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When we joke to friends about going through episodes where we find ourselves in a state of constant inebriation, it's at worst an exaggeration, or at best an epiphany.
But what about those who actually live with that reality?
Matthew Hogg is a prime example. For nearly two decades he's suffered from "auto-brewery syndrome", a condition which more or less makes him feel drunk all the time, regardless of whether he's touched a drop of alcohol.
We were lucky enough to talk to him about his experience living as a human brewery.
Hey Matt. So when did all this start?
I became ill when I was 12 with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) following recurrent viral infections while I was at school. From Year 7 to Year 9, I only managed to attend school between 60% and 70%.
Did that bother you?
Believe it or not, I loved everything about school, so made sure I was there as much as physically possible. With everything focused on CFS, it was quite a while before I realised something unusual and significant was going on specifically in my gut.
What was that?
I'd always experienced mild IBS-type abdominal discomfort and toilet habits but after I'd taken my GCSEs and spent the summer celebrating with my mates, I started my A-Levels and immediately began experiencing very weird and frightening symptoms I now know to be the result of auto-brewery syndrome.
Presumably you were drinking at that age?
In the form of cheap cider and alcopops. The scary thing was that I was beginning to feel like someone had been substituting everything I drank with them. I can only describe what I was experiencing as being intoxicated and hungover at the same time, with all the symptoms you'd imagine.
That must have affected the studying.
My grades plummeted from the A* and A grades of my GCSE results to barely scraping through. Work I knew I should understand and have no problem with, and even enjoy, now seemed like it was written in a different language. On top of that, I now know the 'brewery in my gut' was also independently causing mood swings, depression and anxiety.
When were you officially diagnosed?
The ABS was officially diagnosed around 2000/2001 independently by two doctors. My parents had paid for me to see both in private practice as the NHS had long since wiped its hands of me. We now estimate my family has spent approximately £50,000 on private medical care that we will never recover.
Did the doctors prescribe any medication?
One of them sent me to Biolab in London to undergo a test he had helped develop named the Gut Fermentation Profile which involved drinking a sugar solution and then having a blood sample analysed for alcohol a little while later. The results showed levels of various forms of alcohol, including ethanol, far above the upper limit of what would normally be expected.
Despite this, though, you still went to university.
I'd scraped into the University of Sheffield on their Computer Science course and insisted on living in student halls and having the full student experience. My body predictably had other ideas and I was forced to drop out and move back home after a semester and a half.
Was that crushing? Or did you see no alternative?
It knocked my confidence and self-esteem massively for a long time, but in the end I had no choice as there was no way I was going to come out of there with a degree, and would only have damaged my health even further.
The period after that must have been grim.
Between 1998 and 2003 I was basically housebound. Every time I ate, especially starch-rich foods, I would feel intoxicated and then hungover. Before my family and I realised what was going on and I had the diagnosis, my mum would cook meals including starchy foods like rice, pasta or potatoes. If these were part of my evening meal I'd wake up the next day with the hangover from hell, worse than when I'd been drinking at student union nights.
Did your mates pick up on you being rough 24/7?
I looked like an alcoholic who hadn't had a drink recently to anyone who didn't know me. I'd wake up with a headache so bad I couldn't move my head, nausea so bad I felt I'd throw up if I moved, cold sweats and even the shakes. People who came to my house said that I looked yellow.
Fucking hell. How did you come out on the other side of that?
was advised by my doctor to adopt the Stone Age Diet. It's become huge in popular culture, mainly for weight loss, but is
usually known as the Paleolithic Diet, or simply Paleo. For me it was
literally a lifesaver as I consider myself a fighter but I'm
genuinely not sure how much longer I could have endured such severe
hangovers with no end in sight.
Would you say we've come a long way in terms of research?
In many ways, yes, but in others that matter most to patients, progress has been frustratingly slow. In terms of medical research, there has been an explosion in the number of scientists looking at how the trillions of microbes that live in our guts interact with our bodies and contribute to both health and disease.
But it hasn't stuck?
If I went
to my GP today with the same complaints as I did in 1991 I may be
diagnosed with CFS more quickly but if I were referred to a
gastroenterologist there would be no mention of health of my gut
ecology, let alone any lab testing provided.
What lies ahead, Matt?
I'm planning to set up a clinic specialising in helping the many people out there with the illnesses that have affected me and many others, for which there is little or no help available. I feel both my health struggles and having to drop out of the Computer Science degree have been a blessing in disguise. I have now found my calling, and the fact it involves the potential to help people who are suffering and in desperate need, as I once was, makes me feel like the luckiest guy alive.
Featured Image Credit: Matthew Hogg
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