Auto-brewery Syndrome – What Is It?

Tracy Johnson of Forrest Williams

Tracy Johnson of Forrest Williams

Auto-brewery Syndrome – what is it?

Auto-brewery syndrome, also known as gut fermentation syndrome, is a rare medical condition in which intoxicating quantities of ethanol (alcohol) are produced through endogenous (organism, tissue or cell) fermentation within the digestive system.

However, as the condition is rare, diagnosis is not straightforward. One case went undetected for 20 years!

The complaint can be traced back to the Japan in the 1970s, when doctors reported treating patients with chronic yeast infections. 

In papers published at that time, the researchers described how all of these patients had an abnormal liver enzyme, which meant that they weren’t great at getting rid of alcohol from the body.

In one case to hit the news recently, 35 year old Nick Hess of Columbus, Ohio, told the media how he would become drunk every time he ate chips or other carbohydrates.

Before he was diagnosed, his wife feared he was an alcoholic.

Sometimes Nick’s symptoms would take days to develop, but on other occasions the onset would be almost immediate.

For Nick it was no laughing matter. He would become confused, slur his words, and suffer stomach pains and headaches. Every day for a year he would vomit on waking.

In desperation, his wife, Karen Daw, filmed him and played back the footage for him to see. Nick says he was terrified at what he saw.

In desperation, he approached his GP for help, but the initial reaction was the same as his wife’s – that he was an alcoholic who was in denial about his problem.

It was only when Nick was admitted to hospital for tests that the truth was revealed.

The condition means Nick’s stomach has an overgrowth of yeast, which turns any carbohydrates he eats into alcohol. 

Nick now takes anti-fungal drugs and sticks to a special low carbohydrate diet, which helps to combat the condition. 

Claims of endogenous fermentation of this type have been used as a defence against drink driving charges.

However, as detailed above, this is a rare medical condition. For most people charged with a drink driving offence it would not be a defence.

If you have been charged with a drink driving offence and would like to see if you have a defence, call Forrest Williams on 01623 600645 for free initial advice.

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