A rare sickness called auto-brewery syndrome is in the news after a Texas man was found to have the condition where yeast in the stomach ferments carbohydrates into alcohol.
Medical professionals were puzzled when the 61-year-old patient went to a Texas emergency room and complained of dizziness. A breathalyzer test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.37 percent, almost five times the state's legal limit, Medical Daily reported
But the man claimed he hadn't been drinking.
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"He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime," said Barbara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, according to NPR
. "His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer."
Medical professionals thought the man wasn't being truthful, but Cordell and gastroenterologist Dr. Justin McCarthy conducted further tests. They kept the patient isolated for 24 hours, and put him on a carbohydrate-intensive diet. At one point, the man's blood alcohol level rose to 0.12 percent.
McCarthy and Cordell discovered a large amount of brewer's yeast in the man's stomach. When mixed with carbs, the intestinal tract acted like an internal brewery.
The pair reported their findings a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.
After confirming his diagnosis, the man was cured by an anti-fungal treatment and a no-carb diet for six weeks.
"This is a rare syndrome but should be recognized because of the social implications such as loss of job, relationship difficulties, stigma, and even possible arrest and incarceration," the study authors Cordell and McCarthy wrote in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine
. "It would behoove health care providers to listen more carefully to the intoxicated patient who denies ingesting alcohol."
Brewer's yeast is contained in a number of foods, including breads, wine, and beer, but it generally passes through the body. In rare cases, the substance can remain in the gut and cause difficulties, Duke Microbiologist Dr. Joseph Heitman told NPR's The Salt.
"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."
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