Dinitrophenol (DNP)

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Dinitrophenol (DNP)

Properties and mechanism of action

Dinitrophenols are a chemical group consisting of six different synthetic substances. The most important of these is 2,4,-dinitrophenol that is commonly called DNP.

DNP is a cell toxicant that turns off oxidative phosphorylation (i.e. the metabolic pathway related to the energy production of a certain cell) in the cell mitochondria by transporting a proton through the membrane of the mitochondria. As a consequence, the cell uses a lot of energy but doesn’t produce adenosine triphosphate, which is important for metabolism, but instead discharges the energy as heat. Fat burning increases strongly and body temperature increases.


DNP is used in industry, for example, as a source substance for coloring agents, rot-resistant agents and explosives, and as herbicide or insecticide. DNP absorbs well from the alimentary canal, skin and through the lungs. In industry, it has caused intoxication and even death when people have been exposed to skin contact with this substance or breathed air containing it [1, 2].

DNP was used in the USA as a weight loss medicine until 1938 when its poisonous effects were detected and its use was banned [1]. In the USA, authorities have intervened from time to time in cases of weight loss clinics that have used DNP or it has caused the death of patients [1].

Some bodybuilders have died when they tried to burn fat by using DNP [1, 3].

Adverse effects

The poisonous effects caused by DNP include, among others, harsh nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, feeling like being suffocated and having breathing problems, sweating, high fever, increase in heart rate, heart originated chest pain, headaches, restlessness, and writhing [1, 2, 3, 4].

The difference between the fat-burning “weight-losing” dose that burns fat and the dose leading to death is small. People’s sensitivity to DNP also varies widely.

Prolonged use may lead to cataracts or perilous agranulocytosis (lowered white blood cell count). Users can resist DNP for months without apparent adverse effects but can suddenly die because of DNP poisoning [1].

Timo Seppälä
Medical Director
The Finnish Antidoping Agency FINADA

[1] Harris & Cocoran (1995): Toxicological Profile for Dinitrophenols. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp64.html, luettu 20.1.2010

[2] Leftwich, Floro, Neal & Wood (1982): Dinitrophenol poisoning: a diagnosis to consider in undiagnosed fever. Southern Medical Journal 75(2): 182–4.

[3] Miranda, McIntyre, Parker, Gary & Logan (2006). Two deaths attributed to the use of 2,4-dinitrophenol". Journal of analytical toxicology 30(3): 219–22.

[4] Hsiao, Santucci, Seo-Mayer, Mariappan, Hodsdon, Banasiak & Baum (2005): Pediatric fatality following ingestion of dinitrophenol: postmortem identification of a "dietary supplement". Clinical Toxicology (Philadelphia) 43(4):281-5.

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