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He Got Drunk Not Because He Drank, but Because He Ate

Man suffered from auto-brewery syndrome, which converted carbs to ethanol
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2019 11:36 AM CDT
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Is your gut whipping up ethanol?   (Getty Images/ThamKC)

(Newser) – For years after taking antibiotics in 2011 for a thumb injury, a previously active and healthy man says he suffered from depression, "brain fog," memory loss, and aggressiveness. Then, after a DWI arrest, those around him, including medical staff and cops, became convinced he was a secret drinker—he denied consuming any alcohol, despite the high blood alcohol content he registered when he was arrested. Now, NBC News reports on the man's case study, which vindicates him with a diagnosis: auto-brewery syndrome, a rare condition also known as "drunkenness disease" in which fermenting microbes, such as bacteria or fungi, in one's gut convert the sugar in carbohydrates into ethanol, which then leads to elevated BAC levels.

Research in the BMJ Open Gastroenterology journal notes all of the 46-year-old's "uncharacteristic" symptoms flared up after he ate, leaving him "unable to function," study co-author Fahad Malik tells Today. After his DWI arrest, "hospital personnel and police refused to believe him when he repeatedly denied alcohol ingestion," the case study notes. What led to the man's ABS revelation: His aunt had seen a report about a similar case in Ohio, so she purchased a Breathalyzer for him and prodded him to see those Ohio doctors, who made the diagnosis. His symptoms died down after he was given antifungal meds. The man's doctors think the antibiotics he took in 2011 may have somehow altered his gut microbiome, triggering "fungal overgrowth" and kick-starting his belly brewing. (Read more strange stuff stories.)

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