Weird beer: Auto Brewery Syndrome

This month, we peer gingerly into a micro-brewery with real guts

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Many of us get into homebrew on the promise of cheap, effectively limitless booze (and the opportunity to express ourselves creatively through the mastery of an ancient craft blah blah blah). For some though, the never-ending beer fountain is a very real and potentially life-threatening reality.

Auto-brewery syndrome (which I swear is its real name) is a very rare medical condition, in which the gut is colonised by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or common brewers’ yeast, which then metabolises any carbohydrates it finds into alcohol. In plain terms, sufferers of this exotic little inconvenience can get absolutely smashed on a plate of alphabetti spaghetti on toast. Sounds great; really isn’t.

A recent case study published in BMJ Open Gastroenterology follows a 46-year-old patient, whose problems began in 2011, after he was prescribed a course of antibiotics for a boo-boo on his thumb. Days after completing the course, he began to experience symptoms including personality changes, memory loss, depression, ‘foggy’ thinking and aggressive outbursts.

Several possible causes were explored, but it wasn’t until he was pulled over by the police and found to have a blood alcohol level of 200 mg/dL – equivalent to around three strong beers – that the nature of his problem began to materialise.

A light social drinker, the patient protested that he hadn’t touched a drop that day, much to the scepticism of both police and medical professionals. He was eventually discharged though, and sought help from a clinic in Ohio which, as part of a battery of tests, found the brewers’ yeast alive and well in his poop.

Several rounds of treatment initially worked, only for the condition to unexpectedly flair up again, resulting in associated health problems and, on one occasion, a serious head injury. Fortunately, he was eventually put in touch with a team of researchers at the University of Richmond, who were able to successfully treat him with a combination of advanced anti-fungal drugs and probiotics to encourage healthy gut bacteria.

All of this happened over the course of several years, during which our reluctant homebrewer was constantly suspected of being a secret drinker by law enforcement, medics and even his own family. So the next time you’re grumbling at the cost of a £6 schooner, just remember: there’s no such thing as a free pint.

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