Gone But Not Forgotten
- Nov 8, 2007
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More at the link: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/0 ... um=twitterAuto-Brewery Syndrome: Apparently, You Can Make Beer In Your Gut
This medical case may give a whole new meaning to the phrase "beer 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. And sure enough, the man's blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas.
There was just one hitch: The man said that he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol that day.
"He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime," says , the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas. "His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer."
Other medical professionals chalked up the man's problem to "closet drinking." But Cordell and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist in Lubbock, wanted to figure out what was really going on.
So the team searched the man's belongings for liquor and then isolated him in a hospital room for 24 hours. Throughout the day, he ate carbohydrate-rich foods, and the doctors periodically checked his blood for alcohol. At one point, it rose 0.12 percent.
Eventually, McCarthy and Cordell pinpointed the culprit: an overabundance of brewer's yeast in his gut.
That's right, folks. According to Cordell and McCarthy, the man's intestinal tract was acting like his own internal brewery.
The patient had an infection with , Cordell says. 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 the case of "auto-brewery syndrome" a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.
When we first read the case study, we were more than a little skeptical. It sounded crazy, a phenomenon akin to spontaneous combustion. I mean, come on: Could a person's gut really generate that much ethanol?
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 , a microbiologist at Duke University.