Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Does Alcohol Keep Me Warm?

Yesterday I was listening to this rather entertaining story on NPR's "All Things Considered" involving variations on eggnog/holiday drinks: Don't Knock the Nog Until You've Tried this One.  I am definitely in the "eggnog is icky" camp (and I'm dairy allergic) but I like hearing tales of recipe improvement, so I was listening happily until the person being interviewed made the off the cuff remark about "some booze to keep you warm."  Some of you might be wondering if this is true, particularly if you remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons where St. Bernard dogs were used in avalanche "rescues" like this one:
Some of you might also get a warm, flushed feeling when you drink alcohol, as do I.  Unfortunately, whether it's brandy, rum, or even the gin in the martini (assuming cartoon St. Bernard dogs prefer gin), the booze will not serve to keep you warm while you're skiing, working outside, or chasing rabbits.  When you drink alcohol, even a swallow or two, the blood vessels under your skin artificially dilate and your warm blood moves closer to the skin, so you feel a temporary wave of warmth.  The problem, however, is that the warm blood moves away from your internal organs and causes your core temperature to drop.  If you were going to be outside in cold temperatures for a long period of time, you will be at an even higher risk of hypothermia.  Also, if you drink enough to impair your judgement, you might not come inside out of the cold when you need to, putting you at more risk.  So if you are planning on being outside for a long period of time, avoid the alcohol until you have the opportunity to be in a heated room.

While we are talking about myths, apparently the belief that St. Bernard's carried mini kegs of brandy around their necks while working as rescue dogs isn't true either.  The belief started after a 17 year old painter named Edwin Lanseer painted Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler in 1820 after being impressed by the site of these personable dogs trained by monks for alpine rescue.    There is no other evidence that they actually carried brandy casks or that the monks actually thought it would be a good idea.

Take home message--Avoid alcohol if you are going to be working or playing out in the cold.

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