Featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Today: Alcohol Doesn’t Warm You Up
Don’t Bother with Your Whiskey Sweater
As we move into the holiday season, holiday shoppers make sure to pick up a couple spirits to warm them up in the chilly winter weather. Whether you pack a flask and take a few nips throughout the day to rosy your cheeks or relish sitting outside by a roaring fire, imbibing a warm whiskey for that subtle burn, you’ll be surprised to find that alcohol has no such warming effect.
Ever since the 1800s, stories of brandy-toting St. Bernards on snowy mountain tops have helped perpetuate the myth that all you need to keep warm are well-brewed spirits. While a healthy shot of whiskey might make your face flush scarlet, your body temperature itself hasn’t actually risen. The heat inside your body has just moved around.
Your Body’s Drunk
As your body processes alcohol, your blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow. Blood rushes from the hot core of your body and fills the capillaries close to your skin, making your body feel hot. The heat has just moved to the surface, where it will cool faster in the cold air, meaning alcohol will actually cause your body heat to decrease.
Your skin, which thinks it’s hot, will sweat and fire signals in your brain to cool off, even remove warm clothing. This effect has proved fatal to drinkers who find themselves walking home in the cold, removing their warm clothes, and suffering hypothermia or frostbite because their body thinks it’s warm.
The Initial Burn
When you pound back alcohol, you may feel an initial burn in your throat, but we promise no additional heat has been added to your body or defied the laws of thermodynamics to be created. Similar to the contents of peppers that make food taste hot, capsaicin, alcohol binds to the receptors on your body that sense heat, causing a chemical reaction that makes them more sensitive.
Ethanol—the alcohol in your alcohol—binds to the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (VR1 receptors) which are the vehicle through which we perceive body temperature. When you take that shot of tequila, the burn you feel is really your throat becoming more sensitive to your own body heat.
the a Cold
Your trusty flask of holiday spirits may not keep you warm, but there is scientific evidence that it could help you fight off the common cold. The same effect of dilating your blood vessels can make it easier for your mucus membranes to fight off infection. That said, don’t go overboard on the schnapps. If you drink too much,you could become dehydrated, countering the effects of the blood flow to your nostrils.