The INSIDER Summary:
• There’s an urban legend that drinking alcohol keeps you warm.
• The truth is that alcohol actually makes you colder.
• It decreases blood flow near skin, makes you sweat, and causes you to stop shivering.
When my father first moved to the United States, he somehow ended up living in a trailer park in West Virginia. Within a few years, he was attending West Virginia University and noticed that one strategy a lot of students used to keep warm during football games (go Mountaineers!) in the winter was to drink a lot of vodka.
This was a bad idea.
Because drinking can spread a warm sensation through your body, a lot of people wrongly believe that drinking alcohol can warm you up.
The legend is at least as old as the story of St. Bernard dogs, which are historically known to rescue lost travellers in the Swiss mountains. Edwin Landseer, in a portrait of one of those scenes, painted one dog with a barrel of mead hanging around its neck. The painting’s popularity began to associate the dogs with carrying alcohol on their collars — ostensibly as a cure to the cold — and since then, the idea has leaked into pop culture.
But the truth is alcohol actually makes your body temperature colder. It does that in three ways:
- Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it causes your blood vessels to dilate. The dilation is the warm feeling you first get. But when your blood vessels are dilated, it’s harder for your body to constrict them, according to Mental Floss. Constricting blood vessels would minimise the blood flow near your skin, keeping the core of your body warm.
- Alcohol impairs your body’s ability to shiver, according to a study in the Journal of Wilderness Medicine. Shivering is one of the most important ways your body keeps itself warm.
- Once you get that initial sensation of warmth, your body starts sweating, according to The New York Times. That just brings down your body temperature even more.
I don’t know if this advice will keep students from drinking during football games. But if you want to stay warm, stay away from alcohol, even if a dog comes up to you with a barrel of mead around its neck.
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