The 1930s Weight-Loss Trend That’s Making A Dangerous Comeback

If I had a nickel for every time I heard about a supplement or pill that can "burn your body fat now!!" — well, the Kardashians would have nothing on me. Now, a pretty terrifying diet supplement trend is taking the "burn" metaphor a bit too literally for comfort.
A supplement containing the chemical 2,4-dinitrophenol (more commonly known as DNP) is currently making the rounds — both in the body-building community and as an increasingly ubiquitous weight-loss aid. Of course, as Live Science points out, DNP has actually been around for more than 80 years. Originally developed in a lab in 1930 for use in making explosives, the chemical gained popularity as a weight-loss supplement soon after, when munitions workers started losing weight just from working in its vicinity. By the mid-30s, an estimated 100,000 Americans were using it in order to be able to lose weight without dieting. But, by 1938, DNP was banned in the U.S. due to the drug's many side effects, including cataracts and skin lesions.
How does DNP work? Essentially, the chemical makes the mitochondria in your cells less efficient at generating usable energy from the food you eat. In turn, the calories you ingest are converted to waste heat energy, which helps to metabolize stored fat more quickly. However, while DNP has predictably been shown in multiple studies to lead to weight loss, the mechanism by which it works is exceptionally dangerous. Users commonly report sweating and fever when using DNP; hyperthermia is one of the most widely-reported side effects, and the body's temperature can rise to potentially fatal levels.
In addition to elevated body temperature, reported side effects include elevated heart rate, headaches, nausea, agitation, and difficulty breathing. The Huffington Post reports that as the supplement has increased in popularity recently, the number of deaths linked to its use has risen considerably. Today, while DNP is used as both a pesticide and a dye, human consumption of it is banned in dozens of countries, including the United States. However, like many other ingestibles widely considered unsafe for humans, it's pretty widely available on the Internet — where bodybuilders and those suffering from eating disorders are reportedly ordering in bulk.
All this may be par for the course with a product that literally incinerates your body's fat reserves. But, for what it's worth, the risk of boiling to death nudges DNP ever so slightly into "not worth it" territory. Besides, there are countless ways to accomplish similar effects naturally — and safely. Why, here's one now! Not quite as easy as swallowing a pill, but you'll most certainly live longer.

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series