A man charged with drink driving was actually suffering from a bizarre condition that caused him to “brew beer” in his gut.
An unnamed 46-year-old was pulled over by police in 2014, with a breathalyser showing he was five times over the legal limit.
The man claimed he had not drank a drop of alcohol, which both the police and his family refused to believe.
It was not until 2017 that doctors discovered he had auto-brewery syndrome (ABS). This incredibly rare condition occurs when the body converts sugary and starchy foods into alcohol.
ABS occurs when yeast that produce alcohol overgrow in the gut. When a patient eats carbohydrates or sugar, the yeast break these foods down into alcohol, leaving them “drunk”.
Also known as gut fermentation syndrome, the condition is so rare, there is said to have been just five reported cases in the past 30 years.
ABS has no cure, with patients being advised to avoid sugar and carbohydrates to help control their symptoms, as well as frequently monitoring their blood alcohol content.
Three years after his brush with the law, the man went to see a gastroenterologist at the Richmond University Medical Center in New York. It is unclear if he was charged for driving “under the influence”.
The doctor found he had abnormally high levels of the fungi Saccharomyces cerevisiae in his faeces. The fungi are thought to have originated in his gut.
Also known as brewer’s yeast, S. cerevisiae is used by beer makers to convert carbohydrates in grains into alcohol.
Every time the man ate carb-rich foods, the alcohol content in his blood shot up. It even reached highs of 400 milligrams per 100 millilitres, 11 times the drink-drive limit in the US.
His condition is thought to have come about after he took antibiotics for a thumb injury in 2011. Antibiotics can kill “good bacteria” in the gut, allowing fungi that would normally be kept under control to rapidly reproduce.
The man told doctors he had endured “brain fog”, dizziness and memory loss since the injury. These symptoms led medics to initially misdiagnose him with depression, with the situation becoming so severe he was forced to quit his job.
Once properly diagnosed, he was prescribed antibiotics and anti-fungal drugs, as well as being told to adopt a strict low-carbohydrate diet. The man has been symptom-free for the past two years.
Dr Fahad Malik, who oversaw his care, told New Scientist: “He was extremely happy when he started to recover, because for years, no one believed him.
“The police, doctors, nurses and even his family told him he wasn't telling the truth, that he must be a closet-drinker.
“Now he is off antidepressants, he's back at work and he's finally getting on with his life.”
A full case report will be presented at the annual American College of Gastroenterology conference in San Antonio, Texas, later this month.