Myth - alcohol keeps you warm

26 February 2019

GLASSES-WINE

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Now you may well have come across the idea of taking a slug of whisky on a cold day to keep out the chill. Maybe, you’ve even resorted to it yourself and thought at the time it worked quite well? Unfortunately we’re going to have to burst this boozy bubble, because it’s a myth. And here’s Georgia Mills with why...

Georgia - Oh that mean February chill. Why not have a few sips of whiskey to warm your cockles, and put fire in your blood. Alcohol is the subject of many, many myths.

It's anyone's guess as to why that could be, but the beer jacket belief is one of the more dangerous ones out there. Alcohol, far from warming you up makes you much more vulnerable to cold. In moderate amounts, alcohol is a vasodilator, a word designed so that no inebriated person could ever say it. It means that the blood vessels in your skin widen, which causes more blood to travel from your core to your outer surfaces. The blood brings heat with it and your skin is full of nerves and very sensitive to temperature change. So while your core temperature has actually got lower, from that warm blood leaving your brain is told you're feeling hotter. This alongside heat generated from the liver trying to break down those tequila shots can be a real treat for the odd reveler who forgot to take their coat to a party as they can skip merrily home unaware of the cold and presumably pass out in a bush somewhere.

Unfortunately being aware of the cold is a pretty solid survival tool. We have physiological and behavioral contingency plans in place to prevent us from getting too cold. If it's chilly your body should redirect the blood to your core, as this means you lose less heat. Just like a pie will cool down quicker on the window than by the oven, blood near your skin loses heat much more quickly. So by redirecting blood to the surface, all those wines have unhelpfully reversed the process that's meant to keep us from getting too cold. Booze can also prevent us from shivering properly and the fact that you feel so hot can even trick your body into sweating. Thus cooling you down even more. All this combines to mean we're feeling a lot hotter but we're actually much colder. This can and has caused death from hypothermia in some cases.

So does this mean we should save those cocktails for a hot summer's day to cool ourselves down. Well maybe not, alcohol just isn't our friend. According to one study in rats, scientists found the alcohol simply stopped the hot or cold rodents from maintaining their healthy temperature. This means that after a pint or two, in cold weather you get colder and in hot weather you get hotter. Sometimes you just can't win.

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