This post was originally published on January 20, 2016.
“Officer, it wasn’t me, it was the brewery inside my bod!” Can you imagine using that excuse to get out of a DUI? Would someone really be ridiculous enough to say, “Yes I’m drunk and driving but it’s not my fault—I’ve got booze currently fermenting without my consent in my blood stream”? Well, thanks to the existence of “auto-brewery syndrome,” this excuse might just be legit. Yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s exactly what one New York woman has done to combat an extremely inconvenient DWI citation.
According to ABC News, on October 11, 2014, a 35-year-old schoolteacher was pulled over outside of Buffalo in the town of Hamburg, New York for reckless driving. The police officer on the scene described her as having slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. She insisted she’d only knocked back three drinks over the course of six hours but I guess multiple field sobriety tests and a Breathalyzer don’t lie. The woman clocked in at four times the legal blood alcohol limit and was slapped with a DWI.
Convinced there had to be something else at play, her lawyer helped direct her to medical testing which confirmed she indeed has auto-brewery syndrome, also known as gut fermentation syndrome. As such, the food she consumes can potentially convert into alcohol in her system as it’s being digested. Ultimately she had to produce a damn doctor’s note (via her lawyer) for them to believe she had the diagnosis. That doc, Columbus, Ohio physician Dr. Anup Kanodia, prescribed the woman a low-carb diet and the whole thing’s now under control.
But Just How Real Is This Beer Gut?
The defendant’s lawyer found the doctor who was able to identify the problem through Barbara Cordell, a professor at Panola College in Texas. The condition is apparently so rare that there seems to be only one other widely known case, which Cordell wrote about in 2013—that of a 61-year-old Texas resident whose wife was starting to suspect he was drunk a lot. Despite his protestations that he wasn’t intoxicated, he appeared this way on and off for about five years; eventually things got so dire that he was admitted to the ER. Doctors couldn’t figure out why he was blowing a .37 when, according to him, he hadn’t consumed so much as a sip of beer. Assuming this dude was just a closeted alcoholic, they didn’t realize there was more going on until he went though a 24-hour isolated observation period and they determined that his stomach was digesting grub into excessive amounts of ethanol.
There isn’t much information online about auto-brewery syndrome, with the exception of some scholarly articles from the 1990s and a write up on The Medical Bag, which concludes that this condition is “highly improbable.” The Medical Bag post questions whether testing blood alcohol content only by way of Breathalyzers and blood tests is an accurate measure and while it seems like “blood test” is pretty straightforward to me, apparently blood alcohol content and ethanol fermentation are a very complicated hybrid. By the way, if you can understand the Medical Bag post in its entirety (here’s a sample from it: 24 g ÷ 46 g/mol=0.523 mol x 44 g/mol=23 g of CO2), then you should probably be off coming up with other new, bizarre disorders and not reading this.
Doctor’s Note Defense
So how did things turn out for our beer gutted schoolteacher? Well, her charges were dropped this past December. While I’m glad justice was served in her favor, I’m sure the courts will continue to be skeptical, as they were in her case, if someone tries to claim Beer Gut to get out of a drunk driving arrest. Assuming this is all real, she still has to deal with an awful condition and who knows what’s available treatment wise for something so rare? While getting drunk without even trying is something that would have appealed to me at 22, it definitely doesn’t at 32, and certainly not as a sober person in recovery.
Bright side? Someone with this condition might finally have the motivation to stick to that low-carb diet we’re all supposed to be doing. I’d imagine nothing gets the gut fermenting faster than a plate of processed carbohydrates and refined sugar—otherwise known as every American’s number one nemesis.