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This Disease Gets You Drunk Off Carbs



Before you indulge the thought of reveling in a perpetually drunken state, realize that Auto-Brewery Syndrome is a very curious, very serious condition.

What happens is that it essentially gets you drunk off food—carbohydrates specifically. The body digests carbs similarly to a brewery processing beer, which leads to a problematic everyday life, as was the most recent case with a New York woman pulled over for a DUI or the more notable case of Nick Hess, whose wife was (at first) adamant that he was an alcoholic.

Those with the condition can function with an alcohol level of .30 or .40 while your average person would otherwise be comatose or on practically death’s door. The condition’s side effects range from random hangovers to more severe outcomes, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. It’s a mystifying, troubling condition.

What happens?

Also known as gut fermentation syndrome, auto-brewery syndrome is an extremely rare condition that intoxicates the individual whenever they digest carbohydrates. Caused by an overgrowth of yeast, the stomach transforms any carbs into wildly high levels of ethanol through endogenous fermentation.

What is the history?

The condition, or at least the symptoms of it, date back to the 1970s, when doctors in Japan were treating individuals with chronic yeast infections. The curious issue here is that those in the United States these days lack the abnormal liver enzyme of the notable Japanese cases. These current individuals have gut levels of yeast way, way beyond the average range, especially one strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, though it’s more commonly known as “brewer’s yeast.”

What is the treatment?

To address the body’s ability to get drunk on carby food, antifungal drugs—specifically one called fluconazoleand a low carbohydrate diet is the best-known ongoing remedy. However, due to the condition’s lack of prevalence in the world (an estimated 100 cases or less), it’s a challenge to treat the problem with a standardized approach.

While the condition’s rarity has made it a challenge to deal with, its more prevalent mentions in news articles and science journals these last few years have helped those diagnosed with auto-brewery syndrome have hope. These latest revelations on the disease are what got the DUI case thrown out and what made Hess’s wife a champion advocate in the end.


British Man Gets Drunk Off Of French Fries

Nick Hess spent several years of his life accidentally getting drunk.

A 34-year-old British man, Hess suffers from auto-brewery syndrome. People with this condition have an abundance of yeast in their stomachs, specifically, a yeast commonly called Brewer’s Yeast. When ingesting carbohydrates, their stomachs convert the food into alcohol, resulting in blood alcohol content spikes and loved ones fearing alcoholism.


Hess began presenting symptoms of rapid-onset, random drunkenness in 2010 and went frustratingly undiagnosed until last year. When Dr. Anup Kanodia finally gave Hess the answers he had been looking for, the yeast levels in his stomach were four times what is considered normal.

Auto-brewery syndrome was first discovered in Japan in the 1970s, but more recent findings have prompted a small wave of people to come forward with this condition, some using the diagnosis to contest drunk-driving charges.

A diet low in carbohydrates and sugars, as well as anti-fungal medication, keeps symptoms to a manageable level, but Hess still has one or two episodes a month.


Auto-Brewery Syndrome: The Ability to Brew Beer in Your Gut


This guy’s beer belly will beat yours any day. In 2013, Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist, and Barbara Cordell, dean of nursing at Panola College, featured a paper in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, detailing a strange case. A 61-year-old man went to the emergency room complaining of dizziness. After several tests, the nurses determined the man was drunk. Five times more than the legal limit drunk. Except the man hadn’t had any alcohol that day.

What was causing his phantom intoxication? Turns out, it was an overbalance of brewer’s yeast in his gut. His own intestines had been functioning as an internal brewery, essentially making and digesting beer in his belly. Whenever he ate starch, the yeast fermented the sugar into ethanol, making him drunk. The issue has since been dubbed “auto-brewery syndrome.”

If you’re worried about your sandwiches and chips, don’t be. Most of the time, brewer’s yeast just passes through our systems like any other food. It’s only rare cases that the yeast may take up residency in the guy and cause problems. And while we imagine it must be embarrassing at times to get drunk without drinking, it could be a pretty neat party trick.

H/T NPR + Picthx Lindsey G