No thanks, I think I’d rather stay cold, but apparently, it worked for the Mongols during the reign of Genghis Khan.
A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, “How Much Do Hot Drinks Help on a Cold Day?”, looked at the science of what works and what doesn’t work in our efforts to stay warm.
Alan Hedge, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University, notes that the body is armed with two ways to respond to the cold. One response is to shiver, which generates body heat that gets delivered primarily to the core, sacrificing heat to the toes and fingers. thus generating heat. The second response is having the vascular system move warm blood to what Dr. Hedge calls the shell of the body, such as the skin and limbs.
Moving beyond the body’s own natural mechanisms for dealing with the cold, one study found that sipping a beverage that’s warmer than your core temperature (between about 98.6 and 115 degrees), the body should feel warmer by about 2.6 degrees.
However, there are a couple of concerns to be aware of:
- caffeine should be avoided because it is a diuretic, which will encourage a person to urinate, causing heat loss.
- alcohol, another diuretic, should be dilated. Alcohol may also dilate the blood vessels, thus creating a warming sensation, but those blood vessels are taking blood from the extremities.
Dr. Hedge says that a thermos filled with a hot, decaffeinated beverage like herbal tea or even water will help keep the body temperature at a comfortable level. However, Dr. Hedge says, those drinks offer no calories to generate yet more heat.
So his suggestion for fighting winter chills is a warm, milky beverage like hot cocoa or a decaf latte. He also points to people who live in the Himalayas who drink a hot beverage made from yak butter, as well as the Mongols who drank warm mare’s milk.
This all sounds great, but I don’t need any research to tell me what works.
My “secret” for staying warm during the winter is to stay inside, crank up the heat, and curl up with a good book while sipping a warm cup of decaf.
In fact, that gives me an idea for the weekend…