Science Seen Physicist and Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand your world.
Are Your Colds in Hot Water Yet?
Skepticism’s healthy. These days we don’t have to believe a news story. But to get the benefits of skepticism we need to check stories out. A good-news story in a past Science Seen post has a simple message: Hot water can cure the common cold. Some who read the post or social-media re-posts were skeptical. Those who checked found well-known physiology and physics facts and so they got the benefit of catching no more colds. The facts have been in view for years (though I will add some amazing new physics here). All you need to do to cure your cold is stitch old facts together.
Standard textbooks tell us four facts about cold physiology. More than four-hundred rhinoviruses cause colds. Second, two easily-discovered texts quote forty-year-old research saying, “The primary site of replication of rhinoviruses is the epithelial surface of the nasal mucosa.” (In other words, as we know all too well, colds infect the passages behind the nose.) Third, the virus stays there because growing rhinovirus needs to feed on cells that are cooler than our body temperature; our breathing meets that need by cooling surface cells behind the nose. And fourth, the virus particles have a specially-shaped protein on their surface; they use it like a key to get into your cells. Once inside they use your cells’ machinery to replicate themselves. Then they use another surface-protein key to get out again. (You can see those surface proteins in the image.)
Small changes in temperature cause protein molecules to change shape surprisingly quickly. Chinese physicists Dr. Liaofu Luo and Dr. Jun Lu use quantum theory to explain how rapid shape-change happens. The startling answer is: The molecules take quantum jumps from one shape to another without bothering to pass through in-between shapes. In tech-speak, they tunnel. This theory is relatively recent. But the facts of heat and protein shape-change are well known. For example, molecular biologist Dr. Andrei Lupas writes of the protein-shape disruption that “heat shocks of just a few degrees above growth temperature can cause.” And we have known for years heat interferes with virus replication. In a 1996 text, microbiologists Dr. Ferdinando Dianzani and Dr. Samuel Baron say, “Replication of most viruses is reduced by even a modest rise in temperature.”
These are the facts you need to cure your cold and you can check them out with Google. Stitched together they say simply: When you catch a cold, pour hot water through the cavity behind your nose. See the post for details (gargling won’t do it). Then be a good friend to your friends and pass the word along. Like you, they’ll never need to suffer through a cold again.
Andrei Lupas (2014), “What I cannot create, I do not understand”, Science, Washington: AAAS, v. 346, p. 1455; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6216/1455.full
Ferdinando Dianzani & Samuel Baron (1996), Medical Microbiology, 4th ed., ch. 49, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK8348/
Liaofu Luo & Jun Lu (2011), “Temperature Dependence of Protein Folding Deduced from Quantum Transition”, arXiv, Ithaca: Cornell University Library, http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.3748
Colin Gillespie (2013), Time One: Discover How the Universe Began, New York: RosettaBooks, p. 118, http://www.rosettabooks.com/book/time-one/; “Time to Tunnel”, http://www.timeone.ca/chapters/time-to-tunnel.pdf
Jean-Yves Sgro, see Introduction to Molecular Virology, University of Cape Town, http://www.mcb.uct.ac.za/tutorial/isometric_nucleocapsids.htm