Gut fermentation syndrome, also known as intestinal candida infection or auto-brewery syndrome, might be a fascinating condition to read about – but it’s an absolutely miserable experience if you have it. This odd digestive disorder results in a feeling of being intoxicated all the time, or being in a fog, where it becomes extremely difficult to concentrate on even the simplest of tasks. It effects are so severe, you can actually get a DUI if you suffer from the syndrome and drive.
A Dangerous Combination
Gut fermentation syndrome is typically associated with an accumulation of yeast inside the intestines. Yeast can build up to the point to where just having a soda, or introducing sugar into the body in some other manner, can trigger a reaction that can rival a major alcohol bender.
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Most of the time, having a certain amount of yeast in our bodies is actually a good thing. It can help boost the immune system and reduce the chances of developing diarrhea. One type of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is not only found in the body, it’s also commonly used as an ingredient in alcoholic products, as well as bread.
But if you take antibiotics, they kill not only bad bacteria, but also beneficial microbes. This can allow yeast to grow out of control and cause major problems, with gut fermentation syndrome possibly being one of them. If a person with this condition takes in any sugar whatsoever, the body converts it into ethanol. This results in a sudden spike in the body’s blood alcohol content. The Candida yeast, in particular, has been identified as one of the main culprits in causing gut fermentation syndrome.1
The liver could be partially at fault as well. Japanese researchers found that people suffering from gut fermentation syndrome had an abnormal amount of enzymes in their livers, which could help explain why they had the condition.2 However, no one has been able to make a definitive connection between the liver and the syndrome.
It Can Happen to Anyone
In severe cases, the body of someone with gut fermentation syndrome produces so much alcohol that he or she can quickly become legally drunk – without having a sip of beer or liquor. In fact, one woman in New York was actually pulled over because a police officer suspected her of drunk driving, but her case was later thrown out because she was diagnosed with the condition.2
The scariest thing about gut fermentation syndrome is that it can strike anyone, regardless of age, gender, or medical history. Children have even been diagnosed with the condition. One girl developed it at the age of 13; another was diagnosed when she was only 3 years old.3
Gut fermentation syndrome sufferers will typically complain that they are tired all the time, which is completely understandable, considering what they experience on a daily basis. If you’ve ever had too much alcohol and then had a major hangover the next day, then you have some idea of what people with gut fermentation syndrome go through. It can get so bad that people might dread even having breakfast, for fear it could make them drunk. Even worse, what if their boss takes them out to lunch and they get inebriated after having a burger?
How Can Diet Affect Gut Fermentation Syndrome?
A diet high in carbohydrates can have a profound effect on triggering a bout of drunkenness due to gut fermentation syndrome. In one study performed in 2010, a 61-year-old man suffering from the condition was given a high-carb meal. His blood was drawn before the meal to establish a baseline blood alcohol content level, and was then checked every two hours. He was also given a Breathalyzer test every four hours. At one point during the study, his blood alcohol level shot up to .12 percent. If he had been behind the wheel, he could have easily been pulled over for a DWI.
Interestingly, researchers also linked this man’s condition to antibiotics he had received six years earlier. They believed that the antibiotics destroyed so many bacteria in his lower intestine that it allowed the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast in his body to explode in numbers, contributing to his condition. They gave the man an anti-fungal medication to lower the amount of yeast in his system. He was then given probiotics to help replenish his supply of intestinal bacteria. According to the study, the treatment lasted for two and a half months and he was symptom-free afterward.4
Anything that causes an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut can help increase the chance that fermentation in the gut will develop. This can include not only antibiotics, but also overindulgence in sugars and carbohydrates. Watching what you eat could lower the risk of gut fermentation syndrome, and taking probiotics could further protect you by increasing the number of good bacteria in your system.
If you do take antibiotics as well as probiotics, you should take them at different times in order for the probiotic to be able to work. Taking the probiotic at least two hours later will help ensure it will be able to do its job. A good rule of thumb is to take the antibiotic after you eat dinner, and then take the probiotic before you go to bed.
The Mystery Continues
This is not to suggest that laying off of carbs and antibiotics will automatically cure gut fermentation syndrome – far from it, in fact. Scientists still don’t know exactly why this problem occurs, and they have yet to develop a reliable way to address it.
Thankfully, gut fermentation syndrome is extremely rare. One of the only ways to get an accurate diagnosis involves a lengthy hospital stay. The patient will typically be isolated from others to ensure he or she is not consuming alcohol; tests will be performed on gut microbes and enzymes. Blood alcohol content levels will be checked on a regular basis as well.
If you are feeling tired, depressed – and yes, inebriated, even though you’re not drinking any alcohol – you’re not alone. Check with your doctor to see if there is a chance you may have gut fermentation syndrome.
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2 LaMotte S. Woman charged with DUI has ‘auto-brewery syndrome’. CNN. 2016. Accessed April 7, 2017.
3 Cordell B, McCarthy J. A Case Study of Gut Fermentation Syndrome (Auto-Brewery) with <i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> as the Causative Organism. International Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2013;04(07):309-312. doi:10.4236/ijcm.2013.47054.
4 Cordell B, McCarthy J. A Case Study of Gut Fermentation Syndrome (Auto-Brewery) with <i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> as the Causative Organism. International Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2013;04(07):309-312. doi:10.4236/ijcm.2013.47054.