A New York judge dismissed a drunk driving charge against an upstate woman after she was able to prove that her body brews alcohol. If that sounds strange, it’s because it is.
The condition, known as “auto-brewery syndrome,” is incredibly rare, and causes a person’s body to use excess intestinal yeast to turn food into alcohol. Even when a person with auto-brewery syndrome, also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, hasn’t had a drink, a breathalyzer test can read results indicating life-threatening alcohol levels.
The 35-year-old school teacher, whose name has not been revealed, was pulled over by the Hamburg Town Police last year. After giving her a breathalyzer test, the police discovered her blood alcohol level to be .33, more than four times the legal limit in New York, according to the Buffalo News.
Oddly enough, the woman in question never knew she had the syndrome until she was pulled over by Hamburg Officer Daniel Gallardo after a concerned driver called 911 to report a car weaving all over the road. Gallardo noticed there was an immense amount of smoke coming from the woman’s vehicle. The woman was then stopped by the officer and charged with driving under the influence.
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It was her attorney, Joseph Marusak, who discovered that the condition actually existed. Police procedure states that anyone who blows a life-threatening number must be taken to the hospital. When the hospital staff released the woman, saying that she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms of being drunk, Marusak decided to dig deeper to see what could have caused the high level of alcohol in her system.
“I had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome before this case,” Marusak told CNN. “But I knew something was amiss when the hospital police took the woman to wanted to release her immediately because she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms.”
“That prompts me to get on the Internet and see if there is any sort of explanation for a weird reading,” Marusak added. “Up pops auto-brewery syndrome and away we go.”
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When a person has auto-brewery syndrome, their body brews alcohol, as crazy as that may sound. It is caused when an excess of gastrointestinal yeast converts common food carbohydrates into ethanol. While there is not much research on the syndrome, it is believed the process takes place in the small intestine, and it is not the same process as the gut fermentation that takes place in the large intestines to give our bodies the energy they need to function.
“I hired two physician assistants and a person trained in Breathalyzers to watch her and take blood alcohol levels over a 12-hour period and had it run at the same lab used by the prosecution,” said Marusak. “Without any drinks, her blood level was double the legal limit at 9:15 a.m., triple the limit at 6 p.m. and more than four times the legal limit at 8:30 p.m., which correlates with the same time of day that the police pulled her over.”
Even though the woman had a now-diagnosed medical condition, Hamburg Police Chief Gregory G. Wickett stands by his decision to charge her with a DUI, and although the charges have been dismissed, the Erie County District Attorney’s office plans to appeal the decision and have the charges reinstated. In the meantime, the woman is treating her condition by taking anti-fungal medications. She is also on a strict yeast-free diet with no sugar, no alcohol, and very low carbs.
“She was highly intoxicated, as shown by the Breathalyzer. Our officers did the right thing in getting her off the road,” Wickett said. “Whether she has a medical issue that caused it is not for me to decide.”
Dr. Anup Kanodia, a physician near Columbus, Ohio, has treated people with auto-brewery syndrome before, and explained that it is a fairly new condition that doctors and researchers are still trying to understand.
“I would say it is not safe to drive a car if you are in an auto brewery syndrome flare,” Kanodia said. “But it’s a brand new disease and we’re still trying to understand it.”
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