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Man Found Brewing Beer in His Stomach, Called 'Auto-brewery Syndrome'

Sep 21, 2013 07:57 PM EDT

When a 61-year-old man stumbled into a Texas emergency room with a blood alcohol concentration five times the state's legal driving limit, nurses assumed heavy drinking was likely to blame. Turns out, the man hadn't touched alcohol all day.

And while some medical professionals wrote it off as a classic case of "closet drinking," Dr. Barabara Cordell, a dean of nursing at Panola College, had a different idea.

Along with Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist, Cordell isolated the man in a hospital room for 24 hours where he was fed carbohydrate-heavy food. Meanwhile, the doctors monitored his blood alcohol content.

The surprising findings give a new meaning to the term "beer belly."

An infection with an overabundance of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae had created a brewery out of the man's stomach.

"He would get drunk out of the blue - on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime," Cordell told NPR. "His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer."

Called auto-brewery syndrome, or gut fermentation syndrome, the condition is rare, with most articles written on it only anecdotal. Cordell and McCarthy reported on their own case in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.

The cure was, in the end, a simple one: the patient was treated with antifungal medication and put on a low-carbohydrate diet. Sure enough, the seemingly random bouts of intoxication disappeared.

According to CBC, researchers suspect the situation was caused after the man was put on antibiotics in 2004 following surgery. Antibiotics have a tendency to destroy the bacteria in the gut, opening the door for yeast to flourish.

Weighing in on the plausibility of auto-brewery syndrome, Dr. Joseph Heitman, a microbiologist at Duke University, told The Salt, "Researchers have shown unequivocally that Saccharomyces can grow in the intestinal tract. But it's still unclear whether it's associated with any disease."

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