Would you believe us if we told you some people can get drunk without ever taking a sip of alcohol? While this might sound enviable (no carbs, no empty calories, no price tag), that’s far from the case for those who suffer from a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome.
Also known by its more clinical name, gut fermentation syndrome, it occurs when there’s an overgrowth of candida, the yeast that most commonly causes yeast infections. Except instead of overgrowing in the mouth or genitals, it multiplies out of control in your gut.
“When candida metabolizes sugars it produces byproducts and chemical derivatives of alcohol. When those get into your circulatory system, it can give you that feeling of being hungover or drunk,” says Kiran Krishnan, a microbiologist in Florida.
Sometimes, people with the condition assume they’re just sick when they experience symptoms like fogginess, lightheadedness, and overall lethargy, but if they had their blood tested it would actually show a slight elevation in blood alcohol content (BAC) depending on what type of alcohol derivative their body produced, says Krishnan.
“It’s just like what happens when you drink, except it’s chronic,” he says. “Drinking causes inflammation in the body and puts stress on the liver, and so does this. It’s basically like these microbes in your body are drinking and having a party and you’re paying the price for it.”
If you’re still not sold, here’s more proof: in 2016, an upstate New York woman blew more than four times the legal limit, despite insisting she hadn’t had a drink in hours; turns out, she was telling the truth, and a judge later dismissed the charges after viewing evidence that she (unbeknownst to her) had auto-brewery syndrome.
And, an article in the journal Medicine, Science, and the Law, explored the phenomenon and reported that in people with the condition, an abnormally high alcohol concentration appeared to have been produced after they’d eaten carbohydrate-rich foods. “When the body has sugars or simple carbohydrates in it, as well as these microbes, they’ll metabolize it and produce these byproducts, which cause the systemic effects,” says Krishnan.
Candida overgrowth is what Krishnan calls an “opportunistic grower,” which means if you make your body an attractive incubator, it’ll take advantage of that and leave you feeling hungover all the time, minus the social fun. (These are the signs you might be drinking too much alcohol.) The good news is, it’s not a strong fighter, so there are simple steps you can take to keep it under control. “Limit stress, eat a healthy diet, and take a probiotic,” he says. “Look for a probiotic that says it survives the gastric system, like Probiogen, because this means it’s guaranteed to get into your intestines alive, not a given with all probiotics.”