For five years, an East Texas man struggled with randomly becoming intoxicated without having consumed any alcoholic beverages. Some doctors wrote him off as a closet drinker, but a medical team in Carthage listened, researched, and eventually got to bottom of the mysterious illness.
In 2010, Barbara Cordell at Panola College was approached by a friend who was experiencing symptoms he didn't understand.
"He was dizzy and feeling unusual. His wife is actually a nurse, and she was suspicious that he smelled like alcohol and seemed like he was drunk or intoxicated. He said he hadn't been drinking. She believed him. I believed him. So, we really tried to figure out what was going on with him," says Cordell, Dean of Nursing and Health Sciences at Panola College.
Research revealed something called "auto-brewery syndrome" which is also known as "gut fermentation syndrome."
"Several of the articles were pretty old, but they were talking about the possibility of a yeast infection that was causing fermentation in the intestines and having the patient, or patients, a number of patients were cited, who were actually intoxicated," explains Cordell.
Cordell teamed up with Dr. Justin McCarthy. She says he was one of the few doctors who had an open mind and believed the patient when he said he hadn't been drinking.
"He was the one that hospitalized the patient and did a 24-hour observation to determine if this was really what was going on," she says.
The observation revealed that a glucose challenge paired with a high carbohydrate diet increased the patient's blood alcohol concentration to .12, which is well over the legal limit of .08.
"The doctor did stool cultures and actually found this particular yeast known as brewer's yeast," says Cordell.
The brewer's yeast, also known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the same yeast that's used to brew beer. It was also growing in the patient's intestines. The doctor prescribed an anti-yeast medication, which cleared the problem right up.
Cordell says she encourages patients and families with strange medical symptoms to keep working until they find answers.
"Nurses are advocates and patients and their families need to keep working until they can find an answer. There are people out there who will listen to them and good physicians that will take care of them," she says.
It has been an entire year since the patient experienced any of the strange intoxication symptoms. He wishes to remain anonymous.
If you'd like to read more about Cordell and McCarthy's findings, click here.
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