"Belly Brewery"

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Special Hen
Jun 11, 2006
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This is really odd. Bottom line is that the guy had yeast in his intestines that converted carbs into alcohol and got him real drunk from time to time, and nobody except his wife believed him. I know a few folks who might be interested in developing this syndrome as a money saving measure. Lots more details below in the article.


by Peggy Jones [email protected] Longview News-Journal

CARTHAGE — When a Panola County woman brought her husband to the emergency room in 2008 with a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit, she insisted he hadn’t been drinking.

He’d just become drunk out of the clear blue, she told hospital staff. A nurse or two snickered, certain the woman was being duped by a closet alcoholic.

It took several years and a determined researcher to prove the couple were telling the truth. He was drunk, but not on booze.

Since publishing her case study in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine in July, the phone has not stopped ringing in Dr. Barbara Cordell’s office.

The dean of Nursing and Health Sciences at Panola College has found herself an international research rock star for her dogmatic determination that helped diagnose auto-brewery syndrome, a rare condition in which yeast quite literally turned a man’s belly into a brewery.

This past week alone, Cordell was asked for permission to translate and publish her study in German; contacted by researchers in Spain and people from across the country who fear they suffer from the same strange illnesses as her subject, who endured nightmarish conditions before he found help.

The man, a now 61-year-old Panola County resident whose identity has not been released for privacy reasons, experienced his first episode in 2008.

He and his wife, in an email interview, described the first episode as “bizarre.”

“I thought he’d had a stroke,” his wife wrote. “His words were so slurred he couldn’t even talk — and I never thought about alcohol because he hadn’t been drinking! I really was thinking stroke.”

The patient recalled his ambulance ride to the hospital.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt very strange, dizzy, but had no idea what was wrong or why I was in an ambulance.,”

The hospital ran blood tests, a CT scan and EKG.

“When the ER doc came back to talk to us he said [my husband’s] blood alcohol level was 271 (.27). I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

He was kept in the hospital overnight and sent home the next morning.

“I knew they didn’t believe me,” he said.

“Our family doctor was empathetic but said he couldn’t imagine what this could be other than drinking because he’d never heard of anything that could make BAC elevate other than alcohol. We left praying that it would not happen again,” she wrote.

It didn’t for a while.

After the hospitalization, the woman bought a breathalyzer and started a journal, tracking what food her husband ate and his blood alcohol level.

In 2010, it happened again.

“This day we were in Walmart after church on a Sunday, and he had such a bad episode it looked like a stroke again,” she wrote. “He was pale and couldn’t speak well, but we’d been together all morning. I really knew in my heart it was alcohol, but this time I was positive he had not been drinking. I drove him to the ER again because of my frustration — hoping someone would listen to us and maybe have an answer.”

“When I came to in the ER, I told them I hadn’t been drinking but I felt terrible — that bizarre feeling again — and knew they wouldn’t believe me. The ER doctor basically blew me off,” the patient wrote.

He had a blood alcohol level of .37 — potentially a lethal level. The legal BAC for intoxication in Texas is .08.

As the man was, again, admitted to the hospital, the physician spoke directly to his wife.

“The doctor pulled me aside and said, ‘There’s no way someone could have this high a level (BAC) and not have been drinking — this level would be like he had a whole bottle of booze.’ I was devastated because I knew my husband didn’t do that and that made me very frightened. Now I was very scared and tried a renewed search asking everyone I knew if they had ever heard of such a problem.”

They approached Cordell, who said she would try to find someone who could help them.

“At first I really wondered if Mr. X was drinking, but once I saw the log Mrs. X was keeping and heard all the times they both said he wasn’t drinking, I really believed them. As a nurse, I’m a scientist and a patient advocate, so most of all, I wanted to get to the bottom of the story,” Cordell said.

She immersed herself in research, determined to learn what could cause unexplained intoxication. It proved more difficult than she imagined.

“It took many months of searching the Internet, literature databases, medical journals, etc. before I felt I had enough evidence to take to a doctor. ... I had nothing until I hit on auto-brewery.”

Auto-brewery syndrome is a rare condition in which an overgrowth of yeast, in this case Saccharomyces cerevisae (also known as Brewer’s Yeast), located in the digestive tract cause carbohydrates to ferment, quickly absorbed as alcohol.

To make the diagnosis, Cordell contacted gastroenterologist Dr. Justin McCarthy who was, at the time, practicing in Nacogdoches. He has since moved his practice to Lubbock and refers all questions about the case study to Cordell.

“(McCarthy) was open-minded and willing to listen,” Cordell said. “(The patient had) just been dismissed everywhere he went. They all assumed he was a closet alcoholic. It was refreshing to find a physician who was willing to dig and to be an investigator.”

The patient was placed in the hospital under 24-hour observation. He had no access to alcohol or anything else for that matter, Cordell said.

“Basically he was in the room with a gown,” she said with a laugh.

They fed him high-carb meals and tested his blood sugar and blood alcohol every two hours.

His BAC went to .12 in the day. McCarthy pinned down the diagnosis using a stool sample.

“It’s a yeast infection in the intestines,” she said. “Most of us have — no, all of us — have all kinds of yeast in our intestines.”

But this man had an overgrowth.

“We sort of had theories how it happened. He had surgery on his foot in 2004. The antibiotics might have put his body out of balance. That was one factor. He was a home brewer in his early 20s. Who knows? Maybe he got brewer’s yeast in him way back then that lay dormant,” Cordell said.

He was treated with antifungal medicine for 10 weeks. That was in 2010. His symptoms have not returned.

Cordell went to work writing about the case study, but it languished, unpublished, until July when it was printed in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.

“When we published the article, I thought, ‘We’re done with it!’ But then it became a sensation,” Cordell said. “It’s been picked up by researchers, patients who think they have it. I had no idea it would take off like this.”

The story has been published in newspapers, online and featured on TV news shows across the world.

The dean from Panola College has attained a fame, of sorts, so, where does she go from here?

“I keep being an advocate for patients any way I can — it’s one of the many ways nurses are vital to health care.”

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