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Auto-brewery syndrome no laughing matter for sufferers

California residents may recall media stories from early 2016 about drunk driving charges against a New York woman being dismissed despite clear evidence that she was behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of .40 percent. The case was widely reported because the woman suffered from a rare medical condition that essentially turned her body into a brewery. While the case provided fodder for the nation's late-night talk show hosts, auto-brewery syndrome is no laughing matter for those who suffer from the condition.

The disease, which is also called gut-fermentation syndrome, affects people with digestive systems that are unable to process yeast very effectively. When the fungus accumulates in the stomach, it can turn carbohydrates into ethanol through a chemical process called endogenous fermentation. This means that auto-brewery syndrome sufferers can become highly intoxicated after eating meals containing starches like pasta, rice or potatoes.

Medical science has yet to develop a cure for auto-brewery syndrome, but the condition can be treated with anti-fungal medication and kept in check by adhering to a diet low in carbohydrates. While the disease is not fatal, alcohol poisoning is possible if sufferers consume extremely large quantities of carbohydrates. The condition is so rare that cases have gone undiagnosed for decades, and this is a problem as a serious risk sufferers face is being involved in a drunk driving accident.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys are likely familiar with medical conditions far more common then auto-brewery syndrome that could lead a police officer to conclude that a motorist has been drinking, and they may ask detailed questions about their clients' medical histories when developing defenses to DUI charges. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and blood sugar abnormalities resulting from this disease can both make individuals appear drunk during roadside sobriety tests.

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