A 61-year-old Texan man – with a history of home-brewing – has been found to have intestines that act as an internal brewery.
The discovery by doctors came after the man stumbled into an emergency room complaining of dizziness. After nurses ran a breathalyser test, the man's blood alcohol concentration was found to be 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas. But the man was adamant that he had not touched any alcohol for days, according to www.npr.org.
"He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime," says Barabara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas. "His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a breathalyser."
Other medical professionals chalked up the man's problem to "closet drinking." So a local medical team 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 an overabundance of brewer's yeast in his gut.
He was found to have an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cordell says. So when he ate or drank starch — a bagel, pasta or even a soda — the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk - essentially, brewing beer in his own gut.
Cordell and McCarthy reported the case of "auto-brewery syndrome" a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Brewer's yeast is in a range of foods, including breads, wine and beer and in rare cases yeast can take up long-term residency in the gut and cause problems, says Dr. Joseph Heitman, a microbiologist at Duke University, Texas.
"Researchers have shown unequivocally that Saccharomyces can grow in the intestinal tract," Heitman said. "But it's still unclear whether it's associated with any disease" — or whether it could make someone drunk from the gut up.
Heitman says he had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome until this case. "The problem with a case report," he notes, "is that it's just one person. It's not a controlled clinical study.