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.


Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia

One of my favourite Georgia getaways is Helen, Georgia. Less than two hours away from Atlanta, the city sits close to the Chattahoochee River and is home to the annual Oktoberfest. Why? The city is modeled after a small Bavarian town.

And while I’ve never made it to Helen during Oktoberfest, I enjoyed this profile of the city (published about two years ago).

On the declining economy of Helen:

The one sound the hills have not been alive with lately, though, is the music of cash registers. As tourism and construction falter everywhere in this straitened economy, Helen grapples with a $200,000 deficit in its general fund; rows of shuttered gingerbread storefronts that look as haunted and darkling as something out of Grimm’s fairytales; changing blue laws on alcohol sales that have realigned the area’s tippling privileges; and a police force—patrolling in cruisers labeled “Polizei”—that has a reputation for rounding up hapless revelers with all of the sweeping efficiency implicit in that German spelling.

And what’s an Oktoberfest without beer (bier)? But believe it or not, Helen used to be a dry town:

By 1977, liquor sales by the glass and bottle were legalized. Helen became the only soaking “wet” spot for the hard stuff, as well as beer and wine, in the northeast Georgia mountains. The rest of surrounding White County, including Cleveland, the county seat, remained staunchly dry.

Fun paragraph describing the city:

 So the city serves as a sort of geographic id for intensely vital Scots-Irish characters who are governed by the countervailing forces of the church and that ancient Celtic impulse to go wild, to kick ass, to self-destruct. Among the sepia-toned, old-timey costume photos displayed in the window of a souvenir photography studio are shots of an adorable baby—snuggling with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of a Confederate flag backdrop. Despite the cultural homogenization of recent years, that old Saturday night/Sunday morning dialectic of Southern life persists.

(via @JustinHeckert, an Atlanta-based writer)