Eloise Aimee Parry died after taking diet pills that contain dinitrophenol, or DNP. (Photo: Facebook)
Diet pills may seem harmless, but a recent tragedy has shown how dangerous they really can be.
A 21-year-old British woman died on April 12 after accidentally overdosing on diet pills she bought online that contained the toxic ingredient dinitrophenol (DNP). Eloise Aimee Parry took eight tablets that contained the drug, her mother, Fiona Parry, said in a statement that she posted online. (Two tablets was a lethal dose.)
Eloise was taken to the hospital, where she “was literally burning up from within,” and her metabolism ran “at an explosive level” as doctors tried to save her, her mother said.
Photo: West Mercia Police
“As the drug kicked in and started to make her metabolism soar, they attempted to cool her down, but they were fighting an uphill battle. … When she stopped breathing, they put her on a ventilator and carried on fighting to save her. When her heart stopped they couldn’t revive her. She had crashed. She had taken so much DNP that the consequences were inevitable. They never stood a chance of saving her.”
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Police are investigating the death and are warning people about the dangers of buying diet pills online. “We urge the public to be incredibly careful when purchasing medicine or supplements over the Internet,” Chief Inspector Jennifer Mattinson told the Guardian. “Substances from unregistered websites could put your health at risk, as they could be extremely harmful, out of date, or fake.”
According to reports, more than 60 people worldwide have died from taking DNP, but the ingredient continues to show up in some diet pills.
DNP weight loss supplements.
This industrial chemical has become popular in the murky online worlds of the bodybuilding and eating-disorder communities. It was first used on an industrial scale in French ammunition factories during World War I to make explosives, according to a report in the Guardian. The experience of the factory workers first highlighted its metabolism-speeding effects: They lost weight, sweated excessively, and displayed an elevated body temperature.
These observations led to a 1934 study at Stanford University, which concluded that DNP could stimulate human metabolism by 50 percent, breaking down fat stores to lead to a weight loss of up to 3 pounds per week. Within a year, DNP weight-loss supplements were regular fare at drugstores. But side effects, including cataracts and skin lesions, were reported, along with deaths — one man who overdosed was “literally cooked to death” with a body temperature of 109.9 degrees F. By 1938, DNP had been pulled from the shelves and designated as not fit for human consumption.
DNP is particularly dangerous because it poisons the mitochondria — i.e., the “powerhouse” of a person’s cells — says Raymond Chung, MD, director of hepatology at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Dinitrophenol leads not just to potential organ failure but also the overgeneration of heat, causing a hyperthermia-type scenario,” he tells Yahoo Health.
These days, DNP is most commonly used as a wood preservative.
Dietary supplements in the U.S. are regulated differently than “conventional” foods and products. The FDA states on its website that dietary-supplement manufacturers must register their facilities with the government agency, but, unlike with other food products, they’re not required to get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. That means there’s no guaranteeing that diet-pill ingredients are safe or effective.
“I would be extremely careful about taking diet pills,” says Chung. “Unless something is an FDA-approved medicine, we cannot vouch to the safety of these labels that count themselves as ‘safe’ ways of bringing about effective weight loss.”
Here is the full text of Fiona Parry’s heartbreaking statement:
Sunday started out cool and clear. By lunchtime there was a brisk wind, blowing in strong gusts that suggested a storm might be coming. Overhead the skies were bright blue, almost cloudless and full of promise.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Ella had bought slimming tablets on the internet. A substance called DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) that is unsuitable for human consumption because of its toxicity. She had taken even more of these “slimming tablets” than recommended on the pack and had no idea just how dangerous they really were. How many of us have ever thought “If one tablet works, surely it won’t hurt to take one or two more?” When she started to feel unwell, she drove herself to hospital and walked into A&E. She explained what she had taken and there was no great panic as she was still completely lucid and with it. At this point she still seemed to be okay. That all changed when the toxicity report came back and it was clear how dire her situation was. The drug was in her system, there was no anti-dote, two tablets was a lethal dose — and she had taken eight.
As Eloise deteriorated, the staff in A&E did all they could to stabilise her. As the drug kicked in and started to make her metabolism soar, they attempted to cool her down, but they were fighting an uphill battle. She was literally burning up from within. When she stopped breathing, they put her on a ventilator and carried on fighting to save her. When her hearted stopped they couldn’t revive her. She had crashed. She had taken so much DNP that the consequences were inevitable. They never stood a chance of saving her. She burned and crashed.
Outside, the wind had stopped and it’s now raining gently.
At around 3pm on Sunday 12th April 2015, my daughter, Eloise Aimee, died of an overdose.
She never intended to take her own life. She just never really understood how dangerous the tablets that she took were. Most of us don’t believe that a slimming tablet could possibly kill us.
DNP is not a miracle slimming pill. It is a deadly toxin. It is similar to TNT in structure. TNT is an explosive. DNP causes your metabolism to run at an explosive level, with potentially fatal consequences.
Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian practicing in New York City, points out that some ingredients found in diet pills may not even show up on the label, which adds another level of danger.
She says that people should be wary of the following ingredients in particular:
This ingredient was pulled off of shelves in 2010 after it was linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. However, there is a chance that it could show up in diet pills purchased online.
The FDA has warned against using supplements that contain this compound. Phenolphthalein is a suspected cancer-causing agent that is not approved for marketing in the U.S. The FDA also found that it may damage or even cause mutations to a person’s DNA.
This is a common ingredient found in erectile-dysfunction medications and can cause heart palpitations or even a heart attack. “If you see supplements that say ‘Enhance your sex life, lose weight,’ this is usually in there,” says Cording.
Fluoxetine is an active ingredient in some antidepression medications. The FDA has warned that it has been linked to several serious drug interactions and side effects, such as suicidal thoughts, anxiety, insomnia, and abnormal bleeding.
This diuretic can be dangerous because it can lower your blood pressure, flush out your electrolytes, and dehydrate you, says Cording.
While diet pills may seem like a quick fix, Cording warns that even ones that don’t contain the above ingredients can work against you: “Popping a pill might seem to address the problem in the short term, but messing with your body chemistry and metabolism can actually backfire in the long run.”