January 29, 2016
Whether you enjoy a beer or not, most people are aware that it is essentially just liquid bread. Using the simplest of explanations, beer gets made with barley (or wheat, or rye), water, hops and grain. Sugars from within the grain get extracted, which yeast then converts into alcohol and CO2.
Now, imagine if your body did that naturally?
What Is Auto-Brewery Syndrome?
Auto-Brewery Syndrome is a very curious, severe condition that essentially gets you drunk off food – specifically carbohydrates. The body digests carbs similarly to a brewery processing beer, which leads a problematic everyday life, as was the most recent case with a New York woman pulled over for a DUI, or the most notable case of Nick Hess, whose wife was (at first) adamant that he was an alcoholic.
Those with the condition can function with an alcohol level of .30 or .40 while your average person would otherwise be comatose or practically on death’s door. The condition’s side effects range from random hangovers to more severe outcomes, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. It’s a mystifying, troubling condition.
What Happens To Your Body?
Also known as “gut fermentation syndrome,” auto-brewery syndrome is a (rare) condition that intoxicates the individual by digesting carbohydrates. Caused by an overgrowth of yeast, the stomach transforms any carbs into wildly high levels of ethanol through endogenous fermentation.
How Long Have We Known About It?
The condition, or, at least, the symptoms of it, date back to the 1970s when doctors in Japan were treating individuals with chronic yeast infections. The strange issue here is that those in the United States these days lack the abnormal liver enzyme of the notable Japanese cases. These current individuals have gut levels of yeast way, way beyond the average range, especially one strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, more commonly known as “brewer’s yeast.”
Is There A Treatment?
To address the body’s ability to get drunk on carbohydrates, antifungal drugs—specifically one called fluconazole—and a low carbohydrate diet is the best-known ongoing remedy. However, due to the condition’s lack of prevalence in the world (an estimated 100 cases or less), it’s a challenge to treat the problem with a standardized approach.
While the condition’s rarity has made it a challenge to deal with, it’s more frequent mentions in news articles and science journals these last few years has helped those diagnosed with the auto-brewery syndrome have hope. It’s what got the DUI case thrown out and what made Hess’s wife a champion advocate in the end.