KEY POINTS

  • A man was suffering from a rare auto-brewery syndrome 
  • Doctors used fecal transplant to achieve balance in his gut
  • Before the transplant, the patient would feel "drunk" even without actually drinking

A fecal transplant was used by doctors to treat a disorder called auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), which shut the ability of the patient's body to brew its own alcohol, ending his bouts with "drunkenness without drinking."

Auto brewery syndrome (ABS), sometimes called by doctors as gut fermentation syndrome and endogenous ethanol fermentation, is a rare condition that makes a person intoxicated even without drinking alcohol. Even those who are fond of drinking alcohol may find the disorder very inconvenient as it can suddenly cause the body to transform starchy and sugary foods into alcohol, making the person feel drunk and confused, an article at US News & World Report revealed.

Health experts say the condition happens when there is yeast build up in the gut, which causes the transformation of food into alcohol. The result is similar to being drunk with blood alcohol spikes causing symptoms like coordination problems, dizziness, mood changes, and disorientation.

Auto brewery syndrome Auto brewery syndrome Photo: Michal Jarmoluk - Pixabay

According to Texas' Panola College assistant professor Barbara Cordell, those suffering from ABS can tell anyone that their condition is both perplexing and miserable. Her husband also suffered ABS, which she revealed took them many years to trace the initial symptoms to the rare condition. This is the usual scenario as only a few doctors can recognize and treat ABS.

This is why Cordell expressed excitement at the new case, "Treatment of Gut Fermentation Syndrome With Fecal Microbiota Transplantation" reported Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which involved doctors treating the condition for the first time with a fecal transplant. The assistant professor said it might be the breakthrough that patients with severe types of ABS need.

Fecal transplants involve the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract of an ABS patient. Medical experts say this changes the gut's bacterial composition, which they hope leads to a healthier balance. The procedure is also used to deal with severe gastrointestinal infections that are caused by the Clostridium difficile bacteria.

The technique is also used by some doctors to treat specific chronic gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis. Dr. Danny De Looze of Belgium's University Hospital Ghent recently completed their research which involves fecal transplant in patients suffering from IBS. They found that the process eased the symptoms felt by the patients.

The idea of fecal transplants in ABS patients came about after De Looze met a patient with a severe case of the rare condition. "Knowing the success of (fecal transplant) in C. diff, I thought it would be a good idea to treat him the same way," said De Looze.

The 47-year-old patient said he already tried known treatments for ABS which include anti-fungal medication and a low-carbohydrate diet. Despite all precautions, his blood alcohol levels still went up and the symptoms continued. All of these changed after the fecal transplant, which the patient's healthy adult daughter donated. The patient remains symptom-free even after almost three years since undergoing the procedure, De Looze said.

Experts say, however, there is a need for more research to fully establish fecal transplant as an option for ABS patients. There is a need to conduct clinical trials to test the treatment against the condition. "But since this is a very rare disease, it will be practically impossible," De Looze said.

Fecal transplants are not risk-free. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning about the procedure, stating that it can transmit harmful infections. The warning is based on reports of six patients who underwent the procedure and developed new bacterial infections later.