

Simple. Tonic water does contain quinine, but it's very dilute, and sugared up a fair bit: it has as much sugar as any other carbonated pop. Tonic is bitter, but it's a controlled sort of bitter, ameliorated with sugar, flavoured with lemon and lime, and usually buffered with gin (although, being an extremely infrequent drinker, I prefer tonic by itself, and in fact had a nice big glass of it while I was writing this). All people naturally love sugar and salt: it's genetically engineered into us. To develop a taste for sour and bitter things requires some palatal sophistication. I can't drink beer, and I don't really get wine (as Bernard Black, his tastebuds ruined by a lifetime of cigarettes and cheap booze, said, "It's all waffle! Nobody is prepared to admit that wine actually doesn't have a taste!"), but I sure do love a gin and tonic on a hot day.

If you mean to use tonic water as a treatment for cramp, be prepared to pee a lot. A litre of tonic water has about 80 milligrams of quinine, while the standard dose to treat muscle cramps is 325 milligrams, so you're going to need about a gallon of tonic. (That gallon of tonic will also give you about 650 calories, so you'd better eat lightly during the day.) Perhaps this is a better solution:

I treat my leg pains as follows: 6 ounces of tonic water and 2 ounces of gin over ice. Repeat twice. After that, the leg pains are still there, but who cares?

If you take too much quinine, you can develop a medical condition called "cinchonism", which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, deafness, and severe headache. The name "cinchonism" comes from the word "cinchona", the name of the tree from which quinine is extracted. The word "quinine" comes from Spanish "quina", from a Quechua word, "kina", meaning "tree bark".

In North America, tonic water is usually served out of a can, or, in a bar, out of the same soda gun they use to serve everything else carbonated. In England, you get a little tiny six-ounce glass bottle, and it's nice. Civilized.


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