It began as a simple thumb injury. Then, it spiraled into a dangerous syndrome where a man’s gut essentially became a brewery fermenting its own endless alcohol supply – which is not as fun as it sounds.
In a recent case study, doctors recount the strange symptoms of the auto-brewery syndrome (ABS): a rarely diagnosed medical condition where simply ingesting carbohydrates can be enough to make you wildly inebriated. Even worse, nobody believes you when you say you haven’t been drinking.
At least, that was the case for the unfortunate 46-year-old patient in question, an otherwise healthy man who’d only ever been a light social drinker.
His troubles began in 2011 after he completed a course of antibiotics for a thumb injury. Within one week of finishing the meds, he reported experiencing uncharacteristic personality changes, including depression, ‘brain fog’, aggressive behavior, and memory loss.
He was eventually referred to a psychiatrist and given antidepressants, but it was only when the man was pulled over by police one morning in an apparent case of drunk driving that the true nature of his illness started to reveal itself.
When pulled over, he refused to take a breathalyzer test and was hospitalized, with tests showing he had a blood alcohol level of 200 mg/dL, equivalent to having drunk approximately 10 alcoholic drinks, and sufficient to induce confusion, disorientation, impaired balance, and slurred speech.
“The hospital personnel and police refused to believe him when he repeatedly denied alcohol ingestion,” researchers from Richmond University Medical Centre note in their case report.
After being discharged from the hospital, he sought treatment at a clinic in Ohio. In medical tests, most of his readings looked normal, but his stool sample showed the presence of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (also known as brewer’s yeast) and a related fungus.
S. cerevisiae has a long history in beer brewing and winemaking (in addition to baking), as it helps ferment carbohydrates and produces alcohol.
While the patient was successfully treated at the clinic, his ABS diagnosis revealed itself in subsequent flare-ups, with the most serious incident involving a fall while inebriated that resulted in intracranial bleeding.