Dinitrophenol – A Killer Drug, Literally!

The recent death of a 23-year aspiring doctor, Sarah Houston, has put back into sharp focus the dangers of using spurious, unregulated drugs for bodyweight reduction (Rawstorne, 2013). In Sarah’s case, pills containing a yellow, crystalline powder – later identified as dinitrophenol – were blamed for the death.

Danger SignOtherwise known as DNP and sold as Dinosan, Chemox or Sulfo Black, dinitrophenol is promoted as a weight-reducing agent that causes rapid and significant weight loss.

Although evidence suggests that it does cause ‘rapid weight-loss’, researchers are of the opinion that human consumption of DNP is fraught with a grave risk of death. However, despite repeated warnings by researchers and drug-regulating authorities, DNP continues to be promoted and sold by companies and bought by people online.

What is DNP? It is really that effective in causing weight loss? And if so, is it really worth dying for (literally!). Let us have a closer look!

What is Dinitrophenol (DNP)?

Dinitrophenol (otherwise known as DNP) is an industrial chemical; the French used it to make ammunitions in the First World War (Perkins, 1919; Cutting, Tainter, & Mehrtens, 1933). Since then, DNP has been used as a chemical dye and a herbicide (Grundlingh, Dargan, El-Zanfaly, & Wood, 2011). Today, DNP is used a pesticide.

Throughout is history, however, DNP has always been associated with fighting human obesity.

In 1933, it gained popularity as a weight-reducing agent, when Maurice Tainter of the University of Stanford reported that regular use of DNP causes significant weight loss (Cutting et al., 1933; Tainter, Stockton, & Cutting, 1933).

Back in those days, DNP was available as an over-the-counter weight-loss drug. However, subsequent observations that DNP may be associated with severe adverse effects – even death – lead to warnings issued by regulatory authorities (Colman, 2007; Food Standards Agency, 2003; Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, 1995).

Ways by which DNP Causes Weight Loss

Promoted and sold online as fat-reducing agent, DNP is quite popular amongst bodybuilders – for getting ripped while maintaining lean muscle.

It is surmised that DNP causes this by inducing:

  • A significant elevation in metabolic rate; on regular use, the reported elevation in metabolic rate is 11% per 100mg of DNP consumed (Dunlop, 1934; Harper, Dickinson, & Brand, 2001)
  • Oxidation of fats and carbohydrates (Tainter, Cutting, & Hines, 1935; Grundlingh et al., 2011)

Adverse Effects and Toxicity Associated with the use of DNP

As stated earlier, human consumption of DNP (chemically, 2,4-dinitrophenol or C6H4N2O5), for any purpose is fraught with a mortal risk!

Although it does seem to cause significant weight-loss, DNP has a ‘small therapeutic index’ and an extremely dangerous toxicity profile; its use is associated with a very realistic risk of death (Colman, 2007; Grundlingh et al., 2011).

The earliest reported death due to (the occupational use of) DNP occurred back in 1918 (Warthin, 1918). Since then, 62 cases of DNP-associated deaths have been documented, most of these in the last decade (Grundlingh et al., 2011). Not surprisingly, the Food Standards Agency has issued a warning suggesting that supplements containing DNP should be avoided at all costs (Food Standards Agency, 2003).

Signs and symptoms indicative of high levels of DNP in your system would be:

  • Hyperthermia (undue rise in body temperature)
  • Diaphoresis (undue sweating)
  • Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
  • Tachypnoea (elevated breathing rate)

What complicates matters is that specific management for DNP overdose doesn’t exist – primarily because there doesn’t seem to be an antidote for DNP. Patients exhibiting symptoms of DNP-toxicity, are therefore, managed symptomatically – bringing down body temperature rapidly and significantly remains the first line of defence (Grundlingh et al., 2011).

Graver effects of overdose of DNP may cause:

  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Cardiac arrest, leading on to
  • Death

Evidence for Dinitrophenol (DNP)

There is evidence that DNP causes rapid and safe loss of body weight (Cutting et al., 1933; Tainter et al., 1933). According to an estimate, DNP can cause a loss of (as much as) 1.5 Kg of body weight per week (Grundlingh et al., 2011)!

However, the view (prevalent in the 1930s) that DNP is safe for use has since been dropped. Not surprising given that there seems to be significant association between the use of DNP and death!

Our Verdict on Dinitrophenol (DNP)

Although DNP does cause weight-loss, because of its association with death its use cannot be recommended under any circumstances!

In our view, DNP is one of the most dangerous supplement ingredients out there! Owing to the risk-benefit ratio being overwhelmingly stacked in favour of risk, we give an EMPHATIC THUMBS DOWN to dinitrophenol.

Useful References

    • Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (1995). Toxicological Profile for Dinitrophenols.
      Ref Type: Online Source
    • Colman, E. (2007). Dinitrophenol and obesity: an early twentieth-century regulatory dilemma. Regul.Toxicol.Pharmacol., 48, 115-117.
    • Cutting, W. C., Tainter, M. L., & Mehrtens, H. G. (1933). Actions and Uses of Dinitrophenol. JAMA, 101, 193-195.

Dunlop, D. M. (1934). THE USE OF 2:4-DINITROPHENOL AS A METABOLIC STIMULANT. Br.Med J, 1, 524-527.

  • Food Standards Agency. (2003). Food Standards Agency issues urgent advice on consumption of ‘fat burner’ capsules containing DNP.
    Ref Type: Online Source
  • Grundlingh, J., Dargan, P. I., El-Zanfaly, M., & Wood, D. M. (2011). 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP): a weight loss agent with significant acute toxicity and risk of death. J Med Toxicol., 7, 205-212.
  • Harper, J. A., Dickinson, K., & Brand, M. D. (2001). Mitochondrial uncoupling as a target for drug development for the treatment of obesity. Obes Rev, 2, 255-265.
  • Perkins, R. G. (1919). A Study of Munitions intoxications in France. Pub Health Rep, 34, 23-35.
  • Rawstorne, T. (2013). Killed by the tablets they took to lose weight: This beautiful student doctor was killed by internet slimming pills that make users fatally overheat. And she is far from the only victim. Ref Type: Online Source
  • Tainter, M. L., Cutting, W. C., & Hines, E. (1935). Effects of Moderate Doses of Dinitrophenol on the Energy Exchange and Nitrogen Metabolism of Patients under Conditions of Restricted Dietary. J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 55, 326-353.
  • Tainter, M. L., Stockton, A. B., & Cutting, W. C. (1933). Use of Dinitrophenol in Obesity and Related Conditions. A progress report. JAMA, 101, 1472-1475.
  • Warthin, A. S. (1918). A fatal case of toxic jaundice caused by dinitrophenol. Bull Int Assoc Med Mus, 123-126.


Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.

Have Your Say

1 comment on 'Dinitrophenol – A Killer Drug, Literally!'

  1. How is it that this dangerous drug is still available? A stern warning about the dangers of something is obviously not a viable solution as many who battle their excessive weight forego the prospect of death to achieving an “acceptable” (prominently promoted as society’s standard of beauty and acceptability)weight.
    I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life, but have finally learned that sensible, measured nutrition and exercise (and a lot of intense research re: dietary supplements) is the best application for weight loss. Sure it takes time, focus and determination, but weight does not get added overnight. Neither does weight loss. I understand the desire of these dear ones to be “thin” but to lose one’s life toward that end is terribly tragic and sad.
    No financial interest in this product.

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