The 61-year-old man was found to have a blood alcohol level of .37, five times the legal limit in Texas. Medical staff assumed he was inebriated, but the man insisted he hadn’t had one drop of alcohol all day. They were also told he had spent the past five years with bouts of intoxication that didn’t involve drinking booze.
In a report published in Scientific Research Publishing, U.S. researchers Barbara Cordell and Dr. Justin McCarthy tested out what they call “gut fermentation syndrome.”
Cordell and McCarthy were alerted about the man’s condition and a few months after his emergency room visit, they decided to test out their theory.
The man returned to the hospital and was kept there for 24 hours. During that time, he was only fed a diet of carbohydrate-rich foods. The researchers soon had their answer.
The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a common yeast. Whenever he ingested starch — pasta, bread or soda — the yeast fermented along with the sugars, turning into ethanol.
He was brewing beer in his gut.
“He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just any time,” Cordell said in an interview with NPR this week.
The man’s wife eventually bought a Breathalyzer as well.
The researchers say they suspect that antibiotics that the man took after surgery in 2004 may have destroyed his gut bacteria, allowing for the yeast to flourish.
The cure was easy. The man was put on a low-carbohydrate diet and given antifungal medication to purge him of the yeast.
Cordell and McCarthy say the syndrome is rare and say there have only been about five cases in the last 30 years.
In conclusion, they say “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. It would behoove health care providers to listen more carefully to the intoxicated patient who denies ingesting alcohol.”