William Long Whitesell, L.L.C.

Is the bacteria in your belly brewing beer?

Most people know that when we eat or drink something, the bacteria in our digestive tract break it down into usable energy. In most cases, the worst people have to worry about is getting heartburn or gas after eating. But what if the food you ate turned into ethanol instead of energy? What if you were not aware this was happening and you decided to drive?

While this may sound like a work of fiction, the food to ethanol conversion described above actually happens for people who have an extremely rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome, also called gut-fermentation syndrome. And while you may not have heard about it, two recent news stories on the phenomena are helping people to see the innate problem this condition can create.

Real life cases of auto-brewery syndrome

Although reports of this condition date back to 1912, the two most recent cases appeared in several news sources, including a 2013 NPR article and a 2015 CNN post. While the 2013 case of a man being admitted to a hospital for dizziness explains what may cause auto-brewery syndrome to occur, the case outlined in the 2015 post illustrates how serious a situation can become when the condition is mistaken for an attempt to drink and drive.

The 2015 post describes an incident in which a woman was nearly charged with driving under the influence because she blew a 0.40 even though she had not had any alcohol for a significant amount of time. Turns out that like the man in the 2013 case, she also had auto-brewery syndrome and a judge later dismissed the case.

Not the defense for everyone

Because auto-brewery syndrome is rare and the situation has to be just right for an individual to develop it, it's unlikely that a mass majority of people facing a DUI will be able to use it as a defense against charges.

However, in cases where an individual hasn't had alcohol in several hours or none at all, and they are exhibiting classic symptoms of intoxication, auto-brewery syndrome may be a possibility. This is especially true if the individual doesn't have a history of alcohol abuse or an increased tolerance to alcohol.

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