Pharmacy Fact: Miracle Weight Loss Drug Successfully Burns Fat, Also ‘Cooks’ Internal Organs
One of the first anti-obesity therapies to be introduced and marketed as a pharmaceutical was 2-4-Dinitrophenol, which entered the market around 1934.
One of the first anti-obesity therapies to be introduced and marketed as a pharmaceutical was 2-4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), which entered the market around 1934.1,2 First discovered by factory workers who accidentally consumed the compound on the job, they experienced an unexpected result of quick weight loss.1
Although DNP was known at the time to be highly effective in the manufacturing of explosives, investigators thought the weight loss potential observed by the factory workers deserved a closer look. After some research, they found that consumers of DNP experienced a heightened metabolic rate and accelerated fat metabolism due to uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation.1
In order to increase metabolism, DNP causes potential energy to dissipate as heat, instead of being converted to adenosine triphosphate, an energy-carrying molecule.1
To the investigators, these results looked like a real game-changer in the fight against obesity, so the drug was introduced to the pharmaceutical market.1,2 Soon after, physicians began prescribing DNP to treat patients with obesity in order to help improve their overall health and wellness.2
Unfortunately for these patients, the rapid generation of heat internally generated by DNP also resulted in a few other adverse effects (AEs) on the body.1,2 Due to the rapid increase in body temperature, consumption of DNP led to patients being “literally cooked to death” from the inside.2
For those patients who did not die, they either went blind, lost their sense of taste, or experienced an unpleasant rash.2
Due to the sheer number of deaths of patients who were prescribed DNP, in addition to the other common and horrific AEs DNP provided, the drug was banned in the United States in 1938 and declared unfit for human consumption.1,2,3
However, the memory of the hope that DNP provided to solve weight loss problems was not lost from social consciousness. Today, those looking to keep slim still consume this drug to reach their weight loss goals, however illegal the drug may be.3
In 2015, college student Eloise Parry, aged 21 years, took 8 pills of DNP to lose weight. In April of that year, she died from its consumption. And Parry was not alone—in 2012, Sarah Houston, a woman who was in treatment for a years-long battle with bulimia, began taking DNP in secret to lose weight before suddenly passing from consumption of the drug as well.3
Simon Thomas, PhD, a professor of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics at Newcastle University in the UK, explained that these cases represent a worrying trend in the consumption of the industrial chemical to lose weight.3
"Of all of the poisons that we deal with, DNP is the one that causes the highest proportion of fatalities. It's extremely dangerous," Thomas said in an interview with the BBC.3
Additionally, due to it having been banned in 1938, no antidote was ever created to treat patients who take the drug.2,3
"While various medical treatments to try to reduce temperature are available, in my experience they're often unsuccessful and patients may progress and die of DNP poisoning in spite of best medical care," Thomas said in the interview.3
Thomas additionally noted that patients who take DNP can progress from healthy and well to seriously ill or dying within just a few hours.3
Following the deaths of these individuals and others, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK made DNP illegal for human consumption under general food laws in 2003. However, certain online vendors continue to sell the drug while using sophisticated methods to hide their identity from federal agents. Despite their attempts at obfuscation, 30 sites selling DNP have been shut down by the FSA.3
Looking to the future, DNP cannot be banned outright in either the UK or the United States because of its legitimate use as a fertilizer and in the manufacturing of explosives and dyes. So, the fight against its illegal sale online may continue to remain an ongoing struggle.3
- Bashir A, Weaver JU. 2,4-Dinitrophenol. ScienceDirect. 2018. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/2-4-dinitrophenol. Accessed May 6, 2021.
- Kang L, Pedersen N. Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. New York, NY: Workman Publishing; 2017.
- DNP: The pills used by slimmers and bodybuilders. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-44388389. Published June 27, 2018. Accessed May 6, 2021.