Driving Under the Influence of Candida


Stop sign against a moody sky with the letters DUI printed on it. Image is blurred to imply motion blurred vision due to intoxication.
There’s a rare syndrome called Gut Fermentation Syndrome, which is also known as Auto-Brewery Syndrome, Ethanol Fermentation Syndrome, Syndrome X, and one or two other names.

You don’t hear too much about it, or maybe you’ve never heard anything about it, but in 2013, one case made national headlines, and in 2014 another case was on the TV show, “The Doctors”.

Essentially, someone with an overgrowth of yeast, who consumes a high sugar and carbohydrate diet, is a prime candidate for this, as yeast ferments sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol enters the bloodstream and the carbon dioxide causes the gas and bloating so commonly found with candida.

I recently testified as an expert witness in a case where Gut Fermentation Syndrome was reported to have caused intoxication in someone which led to a DUI arrest. In my opinion, the evidence was very convincing and consistent with a diagnosis of Gut Fermentation Syndrome. The jury of mostly 20 & 30-year olds didn’t come to the same conclusion and found the person guilty.

In this case, the person passed out at a stoplight, the police were subsequently called and found their blood alcohol level to be .24% (three times above the legal limit of .08%). The person was arrested and forced to go through all of the trials, tribulations and humiliation associated with that process, not to mention the significant financial burden.

Several weeks later, the same person was admitted to the hospital for abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and a swollen abdomen. They received CT scans and almost daily blood tests. It was discovered they had diverticulosis, a condition in which little pockets balloon out from the intestinal tract due to weakness in the wall and excessive pressure. Tests were negative for bacteria, virus, and parasites. They were also shown to have anemia and low potassium and albumin levels. Throughout their stay, the abdomen remained distended and the pain was reduced to a more tolerable level with medications. On the day before they were discharged, they did a stool test, but the results didn’t come back until after they were discharged. The test was positive for candida. If this had been discovered earlier on during their stay, the hospital might have been able to do more for them.

A little over a year later, this person was tested again for candida and it was found they had positive antibodies present in their blood. They decided to change their diet and did a trial of the antifungal drug Diflucan, which stopped the daily hangover feeling and general sense of illness. Some of these symptoms had returned a little bit, possibly indicating the gradual development of antifungal resistant strains.

They consulted with me 6 months later in relationship to their court case. After viewing all their records, test results, and past history, it was my opinion they suffered from Gut Fermentation Syndrome due to candida and exacerbated by their anemia and intermittent constipation.

The gut is a very long fermentation tube, so one could expect to see more cases like these in the future, as antibiotic use continues to escalate. Candida is known to cause gas and bloating, which are byproducts of fermentation. The amount of gas being produced as carbon dioxide from the fermentation process can be very significant and create discomfort and pain. It is not unusual to hear from someone suffering from candida that they feel as if they were 4 or 5 months pregnant. This person’s particular diagnosis of diverticulosis meant they were more likely to experience pain in the areas of the intestinal wall that was already weakened.

Although Gut Fermentation Syndrome is rare, there are cases on record. Kaji et al in 1984 presented the case of a 24-year old female who suffered from Gut Fermentation Syndrome due to Candida albicans and a 35-year old cook who had Candida krusei. Cordell and McCarthy, in 2013, presented the case of a 61-year old man who suffered from Gut Fermentation Syndrome due to Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His blood levels were reported to reach .33% and .40% without alcohol. Kaji cites 37 other documented cases and Iwata cited 12 cases in 1972.

A 2003 study by Awadhi et al, showed that a large percentage of people were walking around with elevated blood alcohol levels on a daily basis, although the levels were minimal. The study was done in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 1557 people who applying for work at the Abu Dhabi Police Station. The blood alcohol levels were .0035% in males and .0032% in females. Of particular interest in this study is that fact that the UAE has a zero tolerance for any elevated blood alcohol, yet everyday people in the UAE were shown to be walking around with minimally elevated levels as a part of their body’s normal metabolic process.

In 2001, Sarkola and Eriksson found a significant increase in ethanol production after intake of lingonberry juice containing 40 grams of carbohydrates. “The effect of juice in increasing endogenous levels is well documented and suggested that it is produced by intestinal microflora.”

Although Awadhi states that most people walking around are unlikely to reach elevated blood alcohol levels that exceed legal limits, “Exceptions might be expected in persons with abnormal proliferation of Candida in the gut and with gut stagnation.”

Candida also produces acetaldehyde, which is a break down product of alcohol, and 30 times more toxic. This adds an additional layer of concern as alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde and candida produces acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is responsible for the “hangover” effect that many people experience after drinking alcohol. Someone with elevated levels of acetaldehyde, as happens with candida and Gut Fermentation Syndrome, can experience this on a daily basis, as was experienced by the person in this court case. Additionally, they suffered from anemia, which can lead to further elevation of acetaldehyde levels, as anemia can impair the pathways that break down acetaldehyde. High levels of acetaldehyde can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness, which were experienced by them, as well.

If you find you’re experiencing symptoms like dizziness, drowsiness, forgetfulness, or other impairments, and you don’t drink, you may want to stay away from driving until you resolve whatever is causing those symptoms. If you’re arrested, it can be very difficult to reverse a DUI. The only plausible way would be through a hospital stay where you would be supervised and tested for Gut Fermentation Syndrome.

Dr. Jeffrey S. McCombs, DC, is founder of the McCombs Center for Health, the Candida Plan, the Candida Library, and author of LifeforceThe Everything Candida Book, and The Everything Guide to Autoimmune Diets. Check out our podcast, Candida Diet Tips Recipes, and Insights on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music and Alexa Flash Briefings.

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