A business owner today revealed how a rare condition that has turned his gut into a personal brewery means that eating a slice of cake can leave him so drunk he passes out.
Nick Carson has auto brewery syndrome – where his body ferments carbohydrates and turns them into alcohol in his intestines – leaving him dangerously intoxicated without him touching a drop of alcohol.
The 62-year-old, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, has to breathalyse himself every hour and regularly craves stodgy Victoria Sponge cake despite knowing the harm it could do, the same way an alcoholic would hanker after a drink.
Nick Carson has auto brewery syndrome – where his body ferments carbohydrates and turns them into alcohol in his intestines – leaving him dangerously intoxicated
The cleaning business owner developed the condition after being exposed to strong chemicals at work almost 20 years ago – but it took years until he was finally diagnosed after he and his wife, Karen saw it featured on an episode of Doc Martin.
ABS’s erratic triggers mean he has no idea where or when he might get drunk and pass out, and has to carry a breathalyser with him at all times.
Mr Carson said: ‘I’ve basically become an involuntary alcoholic because this condition makes you one, whether you want to be or not.
‘Having a little bit of sugar or carbohydrates can quickly make me become drunk. I try to stick to a Keto-based diet but it’s hard because there are carbs in all sorts of foods.
What is auto-brewery syndrome (ABS)? How rare condition believed to be caused by high levels of yeast in gut
Auto-brewery syndrome (ABS) is believed to result from high levels of yeast and other fungi in the gut.
When the sufferer ingests sugar (glucose) – contained in carbohydrates – the yeast feeds off this to produce ethanol, or alcohol.
This is the same process that happens during the brewing of beer.
After fermentation, the resulting ethanol is then absorbed by the body and goes to the brain, in the same it does when you have an alcoholic drink.
The only way to control the condition is by reducing the intake of carbohydrates and monitoring a sufferer’s blood alcohol content.
ABS may also be caused by abnormal enzymes in the liver. Anyone of any age can suffer. The condition is so rare its prevalence is unknown and there is no cure.
Avoiding sugar and carbohydrates may help to control symptoms, as well as frequently monitoring a sufferer’s blood alcohol content.
‘I can go from being stone cold sober to being three times over the driving limit in a matter of minutes which is quite scary.
‘The effect isn’t pleasant and I have sections of my memory where I have no idea what I’ve done. I just talk rubbish and walk around in circles.
‘It’s like sleepwalking with activities – you’re not aware of what you’re up to even though you’re still functioning and doing stuff.
‘One time I tried a small portion of low fat chips and I became so intoxicated that I lay in the living room, throwing up, before eventually passing out within 45 minutes of eating.’
Mr Carson first noticed the symptoms of ABS in 2003. He was layering a strong flooring solvent on a job at work and went home feeling very ill, before passing out.
His symptoms began to get worse from that point, but he only realised he could have the condition after it featured on ITV’s Doc Martin.
The couple began to extensively research ABS, which can intoxicate someone who hasn’t had alcohol and happens when the body turns sugary and starchy foods into alcohol.
Mr Carson said: ‘Doctors said that the overexposure to the solvent seemed to trigger the reaction and when I ate sugary foods and carbs, it added fuel to the fire and fermented.
‘There’s several triggers to ABS but antibiotics are usually involved – it’s always a cascade of things that cause the problems.
‘I started having horrendous cravings for Victoria sponge cake, and I don’t usually have a sweet tooth.
‘There are points where I would have killed for a slice of Victoria sponge and it’s ridiculous – it triggers an appetite reflex in your brain.’
Mr Carson tries hard to avoid the triggers of ABS, but even the littlest bite of food can turn him worse for wear – meaning he has to constantly carry a breathalyser around to check he’s not drunk.
Mr Carson has to constantly carry around a breathalyser to check his blood alcohol content
What is a keto diet? How followers cut out carbs in favour of fat
The ketogenic diet defines a low-carb, high-fat way of eating.
Following this eating plan forces the body into a metabolic state, known as ketosis, which starves the body of carbohydrates but not calories.
Carbs are shunned in the keto diet as they cause the body to produce glucose, which is used as energy over fat.
Keto diets therefore lead to weight loss as they make the body burn fat as its primary energy source.
On the diet, followers can eat: Meat; leafy greens and most vegetables; full-fat dairy; nuts and seeds; avocados and berries; oils.
Followers can’t eat: Grains, including rice and wheat; sugar, like honey and maple syrup; most fruit; white or sweet potatoes.
His wife Karen, a 64-year-old podiatrist, ensures she records her husband during the sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of drunkenness to show him the next day.
Mr Carson said: ‘It’s unnerving and it attacks my sense of self and becomes like the matrix when you start to doubt what’s real and what isn’t.
‘When you wake up on the other side, there’s a whole lot of psychological damage because you feel so guilty about what you said and did the night before.
‘Sometimes people treat my condition as a joke and say that I’ll be cheap to take out because I don’t need a drink but actually it’s horrible.
‘As a general rule, I have a breathalyser that I use every hour. It’s like tap dancing on a minefield and I’m constantly checking myself all the time.’
But Mr Carson doesn’t let his condition get him down, and, alongside Karen, he has managed to control it a lot easier.
He is now speaking out for the first time in hopes of spreading awareness about auto-brewery syndrome.
Mr Carson added’ ‘I hope that sharing my story will help people become more knowledgeable about ABS.
‘I’m working on building up good bacteria through what I eat so we’re trying to be as natural as possible. I’m sort of on a Keto diet with lots of vegetables and protein and I feel much better.
‘Now that I know a lot more about the condition it’s become a little easier to manage. I think we’re coping with it well and I want to keep the ball rolling.’