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Dinitrophenol (DNP)

June 7, 2019

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, which is commonly called DNP.

DNP is a cytotoxin 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 of this, the cell uses a lot of energy but fails to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is important for energy metabolism. Instead, it discharges the energy as heat. Fat burning increases strongly and the body temperature increases.


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

DNP was used in the USA as a diet pill until 1938 when its toxic effects were detected and its use was banned [1].In the USA, the authorities have had to intervene from time to time in cases of DNP use at weight loss clinics or DNP-induced patient deaths [1].

For example, some bodybuilders have died when they tried to burn fat with the aid of DNP [1, 3].

Adverse effects

DNP is one of a few doping substances linked to the risk of sudden death. Some of the toxic effects caused by DNP include severe nausea, vomiting, fatigue, a feeling of suffocation and respiratory problems, perspiration, a high fever, an increased heart rate, cardiac chest pain, headaches, restlessness, and convulsions [1, 2, 3, 4].The difference between a fat-burning, slimming dose and a dose leading to death is small. The sensitivity of people to DNP also varies greatly and this is why it has not been possible to define a safe dose [5]. The concentration of DNP ordered online can vary considerably and this increases the risk of an overdose [6].

Prolonged use may lead to cataracts or life-threatening agranulocytosis (i.e. lowered white blood cell count). Users can tolerate DNP for months without apparent adverse effects but then can suddenly die because of DNP poisoning [1].

Timo Seppälä

Medical Director
Finnish Center for Integrity in Sports FINCIS (previously the Finnish Antidoping Agency FINADA)

Updated by Dopinglinkki

[1] Harris & Cocoran (1995): Toxicological Profile for Dinitrophenols. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Accessed 20 January 2010
[2] Leftwich, Floro, Neal & Wood. Dinitrophenol poisoning: a diagnosis to consider in undiagnosed fever. Southern Medical Journal. 1982;75(2): 182–4
[3] Miranda, McIntyre, Parker, Gary & Logan. Two deaths attributed to the use of 2,4-dinitrophenol. Journal of analytical toxicology. 2006;30(3): 219–22
[4] Hsiao, Santucci, Seo-Mayer, Mariappan, Hodsdon, Banasiak, Baum. Pediatric fatality following ingestion of dinitrophenol: postmortem identification of a “dietary supplement”. Clinical Toxicology (Philadelphia). 2005;43(4):281-5
[5] Petróczi A, Ocampo J, Shah I, Jenkinson C, New R, James R, Taylor G, Naughton D. Russian roulette with unlicensed fat-burner drug 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP): evidence from a multidisciplinary study of the internet, bodybuilding supplements and DNP users. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2015; 10:39
[6] Bleasdale E, Thrower S, Petróczi A. Would you use with a seal of approval? Important attributes of 2,4-dinitrophenol (2,4-DNP) as a hypothetical pharmaceutical product. Front Psychiatry. 2018; 9:124