Over the years I’ve seen many patients who express that they feel drunk or hungover even though they don’t drink alcohol. This can be incredibly frustrating and confusing, but it happens and there is a reason for it.
If you don’t drink alcohol, or are sober, but you often find yourself feeling drunk, or you often feel like you have a hangover and are recovering from a night of binge drinking, you are not alone.
This experience is known as Auto Brewery Syndrome. And as the names states, you are literally brewing your own alcohol. But how does this happen?
Alcohol is produced by yeast as they feed on sugars from carbohydrates. This process is well understood in the world of beer and wine making. But essentially the same thing can also occur in your digestive tract.
It’s considered a rare condition, but I suspect that there are a lot more people out there suffering from this than we realize. Doctors aren’t particular used to looking for it or diagnosing it, and I believe that many cases are being missed. If were lucky maybe we’ll learn more based on the number of people who watch and comment on this video.
This condition can be caused by several different yeasts, and even a few bacteria have been reported to be the cause of auto brewery syndrome. The yeasts include Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Saccharomyces boulardii, and various species of Candida, including C. glabrata, C. albicans, C. kefyr, and C. parapsilosis. (1)
The bacteria Klebsiella pneumonia, Enterococcus faecium, E. faecalis, and Citrobacter freundii have each been implicated in at least one case report of this condition.
All of these organisms are capable of producing ethanol, which is what causes you to feel like you’ve been drinking alcohol.
S. cerevisiae is the yeast that is used to brew beer. One of the patients that I saw with this syndrome had been a home beer brewing judge for several years. He had probably ingested too many poorly brewed beers and had essentially seeded himself yeast.
But you don’t have to be a beer judge to develop this problem. Candida is found throughout the environment, and everyone has been exposed to it. If it has decided to make a home in you and to take over a significant portion of your digestive tract, then you too can suffer these consequences.
Keep in mind that just because one of these yeast or bacteria shows up on a stool test does not mean that you have this syndrome. They must be colonizing your digestive tract in high enough amounts, and you must have the proper strain of each of them.
Fortunately this condition is treatable. And you will feel a whole lot better once you have gone through treatment. But it can be difficult to find a doctor to acknowledge that you even have this problem, much less treat it.
Changing your diet may help, and you should know that sugars and carbohydrates directly feed into this problem, as you might suspect. However, changing your diet alone is often not enough to fully treat Auto Brewery Syndrome. You will likely need a doctor to help you with the treatment.
Although it’s treatable, it’s not always easy to go through the treatment. Yeast tend to be difficult to treat, and the treatment process itself can stir up a horrible reaction that makes you want to discontinue treatment. This reaction is known as a Herxheimer reaction, or the Candida Die-Off effect. I have another video on that topic that I encourage you to watch.
If you suspect that you have this problem and need help, please don’t hesitate to contact our clinic. We work with people all over the U.S. and in over 30 different countries via zoom and telemedicine, and we would be happy to work with you too.
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.