Talk about bellying up to the bar: A a 61-year-old Texas was just diagnosed with a rare case of "auto-brewery syndrome," reported CBS News on September 19. Initially accused of being a "closet drinker," the man actually suffers from such a surplus of yeast in his stomach that his body manufactures an alcoholic brew that makes him legally drunk.
Prior to the diagnosis, the man had to cope with claims that he was secretly drinking. His wife even had him tested repeatedly with a Breathalyzer, which reported numbers much higher than the legal driving limit.
It took a medical sleuth team to figure out the problem. Barbara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist in Lubbock, Texas, recognized something was going on when the man "would get drunk out of the blue -- on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime."
After putting the man in isolation for 24 hours without any alcohol or sugar, the team tested him and discovered his blood alcohol level was again higher than the legal driving limit.
Diagnosis: High levels of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is a kind of yeast that is used in alcohol fermentation and baking. The medical sleuths are assuming that when the man took antibiotics following surgery for a broken foot in 2004, all of the bacteria in his gut was killed. The result: Yeast thrived in his body and turned his stomach into a brewery.
However, yeast on its own isn't viewed as dangerous.
"No one takes potential danger from Saccharomyces cerevesiae seriously," Dr. Michael D. Gershon, a professor in the department of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University in New York, told CBSNews.com.
So why the problem with the elderly Texas man? His diet, which consisted of lots of carbohydrates. As a result, each time he ate something with large amounts of starch, his body transformed the sugars into ethanol or ethyl alcohol, which made him drunk from the inside.
In order to recover, the patient was told to follow a low-carbohydrate diet (bye, bye bread, hello beef) and take antifungal medication to eliminate the excess yeast.
"This is a rare syndrome but should be recognized because of the social implications such as loss of job, relationship difficulties, stigma, and even possible arrest and incarceration," noted the medical team. "It would behoove health care providers to listen more carefully to the intoxicated patient who denies ingesting alcohol."