The tragic death of a 21-year-old college student in the U.K. highlights the dangers of buying quick-fix weight loss products online and raises further concerns about the lax regulations surrounding the supplement industry. CBS News reports that Eloise Aimee Parry died on April 12, 2015, hours after taking tablets believed to contain a “highly toxic and very dangerous” substance known as dinitrophenol (DNP).
DNP causes extreme spikes in metabolism, resulting in hyperthermia, rapid breathing and heartbeat, cardiovacular collapse and death. Eloise’s mother, Fiona Parry, stated “She was literally burning up from within,” according to CBS News. Over the past several decades, DNP has been linked to at least 62 deaths.
CBS News reports that according to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) medical officer Dr. David Gortler, a similar death could occur in the United States. This is because the agency has little power to control what dietary supplements are shipped through the mail. The supplement industry is largely self-policed and is only reprimanded once an injury is reported.
“DNP is a dangerous chemical and has a long history of significant safety issues, which is why it is not an approved drug,” said Gortler, according to CBS News. “The FDA recommends not taking this drug in any amount. I’m sure the company sending this supplement was only too happy to take Ms. Parry’s money without warning her of the significant safety issues with this supplement. Basically everyone selling dietary supplements for the purpose of weight loss is a liar and charlatan, preying upon individuals who don’t understand the pharmacology of obesity.”
Dr. Gortler notes that DNP is used as an antiseptic and in photo development. The substance may be available on the market for these purposes, but not as a drug approved by the FDA, he said. “Windex isn’t banned by the FDA either, but because it’s not approved for any kind of clinical use by the FDA, any company putting it in their dietary supplements would be liable for injury or death,” he said to CBS News.
In 2002, the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation began probing sales of DNP. The investigation was prompted by a letter written by the father or a deceased young woman who purchased the product through the mail. This case was eventually linked to two other independent investigations involving the mailings of DNP. CBS reports that two men were arrested and convicted of running a business that sold fraudulent and dangerous diet aids.