CLOSE

Does Drinking Alcohol Really Keep You Warm When It's Cold Out?

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Here's something tailgaters, ice skaters, skiers and other cold weather fans might want to keep in mind: Drinking boozy beverages will make you feel warmer, but it doesn't actually keep you warm or prevent hypothermia. Instead, drinking alcohol lowers the core temperature of your body.

According to Dr. William Haynes, director of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Iowa, “Consumption of alcohol undoes many of the human body’s healthy reflexes, one of which is keeping the core body temperature warm in cold weather.” It doesn’t even take that much for this effect to kick in—just one alcoholic drink will start the process that results in a lowered core body temperature.

How does alcohol do this, and why does drinking alcohol make you feel warmer, even though you actually are getting colder?

You Booze, You Lose (Heat)

Alcohol is a vasodilator. It causes your blood vessels to dilate, particularly the capillaries just under the surface of your skin. When you have a drink, the volume of blood brought to the skin’s surface increases, making you feel warm. (That dilation is why slightly or exceedingly intoxicated people look flushed.) This overrides one of your body’s defenses against cold temperatures: Constricting your blood vessels, thereby minimizing blood flow to your skin in order to keep your core body temperature up.

Someone enjoying a drink in the cold may feel warmer from the extra blood warming his skin, but that blood will rapidly cool thanks to the chill in the air. Plus, the warmth caused by blood rushing to the skin will also make him sweat, decreasing his core temperature even further. The rapid drop often occurs without the drinker realizing it, because his skin will still feel fairly warm, which makes it doubly dangerous to drink alcohol in extremely cold weather. (You might want to put down the coffee, too; caffeine has a similar effect.)

The Big Chill

This isn’t the only bad thing about drinking alcohol in the cold. According to a study done by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, drinking alcohol in chilly weather also reduces the body’s ability and tendency to shiver, taking away yet another method your body uses to help keep warm when it is cold.

Bottom line? The age-old practice of drinking alcoholic beverages to keep the body warm in cold weather is the exact opposite of what you should do.

arrow
History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
iStock
iStock

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios