Thursday, September 19, 2013

Infection turned man's gut into a brewery

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 found the man's blood alcohol concentration was 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas. The man said 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 Barabara Cordell, 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 put the man's problem down 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. According to Cordell and McCarthy, the man's intestinal tract was acting like his own internal brewery.

The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cordell says. So when he ate or drank anything containing 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 reported the case of "auto-brewery syndrome" a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.

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