What is Auto-Brewery Syndrome?
What is auto-brewery syndrome?
Imagine you are driving down the road, on your way home after dinner, and you begin feeling a bit woozy just before you get pulled over by a police car. The officer accuses you of driving drunk, but you don’t drink. Of course, the officer doesn’t believe you – he puts on the handcuffs, takes you to jail, and has your car towed.
At the jail, you agree to take the breathalyzer – why wouldn’t you? You know you are not over the legal limit because you haven’t had anything to drink at all. But the cop says that your blood alcohol content is .20 – over twice the legal limit. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them that you haven’t had any alcohol, no one believes you.
Now you are facing DUI charges with a mandatory minimum jail sentence, fines, a suspended driver’s license, and attorney fees for something you know you didn’t do.
What is Auto-Brewery Syndrome?
That’s exactly what happened to a man in NC who was later diagnosed with auto-brewery syndrome, also called gut fermentation syndrome:
The man, in his late 40’s at the time, refused to take a breathalyzer test and was taken to a hospital, where his initial blood alcohol level was found to be 0.2% — about 2.5 times the legal limit and the equivalent of consuming 10 drinks an hour. Despite the man swearing up and down that he hadn’t had anything to drink, doctors didn’t believe him either.
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.
Yeast in his gastrointestinal tract was converting carbohydrates into alcohol, which caused intoxication although the man had no idea what was happening or why:
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.
“These patients have the exact same implications of alcoholism: the smell, the breath, drowsiness, gait changes,” Fahad Malik, the study’s lead author and the chief internal medicine resident at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN. “They will present as someone who’s intoxicated by alcohol, but the only difference here is that these patients can be treated by antifungal medications.”
Auto-brewery syndrome is rarely diagnosed, but researchers can’t be sure how often it happens – it’s just one of many scenarios where breathalyzer tests can result in unfair consequences in a suspected DUI case.
Is the condition treatable?
Is Auto-Brewery Syndrome Treatable?
Apparently, the NC man’s gut began producing alcohol after he took antibiotics for a thumb injury. Although he didn’t understand why, he began experiencing depression, “brain fog,” memory loss, and aggressive behavior.
He went for treatment and doctors found “Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast commonly used in beer brewing, winemaking and baking,” in his stool. They put him on a strict carbohydrate-free diet and prescribed special supplements, but the symptoms continued.
He later fell and suffered a head injury – while recovering in a neurosurgical center the staff again did not believe that he was not drinking alcohol.
Eventually, he sought help from the Richmond University Medical Center, where they used antifungal therapies and probiotics to “normalize the bacteria in his gut,” a treatment that seems to have worked.
What if I Suspect I Have Auto-Brewery Syndrome and I’m Charged with DUI?
First, you need to be diagnosed – which may be difficult because, as the NC man’s story illustrates, it’s hard to get even doctors to believe that you are not drinking alcohol…
If yeast in your gut is producing alcohol, you may have bigger worries than your DUI charge, and you need to seek medical attention from someone who understands auto-brewery syndrome immediately.
Like the NC man described above, you can give yourself regular breathalyzer tests at home to determine your BAC during the day, at night, and after meals, and to have evidence to show to the doctors (and your prosecutor).
Once you are diagnosed and have begun treatment, hopefully, your DUI prosecutor will review your medical records and dismiss the case – it is a classic example of what is called “involuntary intoxication,” which is a defense to DUI.
If they don’t dismiss the case, you would need to bring a medical expert to your DUI trial to explain what is happening to the prosecutor, judge, and jurors – if you have your evidence and you have been diagnosed with auto-brewery syndrome, the prosecutor should dismiss your case.
If the prosecutor doesn’t dismiss, the judge should dismiss your case or grant a directed verdict if there is no evidence contradicting your expert’s testimony. But if neither prosecutor nor judge dismisses your case, you will still have a jury to fall back on.
DUI Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, SC
Attorney Daniel A. Selwa is a DUI defense attorney who accepts cases in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Georgetown, and Horry County, SC.
If you have been arrested and charged with DUI in SC, call now at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our email contact form to speak with a Myrtle Beach DUI defense attorney today.