Deadly diet pills which killed a Midland 21-year-old were made from chemicals once used to fill armour piercing shells, a Birmingham academic has revealed.
Dr Simon Cotton, senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of Birmingham, spoke of his concern about the weight loss drug made from ‘war chemicals’.
Eloise Aimee Parry, from Shrewsbury, drove herself to hospital on April 12 when she began to feel ill after taking the pills she had bought on the internet.
She died three hours later when her heart failed as a result of the tablets which contained Dinitrophenol (DNP), a toxic chemical.
Dr Cotton revealed that during the First World War, DNP was sometimes used to fill armour-piercing shells as a mixture with picric acid, known as Shellite or Tridite. The deadly chemicals were somewhat unstable and in 1916 an explosion in a munitions factory at Rainham in Essex was attributed to them.
Dr Cotton said: “It is a very dangerous chemical and scientists have been aware of this for nearly a century.
“Just like TNT, it was found to be toxic to the munitions workers handling it. Many of them lost weight dramatically and some even died simply by absorbing it through their skin. The commercial use of DNP is as a pesticide or herbicide and, in 2009, 11 workers in a Chinese chemical factory – plus nine of their relatives – contracted DNP poisoning, their skins turned yellow or even black and two died.”
After the First World War, scientists at Stanford University investigated DNP to see if it was a useful slimming aid.
They established that the chemical boosted metabolism by up to 50 per cent, leading to considerable weight loss without dieting.
But Dr Cotton explained: “They also found out that there were a number of side effects, including cataracts, and that the safety margin was too slim. Firms started selling it direct to customers which meant people were taking it without medical supervision and fatalities resulted. When one man died, they measured his temperature – it was 110°F (43°C).
“DNP was banned in the United States under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938; the US Food and Drug Administration said DNP was too toxic to be used under any circumstance.”
The chemical expert said DNP reduces the production of ATP – adenosine triphosphate – the molecule that transports energy within cells. It means much of the energy usually generated in respiration is instead wasted as heat, which can lead to fatal hyperthermia.
The body compensates by speeding up metabolism to produce the energy needed to maintain temperature which results in the consumption of fat and carbohydrate.
There have been a number of fatalities in the UK caused by DNP. In 2013, 18-year-old rugby player Chris Mapletoft died, as did 28-year old High Wycombe bodybuilder Sean Cleathero in 2012, when his temperature rose to 42C. That same year 23-year-old Leeds University medical student Sarah Houston died after consuming DNP she bought over the internet.
Dr Cotton added: “All sorts of promises are made on the internet about DNP. But if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably ist. In the case of 2,4-dinitrophenol, it’s also deadly.”
Speaking after the Eloise’ death, her mother said: “ I didn’t know that she had been taking it until after she had died. The doctors told me what she had taken afterwards.”
She said just two of the pills containing DNP would be a lethal dose. Eloise had taken eight.