Imagine the shock on your face when your child, partner, or parent gets arrested for drunk driving. They look and act drunk, the breathalyser confirms this, yet they insist that they have never tasted alcohol in their entire life. Here is the shocking fact – it’s possible for a non-drinker’s body to produce alcohol on it’s own. That person may actually be telling the truth!
In 2003, according to the Journal of Legal Medicine, a 13-year-old girl who was at the time, not of legal age to consume alcohol started to show signs of alcohol intoxication after eating a carbohydrate rich meal.
It is possible that her initial denial of not consuming alcohol was ludicrous. However, further medical examination showed she suffered from a condition known as short bowel syndrome where her gut was colonised by an unusual group of bacteria at the time which were able to convert the carbohydrate-rich meal into alcohol. This probably sounds like it was lifted from the pages of a science fiction novel, but it did happen.
Although a very rare condition, auto brewery syndrome, also known as gut fermentation syndrome allows the individual to adequately ferment carbohydrate food substances that have been consumed. This happens with the aid of fungi and bacteria in the gut, and could produce alcohol sufficient enough to even lead to intoxication.
Yeast and bacteria have been identified as the usual culprits in this condition and they include:
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- C. krusei
- S. boulardii
- C. tropicalis
- Candida albicans
How Does A Non-Drinker’s Body Produce Alcohol?
Basically, before this condition manifests, there has to be a pre-existing condition, which we will share below.
Also, certain criteria have to be met. Usually, the human gut is lined by beneficial microorganisms referred to as normal flora. This bacteria helps with certain stages of food digestion usually without any negative effects to the human host. However, when this mutually beneficial dynamics is altered, the vacuum created is then occupied by new, strange microorganisms that do not share the same relationship with their human hosts as the previous bacteria. The altered balance may then lead to the condition, amongst other possibilities.
So what causes this condition, and could you have it?
Causes Of Auto Brewery Syndrome
- Prolonged use of antibiotics
When you are placed on antibiotics for a long period of time, this treatment may sometimes wipe out the normal flora in the gut, making a different group of bacteria that are likely resistant to the antibiotics taken, now thrive in their place.
Lack of adequate nutrition can weaken your immune system, preventing your body from effectively fighting off all forms of harmful microbes
- Genetic conditions affecting the liver and the enzymes it produces
There are certain enzymes in the liver that help in the breakdown of alcohol, limiting its toxicity. They can be affected either by a damage to the liver from a disease condition, or an inherited disease from birth
- High intake of a carbohydrate diet
Usually not a cause in isolation, but when the conditions have been made right by the other possible causes, the carbohydrate intake becomes a good substrate for the now existing harmful bacteria to work on and for the fermentation to take place
How To Know When A Non-Drinker Is Producing Alcohol
Basically, there are no special signs of this condition other than what one who has consumed alcohol would present with.
People with alcohol intoxication will usually have less control over their body movements, their speech may become slurry, inability to walk straight, belching, dizziness etc. With all these, the operation of mechanical appliances such as vehicles become affected significantly.
But here is the interesting part – people with this condition usually would not have consumed alcohol at the time they manifest these signs.
Alcohol can be detected either by carrying out a breath test using a breathalyser or by taking blood samples and testing for the alcohol content. If auto brewery syndrome is suspected, a baseline of blood glucose level and alcohol level is established by asking the person to fast while the readings are recorded.
After this, a dose of glucose is given to the person and again, the values are recorded to see if there is an increase of the alcohol level in the absence of alcohol consumption.
Is There A Treatment For Auto Brewery Syndrome?
The principle behind the treatment of this condition is to eradicate the bad microorganisms that ferment the sugar and leave room for the good ones to flourish.
Once the bacteria or fungi has been identified, a course of antibiotics or antifungal therapy is commenced to eliminate the microbes.
A special diet may be required for the non-drinker’s body who is producing alcohol. For example, the person may be placed on a probiotic diet. This encourages the multiplication of the good kind of microorganisms in the gut, which then replace the harmful ones.