When a man in North Carolina was pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk, police didn’t believe him when he said he hadn’t had any alcohol.
But researchers at the Richmond University Medical Center in New York eventually discovered that the man was telling the truth. He wasn’t downing beers or cocktails — instead, there was yeast in his gut that was likely converting carbohydrates in the food he ate to alcohol.
In other words, his body was brewing beer.
The findings were reported in a study in BMJ Open Gastroenterology. The man, whose identity has not been revealed, had a rarely diagnosed medical condition called auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), also known as gut fermentation syndrome.
Gut fermentation syndrome occurs when yeast in the gastrointestinal tract causes the body to convert carbohydrates ingested through food into alcohol. The process typically takes place in the upper GI tract, which includes the stomach and the first part of the small intestine.
The condition is rarely diagnosed
There have only been a few studies documenting cases of gut fermentation syndrome and the condition is rarely diagnosed, Malik said. In the past, it’s even been regarded as a myth.
There have been a handful of reported cases in recent years. A 2013 study described a case of a 61-year-old man who for years seemed to be drunk all the time before he was diagnosed with gut fermentation syndrome.
In 2015, a woman in upstate New York had a DUI dismissed after presenting evidence that she had the condition.
Early signs of gut fermentation syndrome can include mood changes, delirium and brain fog, the researchers wrote, even before a patient starts exhibiting symptoms of alcohol inebriation.
The study says more research should be done on the use of probiotics as a treatment for the condition.
“This is a condition that is treatable with dietary modifications, appropriate antifungal therapy, and possibly probiotics,” the researchers wrote.
CNN’s Sandee LaMotte contributed to this report.