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A 61-year-old man in Texas recently showed up at local emergency room complaining of dizziness. The nurses at the hospital tested his blood alcohol level and found that it was a whopping .37 percent—way higher than the .08 level allowed by Texas law for driving. For the last five years, the man had been suspected by his family and by doctors of being a closeted alcoholic, but he had claimed time and time again that when he had these spells he had not been drinking. In this case, it turns out, he wasn’t.
On that day in the hospital, the team didn’t find any alcohol on his person; so, they decided to isolate him in a hospital room for 24 hours. Throughout the day, doctors attempted to get his blood alcohol level down. It dropped and rose periodically, puzzling the staff. Eventually, they were able to determine that the poor man isn’t a closet drunk. Instead, he’s suffering from auto-brewery syndrome, a disease that causes beer to ferment in a person’s gut. Dean of Nursing at Panola College Barbara Cordell told NPR that the man would just get hammered out of nowhere on occasion.
"He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime. His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer."
This sounds like a story out of a fantasy novel, but it’s actually just a rare condition. Auto-brewery syndrome is caused by an infection from the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the same that is used for brewing beer. It is typically harmless in a person’s intestine tract, but occasionally, the yeast will get into a person’s belly and will stay there. Thus, when that person eats a starchy food—like a bagel, etc.—the sugars will break down, fermenting with the yeast to create alcohol in the belly. This only happens rarely, but when it does happen, the person will end up drunk. Positively, mind obliteratingly drunk. I wonder if it affects the man’s caloric intake?
Rare cases of the yeast lodging in the gut have occurred and been documented in the past, and this time Cordell and a second author, Justin McCarthy, wrote up their specific findings in the Open Access journal Scientific Research. If you’d like to read more about the syndrome, you can check out the article here.