You may have seen pictures of St. Bernards carrying little kegs of Brandy around their necks to keep stranded hikers from freezing to death. But does alcohol really keep you warm? Not only is the answer here a definite No, but in fact the opposite is true.
While alcohol may make you feel warm, it actually makes you colder. Alcohol makes your blood vessels to expand in a process called “Vasodilation”. This allows your blood to rush to the surface of your skin, where most of your nerve endings are. Since your blood is all warm and toasty, a flood of blood into the dilated capillaries means that you feel a rush of heat.
But that heat is coming from your own body’s core temperature. So, when your blood rushes to your skin, which is in contact with the colder air, that heat rapidly dissipates and causes your body temperature to drop. That’s why your capillaries were actually constricted in the first place, to stop your blood from rushing to the surface.
That’s one of your body’s only ways of protecting you from the cold and stopping you from freezing to death. And here’s another reason you might want to reconsider taking a swig from you flask when you’re out on the chairlift or whatever.
If you’ve wondered about the burning sensation you feel in your mouth and throat when you partake, it is because the alcohol tinkers with the nerve receptors that you use to detect heat. When these receptors, which are heat activated proteins called “TRPV-1”, come into contact with alcohol their threshold for detecting warmth actually drops from 42 degrees Celsius to 34 degrees, lower than your body temperature.
So the burn that you feel when you drink is actually just you…you feel like you’re getting scolded, but what’s really happening is that your nerve cells have suddenly just become extra sensitive to your own body heat. Just when you thought alcohol couldn’t get anymore interesting. But long story short, if you’re trying to stay warm when it’s cold out, skip the Brandy and Schnapps and go straight for the hot chocolate.