Woman Whose Gut Makes Its Own Alcohol Escapes Drunk-Driving Charges

How was this woman's gut producing its own alcohol? Virote Chuenwiset/Shutterstock

How many of you have tried at some point to brew your own beer? It’s difficult, but worth it if you have the patience and time to give it a go. Of course, if you were afflicted by “auto-brewery syndrome,” your own body could make its own alcohol. This might sound great, but a woman from New York state suffering from the condition was recently arrested on drunk-driving charges after her breathalyzer test showed an alcohol content over four times the legal limit, according to the Guardian.

Also known as gut fermentation syndrome, this rare medical condition causes the human digestive system to produce intoxicating quantities of ethanol. Specifically, a type of yeast present in the gastrointestinal system, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has been identified as the organism responsible for this bizarre method of alcohol production.

First identified in Japan in the 1970s, it was observed in patients with chronic yeast infections, all of which had an abnormal liver enzyme that meant that they were inefficient at removing alcohol from their bodies. Although all humans produce a little alcohol when the yeast in our digestive systems interact with carbohydrates and sugar from our food, these patients were quite different. With their inability to break down alcohol and their rice-heavy, carbohydrate-rich diet, they produced far more alcohol than a regular person.

People suffering from the syndrome often find themselves drunk after eating carbohydrate-rich foods. Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

There have been several different cases diagnosed since then, and this American woman adds to the growing list. The unidentified woman, who claimed she never felt tipsy, had the charges against her dropped after her previously undiagnosed auto-brewery syndrome was discovered during the investigation. With her high-carbohydrate diet, the high level of yeast in her intestines rendered her unable to remove the alcohol quickly enough.

Her lawyer contacted Barbara Cordell of Panola College in Texas, who first documented the condition in the U.S. in 2013. Back then, a 61-year-old man was complaining of experiencing frequent periods of debilitating inebriation despite not drinking alcohol. The recently arrested woman was referred to Dr. Anup Kanodia of Columbus, Ohio, who monitored her for a day to confirm the condition’s existence.

Despite the fact that she didn’t drink a drop of alcohol all day, by dusk her body was shown to be producing alcohol all by itself. “At the end of the day, she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.36 percent without drinking any alcoholic beverages,” Marusak said to the Guardian. He recommended she switch to a low-carbohydrate diet to control the problem.

Although other cases noted by Cordell always mention that the patient is often drunk on their own alcohol, this was not observed with Marusak’s client. “She had no idea she had this condition. Never felt tipsy. Nothing,” he added. The reason why remains a tantalizing, intoxicating medical mystery.

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