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Can Yeast Overgrowth Make You Drunk?

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Technically, yes. Too much candida in your gut microbiome can lead to a condition called auto-brewery syndrome.

For most of us, the capacity for accurate self-reporting tends to decline after a few drinks, yet when a North Carolina man was arrested for drunk driving and claimed he hadn’t imbibed, he was telling the truth.

Still, he was anything but sober.

Tests eventually revealed that the man, who is the subject of a study published in 2019 in BMJ Open Gastroenterology, had a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome.

This can occur when the growth of intestinal yeast outpaces the body’s ability to process it, leaving the excess to ferment in the bowel. The fermentation produces what is, in effect, the body’s own beer.

“Candida, or other intestinal yeast, can take simple sugars or refined carbohydrates and turn them into alcohol,” explains functional-medicine physician Gregory Plotnikoff, MD.

A healthy gut microbiome includes several species of yeast, but overgrowth is not uncommon — especially after a course of antibiotics. These drugs typically wipe out a range of good and bad gut microbes, but not yeast. Without the good microbes to maintain balance, yeast can grow unchecked. (For more on this, visit “How to Treat Candida Overgrowth”.)

When a surplus of yeast feeds on an excess of carbohydrates and sugar, this can trigger enough fermentation to raise the body’s blood-alcohol levels well beyond the legal limit for driving. It can also spur a range of other health effects, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

“I just saw someone who, without a drop of alcohol, had nearly exceeded the legal limit for alcohol in the body,” Plotnikoff says. “I went looking for auto-brewery syndrome to understand the cause for his quite severe NAFLD. He also suffers from severe bloating.”

Because this process usually endures over time, many sufferers adapt to high levels of blood alcohol, much as long-term alcoholics do. They may also display signs of inebriation that resemble drunkenness, which can be mistaken for dementia or other cognitive-health issues.

The treatment for auto-brewery syndrome involves an extremely low- or no-carbohydrate diet to starve the yeast, as well as antifungal medications and probiotics. For the patient in the BMJ study, this approach helped reset his system. Eventually, his blood-alcohol levels returned to normal.

Plotnikoff believes the condition may be more common than we think. “My sense is that we only say this is rare because we only look for this in the most egregious cases.”

This originally appeared as “Drunk . . . On Yeast Overgrowth?” in the October 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

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Health & Fitness

Wise Beyond Their Years – Experience Life

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Time flies when you’re having fun . . . and when you’re in the midst of a global health crisis, it seems. I’m not sure how we’ve almost reached the one-year mark since the official declaration of the pandemic — the days have seemed both short and long; some as if time stood still, others as if at warp speed.

Yet one day at a time, regardless of the pace, we’re approaching this milestone — one that marks too many who’ve fallen ill and too many who have lost their lives. There are no adequate words of comfort for those who are coping with losses and carrying deep grief, and my heart aches for all who are suffering.

Nor is there adequate gratitude for those who have served selflessly and tirelessly over these past 12 months. To our healthcare workers, first responders, scientists, epidemiologists, educators, support staffs, and countless more: Thank you, a million times over, for your sacrifices and for those of your loved ones, too.

Amid the pain and loss, and as we continue to deal with and discover more about the novel coronavirus and its effects, we also move forward, ideally having learned a thing or two.

Two of my best teachers through this have been my daughters, who have shown such resilience, strength, consistency, honesty, and hope, in spite of it all. On the days when I’ve felt no hope, they’ve shown me possibilities. On the days when all I’ve wanted to do is cry, they’ve made me laugh. And when I’ve needed perspective, they’ve shown me multiple ways to look at and deal with our circumstances.

They inspire me in such unexpected ways. My oldest, now 10, recently put a Post-it above her desk, with a handwritten note that reads, “All you need: 20 seconds of courage.” It’s not the exact quote from We Bought a Zoo, but it’s close, and I adore that she chose to put this phrase in her daily line of sight. I took her lead and now have an empowering phrase written on the board above my desk, too. (For more on mantras, see “STRONG BODY, STRONG MIND: Words of Inspiration”.)

Our 7-year-old, well, she has some wisdom in her, too. On a recent hike, we crossed paths with an opossum, who a few of us quickly described as an ugly creature. Her response: “He probably thinks we’re ugly, too.”

It made me laugh and gave me pause — I simply hadn’t considered that before. But that’s how she thinks, with this 360-degree view that considers all who are involved and affected. She reminds me to put myself in others’ shoes (“Welcome to Wellness,” offered me an opportunity for this).

And one night before bed, after a particularly tough day in which she’d had to deal with the consequences of a poor decision, she looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Mom, some good things happen and some bad things happen. We can’t change it, but we can keep trying.”

I write moments like this down because I don’t want to forget — and because there are often lessons in them about how to live every day.

They’re reminders that even when hard things happen that are beyond our control, we have choices about how we react to and respond to them. We can choose how we communicate about them, and we have agency to take the next step. And the one after that.

Onward — it’s the theme of this issue. It’s not about forgetting or trying to change the past, but rather acknowledging where we’ve been and all we’ve learned. It’s about continuing to forge ahead and do our best as we make our way, one day at a time.


Jamie Martin
is Experience Life’s editor in chief. Follow her on Instagram @jamiemartinel.

Photography by Sara Rubinstein

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