Imagine consistently failing urine tests because your body has been producing its own alcohol without you knowing. That's what's been happening to one poor woman, who wishes to remain anonymous. According to New Scientist, this woman is the first person to be diagnosed with "urinary auto-brewery syndrome."
It's a condition caused by yeast in the bladder, which ferments the sugar in a person's urine. Yeast plus sugar plus time, and what do you get? Alcohol, of course. The patient is a 61-year-old woman with diabetes and liver cirrhosis. It was recommended that she get a liver transplant, but she kept getting denied because there was alcohol in her urine despite her claims that she wasn't drinking at all.
Because she kept testing positive for alcohol in her urine, "she was taken off the waiting list for a donor organ, and was instead referred for treatment for alcohol abuse." Of course, this woman knew that she wasn't abusing alcohol, so the fact that it kept showing up in her urine was a frustrating mystery.
She was eventually moved to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital, where doctors still found alcohol in her urine. However, additional tests revealed there was no alcohol in her blood, which seemed like an impossibility.
Kenichi Tamama, a pathologist at the hospital, investigated the situation further and found the woman's urine contained yeast, which in and of itself is not too unusual. Yeast infections are common. However, because the woman also had diabetes, she had a lot of sugar in her urine.
Kenichi concluded, after another round of tests, that the yeast was fermenting the sugar in her bladder and producing alcohol. "The doctors were surprised and shocked," he told New Scientist. But having this answer was such a relief for the patient, who knew she wasn't drinking alcohol.
"Initially, clinicians thought the patient was not honest about disclosing her alcohol usage," Kenichi said. "This alcohol thing has been haunting her." While she is the first person diagnosed with "urinary auto-brewery syndrome," "auto-brewery syndrome" has been diagnosed before.
That's when the gut produces alcohol that is then absorbed into the bloodstream. You may have heard of people with this syndrome feeling drunk even though they haven't had a sip of alcohol. The fermented gut alcohol entering the bloodstream is the reason why.
Because alcohol did not enter the bloodstream with this recent patient, she felt no effects from it. That's what makes Kenichi and his colleagues believe the condition could be more common than they thought at first.
They could treat the condition with an anti-fungal medication, but it's not affecting her health at all, so it might not matter. It only matters, of course, if she has to pass a urine test. This means there might be untold numbers of people out there who have no idea their own body is fermenting alcohol.
Fahad Malik from the University of Alabama at Birmingham told New Scientist, "It is fascinating that it can happen in the bladder as well." He published a report about the condition and got more than 40 emails per day afterward from people who believed they might also have auto-brewery syndrome.
“Initially I thought it was a very rare condition,” Malik said. “But the more I reach out to people, the more I realize that a lot of people probably have it and are not diagnosed.” Especially if they have urinary auto-brewery syndrome, there is no way you would know if you had it unless, like this woman, you failed a urine test without taking a sip.