Mythbusting – Alcohol can keep you warm.

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Winter is coming and during the really cold nights, I enjoy taking a little tipple of my favourite whiskey out with me when I go bush. Many people do. However, it’s important to understand the actual effects that ingesting alcohol is going to have on the body. It’s not necessarily what you think.

The myth

Partially propagated by the image of the Saint Bernard and it’s life-saving cask of brandy, the suggestion has long been that a nip of some strong alcohol will warm the cockles and can potentially save your life when hypothermia threatens. Interestingly, the exact opposite is likely the case.

The reality is, the Bernard is most likely to keep you alive by snuggling up to you; by transferring some of its body heat to you.

The reality

What actually happens when you have a nip or two of a strong alcohol is that your blood vessels dilate (your blood doesn’t thin – another myth) and this causes your warm blood to move closer the surface of your skin, causing you to feel warmer temporarily.

However, what this is also doing is transferring your core heat to the surface of your body – dumping that heat to the outside world in the process. The result? You initially feel like you are getting warmer, but that heat is then going to be gone, leaving you even colder, and most dangerously colder at the core.

So. The takeaway.

If it’s cold out, but you are already wrapped up in a nice snug sleeping bag, undercover and not needing to conserve heat – feel free to indulge. But if you are looking at methods to increase or store your limited heat, potentially in a survival situation – avoid the booze. You will find that eating some food is going to be a better option for you. Or snuggling up to a warm dog (or person).

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