Brewing Your Own Beer

Brewing Your Own Beer

About a year ago, a 46-year-old man was arrested in the United States for drunken driving. The man swore that he was sober and hadn’t consumed any alcohol, but was acting drunk. The police admitted him into a hospital where tests showed his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Despite his insistence he had not consumed any alcohol, he was released shortly thereafter, charged with drunken driving.

The man was suffering from a rare disease called “Auto-Brewery Syndrome”. Our intestines contain a large number of essential bacteria. Long-term use of antibiotics can harm helpful bacteria and cause the overgrowth of saccharomyces fungi. When we intake a high carbohydrate diet, these fungi metabolise carbohydrates and sugars to form ethanol. This ethanol produced by fungal fermentation enters our bloodstream and spreads across the body. It results in general symptoms of drunkenness. 

Auto-Brewery Syndrome is not well known and is rarely diagnosed by doctors. Also known as gut fermentation syndrome, it has barely been studied. People with Auto-Brewery Syndrome often face the charge of lying from friends and family. Due to limited awareness about the disease, many believe patients to be closet drinkers and liars. Only a few cases have been reported in several decades, and these often appear in the news.

Auto-brewery syndrome is most common in patients with obesity or diabetes, but can also occur in healthy people. You can’t be born with this disease, but it sometimes develops due to other medical conditions. For example, Crohn’s disease can cause too much yeast in the gut. This may result in auto-brewery syndrome. Other medical conditions like short bowel syndrome and liver problems can also cause Auto-Brewery Syndrome. Those with a weak immune system and poor nutrition are more vulnerable to the disease.

People with auto-brewery syndrome may smell like alcohol and show general symptoms of drunkenness. These include fatigue, dizziness, slurred speech, mood changes and delirium. Auto-brewery syndrome can also cause other symptoms like headaches, nausea, vomiting and brain fog. People diagnosed with the disease have a lack of coordination and struggle to concentrate or remember. They struggle to find work due to their condition and sometimes skip meals to stay sober. It can be a debilitating disease with terrible consequences on the quality of life.

There are several different ways to treat Auto-Brewery Syndrome. Dietary changes such as avoiding carbohydrates and processed foods, and increasing protein intake can reduce symptoms. Doctors can also use antifungals such as Mycostatin to reduce the amount of fungus present in the gut. Probiotic supplements may help balance the microbiota in the gut by introducing beneficial bacteria and inhibiting fungal growth. However, no foolproof treatment plan is known.

Although it isn’t common, the auto-brewery syndrome is a serious disease that can negatively impact your life. Feeling ‘buzzed’ or drunk without drinking may not sound like a relevant health concern, but it can affect your well-being, safety, relationships, and job. It can also be a sign of an underlying out of control medical condition. If you suspect that you have this disease, write down any symptoms and consult a doctor immediately. Being perpetually drunk is much worse than it may seem.

-Aarush Shah

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