The characteristic flushed cheeks and occasional sheen of sweat on someone who’s been imbibing certainly suggest that alcohol has an effect on body temperature, but when you drink an alcoholic beverage, does it really warm you up?
The culprit behind that warm, fuzzy feeling you get after a few drinks? Blood. Many side effects from alcohol consumption can be tied to its properties as a vasodilator (blood vessel widener), including the so-called "beer blanket" phenomenon.
"[Alcohol] causes the blood vessels in your skin to dilate, shunting blood from your core to your periphery," said Ted Simon, a neuroscientist and board-certified toxicologist who serves as an expert witness in drug and alcohol cases. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]
"Your body temperature isn't actually changing; you're just redistributing the heat," he told Live Science.
Humans maintain a core body temperature of approximately 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), and most of this heat is generated by your metabolism: a term which refers to all the chemical reactions involved in keeping you alive, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Your skin is inundated with sensory receptors keyed in to temperature changes, so the blood redistribution that occurs when you drink alcohol sends a flood of messages to your brain saying, "It’s hot!"
While this may seem like a perk, it can actually be quite dangerous. The natural tendencies of your body — to detect cold, for example — are there to protect you from frostbite or hypothermia. Usually, your blood vessels constrict in lower temperatures in order to direct blood to your vital organs, Simon said. Alcohol reverses this process. What's more, because your body thinks it's hot, you can begin to sweat — a response that is also designed to lower body temperature. Compounded with the cognitive effects of alcohol, serious complications can arise. Last year, the New York Daily News reported that "a drunken student died of hypothermia after he tried to walk nine miles home without a coat on a freezing cold night in England."
A student at Onondaga Community College, in Syracuse, New York, was also found dead earlier this year as a result of hypothermia and alcohol intoxication, according to syracuse.com.
Everything you consume gets filtered through your liver, where enzymes break down what you ate or drank. Alcohol is metabolized by four primary enzymes: aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), cytochrome P450 and catalase, according to a 2006 report by Samir Zakhari, the former director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Because your genes code for these enzymes, and everyone's genes are unique, individuals metabolize alcohol to different efficiencies. [11 Interesting Facts About Hangovers]
Alcohol that doesn’t get broken down in your liver then enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. Alcohol is considered a generalized drug, meaning that it acts on a lot of different body systems, including your brain, Simon said.
"Alcohol breaks down [cellular] membranes; as you fluidize these membranes, you get the feeling of being drunk.”
As time passes and your blood recirculates through your liver, alcohol continues to get broken down until it is cleared from your system and you sober up. A number of factors impact how different people tolerate alcohol and experience its subsequent side effects, but in the case of this particular myth, experts agree: Alcohol does not warm you up.
Original article on Live Science.