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Auto Brewery Syndrome – Can A Person Get Drunk Without Drinking Alcohol?

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Consider three scenarios:

First, in Texas, a 61-year-oldman finds his way to an emergency room complaining of dizziness and lightheadedness. A routine breath alcohol test administered by hospital staff indicates an alcohol concentration of 0.37 percent – nearly five times the 0.08 legal limit for driving.

Next, in New York, a 35-year-old schoolteacher is stopped by police for weaving in and out of her traffic lane and is placed under arrest for drunk driving. Her blood alcohol content is measured at 0.33 percent.

Finally, in North Carolina, a 46-year-old man is arrested for DWI. After refusing a breath test, he is taken to the hospital where his blood alcohol level is determined to be .020 percent.

What distinguishes these three individuals from the hundreds of thousands of others arrested each year for DWI in the United States is that they share a common fact that is nearly beyond belief … none of them consumed alcohol!

The high alcohol concentration levels in each case have been attributed to auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), also known as gut fermentation syndrome.

ABS is a rare medical condition where an individual’s digestive system converts carbohydrates into alcohol abnormally. Recent clinical studies suggest that when a person with ABS eats foods high in starch, such as pasta or bread, fermentation in the gut will occur, producing (‘brewing’) endogenous alcohol often at elevated levels causing impairment through elevated blood alcohol levels.

Research suggests that Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Brewer's yeast), a fungus commonly found in wine, beer, and many foods, plays a large role in ABS. For most people, the fungus is naturally processed through the intestinal tract without a problem.

However, a person with ABS will accumulate yeast and store in the gut. This can potentially cause problems if the body lacks sufficient amounts of bacteria to break it down.

Scientists have suggested that ABS might occur as a result of antibiotic use, environmental toxins or preservatives in foods which act to disrupt naturally occurring healthy bacteria in the body resulting in fungal growth in the intestine. What has yet to be explained is why only a few who take antibiotics will ever develop the condition.

While some researchers have questioned the validity of ABS, others believe that the syndrome appears rare because it is under diagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Early symptoms of auto-brewery syndrome include mood changes, brain fog and delirium. Some symptoms mimic other medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia or stroke, well before symptoms of alcohol impairment are present.

Although doctors have had success in treating ABS patients with antifungal medication and prescribing a low-carbohydrate diet, research into the condition and the best ways to treat it are ongoing.

Minnesota’s impaired driving statutes state that a person can be convicted for driving, operating, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level that is 0.08 percent or more as measured within two hours of driving, or while under the influence of alcohol. Under the statute, it makes no difference how alcohol finds its way into an individual’s system whether by external consumption (drinking) or endogenous production (ABS).

Minnesota courts have yet to rule on the validity of ABS as a defense to a DWI charge. A defendant intending to raise the defense should expect that the court will require that he or she present affirmative evidence at a preliminary hearing and establish (1) that he or she had a medical condition at the time of driving; and (2) that the condition caused impairment and/or intoxication at the time of testing. If successful, the driver would then be allowed to present this evidence to the jury to be weighed against the prosecutor’s case.

If you find yourself facing DWI or OWI charges it is extremely important to have an experienced lawyer who can challenge the evidence being used against you, raise possible defenses and explain your best options for getting your driving privileges restored as soon as possible. Attorneys are available 24-7 — Call us at 612-334-3342.

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