Getting drunk without drinking? That’s what happened to a 27-year-old patient in China who was showing signs of steatohepatitis, a liver disease. Steatohepatitis is highly uncommon among non-drinkers, though this patient was often seen drunk without even touching a bottle.
How, you ask? Well, through a syndrome that is known as “auto-brewery syndrome.” ABS occurs when microflora present in the intestines include high concentrations of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a bacteria that is beloved by brewers.
With a high enough concentration of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, anyone’s stomach could become a homebrew distillery. What happens is this: the bacteria breaks down sugars and carbohydrates into alcohol, causing any pastas or fruits you ingest to become hard liquor. If that sounds awesome, trust us, it isn’t.
For one thing, those who suffer from ABS tend to find it very difficult to get anything done, as normal foods make them very, very intoxicated. For another, the amount of alcohol created by Saccharomyces cerevisiae is absurd: it would take most people around 12 shots of hard liquor to catch up to an ABS sufferer eating a fruit salad.
Thankfully, there are ways to treat the highly unusual syndrome. Typically, anti-yeast medications that kill the amounts of Saccharomyces cerevisiae in your system can help alleviate the problem. In the case of the 27-year-old Chinese patient in this study, however, Saccharomyces cerevisiae wasn’t the problem.
Numerous doses of anti-yeast medication weren’t working, so researchers looked elsewhere. They realized that their patient had a strangely high concentration of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a naturally-occurring gut microflora. In most patients, Klebsiella pneumoniae makes up about 0.02 percent of your intestine’s ecosystem.
In this patient’s case, however, Klebsiella pneumoniae made up roughly nineteen percent of his total gut bacteria! The high concentration of this bacteria led the researchers to perform experiments with mice that involved introducing large amounts of Klebsiella pneumoniae into their systems.
Sure enough, the mice given large dosages of Klebsiella pneumoniae developed liver scarring consistent with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis! While non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is uncommon, it occurs often enough that this breakthrough will likely save lives.
Klebsiella pneumoniae could be the culprit in numerous cases of liver disease among those who don’t drink.