Home brewers will want to pay attention to the story of a 61-year-old man who showed up at a Texas emergency room in 2009 complaining of dizziness. He said he hadn't had anything to drink, but his blood alcohol concentration was found to be 0.37 percent.
In 2010, the same man checked into a hospital for 24-hour observation, during which time his blood-alcohol mysteriously level rose to 0.12 percent during his stay.
The cause for the man's spontaneous drunkness eventually was discovered to be gut fermentation syndrome, also known as auto-brewery syndrome.
The man had been a home brewer and probably was exposed to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the fungus used to ferment beer. According to Barabara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist in Lubbock, he had an infection that caused his own gut to turn carbs into beer.
As in, whenever he ate a bagel or drank a soda, his own body would ferment the carbs into booze and get him drunk. Problematic? You bet.
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Cordell and McCarthy first reported the case in The International Journal of Clinical Medicine a few months ago.
The good news is that the infection develops only in rare cases, most of which involve someone who has been taking antibiotics. The antibiotics can wipe out a person's normal gut bacteria, which allows the brewing yeast to grow. It's also important to point out that this is a case study of a single person, not a controlled study. And that there aren't many other reported cases of this syndrome.
Nevertheless, watch out what you do with that yeast.