Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Is it true that drinking alcohol makes you warm?

Is it true that drinking alcohol makes you warm?

Don’t be fooled by the legend of a Saint Bernard toting a barrel of brandy to freezing hikers in the snowy Alps. Alcohol may make you feel warm on a cold day, but it’s an illusion.

Alcohol dilates your blood vessels, sending warm blood to your skin, where it stimulates nerve endings that help you sense the warmth. “Your skin is actually getting warmer, and that feels good, as surely as it feels good to walk out on a sunny day and feel the sun on your skin,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. “But that means heat is escaping your body.”

As the blood rushes to the surface, it is pulled away from your core, where it is needed to keep your organs warm. Your body is getting colder, not warmer — and you won’t be able to feel it. In severe weather, this can increase the risk of hypothermia — very low body temperature — experts said.

“The beer jacket is an illusion,” said Aaron White, the senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

There’s a second mechanism by which alcohol can affect your core body temperature, experts said. It disrupts the work of the hypothalamus, which, in part, regulates that core temperature, limiting your body’s ability to control it and making you more susceptible to ambient temperatures.

A literature review by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine found that “alcohol ingestion exacerbates the fall in body core temperature during cold exposure” by inhibiting the shiver response in which muscles contract and relax to warm the body.

But not everyone may respond the same way.

The effects of alcohol on body temperature can be influenced by a number of factors such as the amount of alcohol consumed, personal tolerance and overall health, said Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

In general, the higher the level of alcohol in the bloodstream, the more likely a person is to experience side effects, including a change in core body temperature, research shows. As are those who have certain medical conditions or are taking particular medications, Zumpano said in an email.

But some people may tolerate alcohol better than others and may not be as susceptible to certain reactions, she said.

What else you should know:

When drinking alcohol in cold environments, White said, don’t be misled by that warm sensation. Take precautions:

  • Bundle up.
  • Don’t walk long distances in the cold.
  • Don’t stay out in the cold for long periods of time.

Drinking alcoholic beverages on a cold day may make you feel warm, but it is probably lowering your core body temperature, making you colder.

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