What It's Like When Your Body Brews Its Own Alcohol

July 25, 2019

By MacKenzie Fegan, July 25, 2019

Of all the asinine things you might do this summer—jumping off slippery rocks into water of indeterminate depth, setting off fireworks too close to structures, not wearing sunscreen—please, please do not funnel yeast into your asshole in an attempt to turn your body into a human brewery. Do not be like the roommate of Reddit user alphac16, who “sucedded [sic] in giving himself autobrewery syndrome by boofing yeast.” alphac16 continues, in a graphic post full of whimsical spelling and grammar, “My one roommate has been enema system to suplant brewers yeast into his colon in hopes of giving himself autobrewery syndrome. Which is where the body produeces its own ethanol for one reason, metabolic issues, or another, shoving yeast up your ass. Well now he is drunk 24/7. Cant eat breat or any other sugar or he gets smacked.”

While it would be easy to dismiss alphac16 and his breat-avoidant roommate, auto-brewery syndrome is indeed a real thing. Also known as gut fermentation syndrome, it is a serious medical condition that can afflict individuals with out-of-whack flora in their digestive tracts. “We tend to see an enrichment of these yeast species when there is inflammatory disease,” like Crohn’s, explains Dr. Susan Lynch, the director of the Colitis and Crohn's Disease Microbiome Research Core at UCSF. Others who suffer from auto-brewery syndrome first report symptoms after undergoing rounds of powerful antibiotics which, Dr. Lynch says, “have frequently been shown to deplete a whole range of microbes, leading to potential perturbation in the gut microbiome.” In layman’s terms, antibiotics that kill off harmful bacteria may also indiscriminately kill off helpful bacteria, leaving an inviting vacuum in the gut for squatter colonies of yeast. And, flashing back to junior high biology, yeast plus sugar plus an absence of oxygen equals ethanol and carbon dioxide. Voilà, your intestinal tract is now a microbe-brewery.

As to the efficacy of turning one’s own body into a brewery via the scientific technique of 'boofing,' Dr. Lynch says it’s entirely possible.”

Although the first diagnosed cases of auto-brewery syndrome date back to Japan in the 1970s, it’s not a common or widely known medical phenomenon. If auto-brewery syndrome exists in the public consciousness at all, it’s as one of those medical mysteries that might be featured on House. A 13-year-old girl is repeatedly intoxicated, displaying blood alcohol levels of .25%, but she insists she’s never had a drink. Or a man is arrested for drunk driving, but he swears he’s been sober for two decades. Several DUI cases have been vacated based on an auto-brewery syndrome defense, leading some, like “S.V.” in Powder Springs, Georgia to wonder whether they might convince a judge that their intoxication is because of a medical condition, not the five beers and whiskey shots they imbibed on Cinco de Mayo. Best of luck to you, S.V.!

As to the efficacy of turning one’s own body into a brewery via the scientific technique of “boofing,” Dr. Lynch says it’s entirely possible. “That is actually quite an effective way of changing the gut microbiome of an individual,” she explains, referencing the research she does in her lab. “A fecal microbial transplant is when the microbes found in the gut of a healthy individual are transplanted into a recipient who has, for example, inflammatory bowel disease. We can either use capsules that have freeze dried feces in them that are consumed orally by the patient, or the other approach is to use fecal enemas. So it's perfectly plausible that this individual could have introduced this organism via enema, and if it has the capacity to competitively colonize the gut it could potentially exist quite happily.”

While the yeast may be happy, alphac16 says his roommate was seemingly not: “He forgot how much gas yeast makes. And his head hurts.” While we’re all for homebrewing here at October, let’s keep it an out-of-body experience.

Illustration by Adam Waito

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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