Auto-Brewery Syndrome: Making Beer in Your Gut

A 61-year-old man — with a history of home-brewing — stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness. Nurses ran a Breathalyzer test. The man’s blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas. However, the man denied having had any alcoholic beverages that night. So what happened?

Turns out he has a rare condition in which his gut is lined with an over-abundance of brewer’s yeast, which would make alcohol (ethanol) when he consumed carbohydrates. NPR details:

The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae…So when he ate or drank a bunch of starch — a bagel, pasta or even a soda — the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk. Essentially, he was brewing beer in his own gut. Cordell and McCarthy reported the case of “auto-brewery syndrome” a few months ago in theInternational Journal of Clinical Medicine.

Brewer’s yeast is in a whole host of foods, including breads, wine and, of course, beer (hence, the name). The critters usually don’t do any harm. They just flow right through us. Some people even take Saccharomyces as a probiotic supplement.

But it turns out that in rare cases, the yeasty beasts can indeed take up long-term residency in the gut and possibly cause problems, says Dr. Joseph Heitman, a microbiologist at Duke University.

Fascinating!

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