Quinine

Quinine is a naturally occurring plant material that is obtained from the cinchona tree bark. It is a white powdery matter. This is a small tree or a large shrub.

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The cinchona is native to South America. This tree may have been found growing naturally along the coastline extending from Venezuela to Bolivia southwards during the 19th century. The bark of this shrub is also called the Jesuit's bark or the Peruvian Bark. The bark of this plant has a reputation for its therapeutic properties. Cinchona bark yield several alkaloids, including quinine, cinchonidine, cinchonine, quinamine and quinidine. Among all these alkaloids obtained from the cinchona bark, quinine is perhaps the most valuable and it is used in a drug meant for treating malaria. All these alkaloids, except for sulphate of cinchonine, are said to possess febrifugal properties.

The term "quinine" has been derived from the Peruvian Indian expressions "kina", which when translated into English literally denotes "bark of the tree." Traditionally, people have been using quinine for treating malaria as well as a number of other health conditions. Currently, several anti-malarial drugs contain quinine. However, several alternatives are also available in the market these days to treat malaria.

Jesuit missionaries from South America introduced quinine in Europe sometime in the 17th century. In those days, quinine was called the "fever tree" or the "miracle tree", because the bark of this tree was found to be effectual in treating fevers that accompany malaria. For several decades, people only considered quinine useful for treating malaria. However, two French pharmacists and chemists J. B. Caventou and P. J. Pelletier were the first to isolate quinine in a crystalline form in the 1820s. Later, American organic chemists R. B. Woodward and W. Doering were the first to make synthetic quinine by 1944.

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From the chemical point of view, the quinine molecule is not only large, but complex too. It is also the most valuable alkaloid obtained from the bark of cinchona tree. This naturally occurring substance works by impeding the reproduction as well as the development of "plasmodium vivax" - the parasite that is responsible for malaria and is carried by mosquitoes. In effect, these parasites virtually disappear from the blood stream of the patients owing to the action of quinine. As a result, quinine helps to provide relief from the symptoms associated with malaria. Nevertheless, the symptoms may relapse when treatment with quinine is discontinued. As quinine does not kill all the parasites, a few of the remaining pathogens invade the blood stream again causing the revival of the condition and reappearance of the symptoms. Therefore, quinine is not a permanent treatment for malaria. During the period after the World War II, several alternative drugs have come to the market and they are really effective in treating malaria. Chloroguanide and chloroquine are two examples of such effective anti-malarial drugs.

In its original and unadulterated state, quinine is a white or colorless powder having a sharp bitter flavour. In fact, tonic water, which was developed in the form of a prophylactic anti-malarial medication, also tastes bitter owing to the presence of quinine. These days several tonics and gins have a bitter flavour as they contain quinine. In addition to being an active ingredient of anti-malarial drugs, quinine is also widely employed for treating muscle cramps.

Health benefits

Quinine is extremely popular in South America, where it has various different applications. People in this part of the globe are of the view that this naturally occurring substance derived from cinchona bark possesses the ability to treat specific cancer forms, including mesenteric cancer and liver cancer. In addition, quinine is also used for treating a variety of other conditions including common colds, amoebic infections, dyspepsia, diarrhea, pneumonia, and even varicose veins as well as sciatica. This herbal remedy is also used for curing hangovers among other conditions.

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This herbal medication is well known in Europe for its anti-malarial as well as anti-spasmodic attributes. There was a time when people used quinine for reducing fever, in addition to curing a number of other conditions like anemia, irregular heartbeats, leg cramps and also as an anesthetic. In several cases, it has also been used in the form of a bactericidal.

Several people employ quinine in the form of a throat astringent. You can crush quinine into a powdered form and use it to put off tooth decay. This herb also possesses anti-inflammatory properties and has the aptitude to cure conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes medical practitioners recommend the use of tonic water prepared with quinine to treat severe cases of arthritis. Use of this tonic water is said to make the affected limbs stronger.

Quinine also possesses muscle relaxant properties and, hence, it can help to lessen severe leg cramps. In addition, this herbal medicine is also known to be useful in providing relief from leg pain and pain in the lumbar (lower back) region.

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Quinine can be taken orally with a view to aid treating a condition called babesiosis, which is basically caused by a parasite transmitted by ticks. When taken in combination with clindamycin, quinine takes roughly a week to produce the desired results. Conversely, Indians used quinine for combating the effects of severe cold temperatures.

The bark of cinchona tree is a valuable element in several herbal medicines and is generally used in the form of a tonic as well as digestive stimulant to treat conditions such as gastro-intestinal (GI) problems, and indigestion. It is also used in the form of an appetite stimulant.

Some particular types of folk medicine used by people in the southern regions of America employ the bark of cinchona tree for treating dissimilar cancer forms, for instance liver cancer, breast cancer, cancer of the spleen, mesenteric cancer and several other types of cancer. In addition, people in these regions also employ this herb for treating dysentery, dyspepsia, fever, malaria, lumbago, typhoid, and pneumonia.

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The quinine bark has numerous applications in the herbal medicine system of Europe. This herb possesses anti-malarial, anti-spasmodic and anti-protozoal properties. It is widely used for reducing fevers as well as in the form of a bitter tonic. In addition, quinine is also employed for curing anemia, erratic heartbeats, as well as leg cramps.

In its powdered form quinine is regularly used in tooth powders mainly because of its astringent attribute.

Side effects and cautions

The bark of the cinchona tree encloses specific natural substances known as quinine alkaloids. Consuming quinine alkaloids may result in many unwanted side effects. In fact, all drugs containing this substance are exactingly prescription drugs and they should only be sold on the recommendation of a qualified medical practitioner.

When using quinine alkaloids in elevated doses, it is essential to look for contraindications and warning signs mentioned on the product labels.

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