I’ve often heard students swear by the warming effects of alcohol in the winter cold. Even though college always seems to be booze season, can it really help you stave off the flu and cold season?
Those of you who abide by the preachings of ethanol, I have some bad news. Alcohol actually lowers core body temperature, even though it makes you feel warmer.
That drink of hooch you sip to banish the cold acts as a vasodilator — meaning that it widens the blood vessels. This mechanism allows blood to flow closer to the skin where the nerves that perceive temperature reside. When this happens the body feels like it’s warm because it senses the warmth of the blood.
However, by diverting heat to these nerves, less heat is being transferred to the body’s core. In addition, with the blood flowing closer to the skin it can more easily exchange heat with the cold environment, which can lower your overall body temperature even more.
Alcohol is also suspected to be involved in disrupting other real mechanisms of temperature regulation. For instance, the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine has found that alcohol decreases the body’s ability to shiver, a primary method of temperature control. Other research has shown that alcohol’s illusory effect on temperature may cause a sweating reaction — further cooling the body down. In more extreme circumstances, these effects have been known to cause or complicate hypothermia.
So, next time you think a swig from the bottle will keep you comfortable, keep this article in mind. Leave alcohol to do its real work: social lubrication and creating embarrassing Facebook pictures.
ALEX STANTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.