You have brain fog that seems to follow you around all day. You can’t seem to think straight or concentrate – you’re even slurring your words. If someone didn’t know any better, they’d swear you were drunk.
Well, believe it or not, thanks to an increasingly common digestive disorder, you may be. Even if you haven’t had a drop to drink.
The booze that brews in your gut
A couple of years ago, a woman in New York was pulled over with a blood alcohol level that was five times the legal limit. Exactly the kind of person we should be throwing the book at, right?
Well, not so fast. She hadn’t been drinking. Believe it or not, this woman had her case thrown out when her lawyers found out she has a condition known as auto brewery syndrome.
If you often suffer from brain fog or a feeling of mental confusion… like you would if you were drunk… you could have auto brewery syndrome, too.
Yes, that’s a real, known medical condition!
If you’ve got it, so much yeast builds up in your intestines that if you consume any sugar, your body will brew an alcoholic cocktail so strong that it could make you fail a breathalyzer.
Think about it: how do you make alcohol? You feed sugar to yeast and then wait. And then before you know it… you’ve got alcohol.
The same thing happens right inside our bodies. In the case of the New York woman, a medical team monitored her blood alcohol level all day. The more she ate, the more it went up – and by 6 p.m. she was a whopping four times the legal limit – without touching a drop of alcohol!
Auto brewery syndrome can affect anyone – including you
The most interesting part of the case is that this woman – and other people afflicted with the same issue – are almost always walking, working, raising children, and driving (as scary as that is) as ‘functional alcoholics’. They’re just used to having this high level of alcohol in their blood, and they’ve adapted to it to the point that they can be over four times the legal limit and still appear at least somewhat normal.
They certainly don’t seem blackout drunk – they just come across as brain fogged, or maybe ditsy, confused, or even depressed.
This overgrowth of yeast can cause a host of other very common symptoms, but the two main areas that are affected are the brain and the gut.
The mental and neurological symptoms, as I noted, can range from brain fog to depression, anxiety, fatigue, and headaches. Excessive yeast and their by-products of fermentation can also cause a host of gastrointestinal complaints, which include gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
When yeast goes wild
There have been some well-documented and proven cases of auto brewery syndrome in scientific literature – including a 2013 case study of a 61-year-old male out of Texas and a 1984 study out of Japan, which was able to replicate the phenomenon in the laboratory in two different individuals.
There also have been a few studies done with children that undoubtedly get ‘drunk’ when they eat too much sugar and carbohydrates – but in their case, it’s because of a gut disorder called short bowel (or gut) syndrome.
But, the important lesson from these fascinating cases is that this condition – also known as ‘gut fermentation syndrome’ – is not as uncommon as you would think.
Brain fog itself is a very common complaint in my office, and many times the patient’s ‘fog’ isn’t coming from ‘old age’ or that dreaded diagnosis of dementia – but, rather, from an overgrowth of yeast!
Some of my patients will claim that they feel ‘drunk’, and you know what? They’re right; they are basically inebriated. Of course, I’m not routinely doing breathalyzer testing or blood alcohol levels in my office, but I AM testing patients’ stool samples for yeast. I find an overgrowth of it on a routine basis. And what’s really cool is when I treat the yeast in their intestines… poof! the brain fog goes away.
In most of the severe cases, the patients have usually figured out by trial and error that their worst enemy is sugar. Within minutes of eating sugar or a sugar-laden meal, they feel downright poorly and become brain-fogged, tired, and lightheaded.
Most of them have figured out that they can’t tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates, as well.
Some patients even come back to be treated again because the symptoms returned after excessive sugar intake… or a round of antibiotics.
Killing off your good gut flora paves the way for fermentation
Aside from carb and sugar addiction, one of the main causes of auto brewery syndrome is taking too many antibiotics, and too often. It’s an accumulation of damage from antibiotics over the course of your lifetime… since you were a little kid.
Antibiotics kill the good, healthy bacteria in your gut right along with the bad. And when that happens, it’s very easy for yeast to grow in the place of the good bacteria… especially in a damp and moist environment such as the intestines.
There’s always supposed to be SOME yeast in the mix in your intestines, and most of it is considered ‘good’ yeast. But when antibiotics kill off a fair amount of the good bacteria (and you fail to take probiotics while on the antibiotic), these yeast species will start to grow like wildfire in place of the bacteria.
The analogy that I use in the office is that you want a lot of grass and a few mushrooms on your lawn, but after you take antibiotics, the mushrooms will take over – and that’s when problems ensue.
When you are on an antibiotic, you should not swallow the probiotic at the same exact time as the antibiotic, because the antibiotic will kill the probiotic. I have my patients wait two hours after taking the antibiotic to take the probiotic. To make it easy, you could take the probiotic at bedtime, since you must take most antibiotics with meals.
Put your body’s microbrewery out of business
Really, anything that disrupts the bowel flora and allows the good bacteria to diminish and the bad ‘bugs’ to flourish can contribute to the alcohol brewing in your body. This includes consuming too much sugar, carbs, and/or alcohol – but also NSAIDs (like ibuprofen and naproxen), coffee, chemotherapy, and even stress – all of which can be avoided or reduced.
The good news is that there are proactive strategies that you can take to start tackling potential auto brewery syndrome or yeast overgrowth. The first step is to eliminate as much sugar and carbohydrates from your diet as you can. This will at least stop feeding the yeast their fodder! I always recommend the Paleo Diet, which also happens to masquerade as an anti-fungal, anti-yeast diet with very few sugars and carbohydrates.
Then, you can replenish and repopulate the good bacteria in your gut by going on a high quality probiotic.
You also can consider killing some of the excessive yeast with natural germicidal remedies like garlic, oil of oregano, or grapefruit seed extract – but a word of caution: if you start killing the yeast too quickly, you could feel worse before you feel better.
So, if you have undiagnosed mental, neurological, and perhaps gastrointestinal complaints… or if you suspect that you might have this malady of yeast overgrowth… you should seek out a holistic doctor.
This condition is so prevalent that almost all holistic doctors are trained and versed in diagnosing and treating the condition.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 3 • March 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.