Masai Tribe enjoys communication too
Masai Tribe enjoys communication too

In a certain roundabout way this story is a follow up on the Lance and Neil Armstrong story from last week that mis-directed a number of angry Democrats to bombard me with emails on intentionally misquoting Obama, just because I blame the heavy hand of government rules and regulations on why we are losing our grip on the reality of life’s challenges. But I also had dozens of supportive reactions from readers who understood that not everything these days is about politics and who commented affirmative on my belief that Lance Armstrong got a unacceptable raw deal being “officially” stripped of his 14 years of titles and victories. They understood that the story was about an astronaut who pledged to face life’s challenges and a sports giant no longer willing to take the abuse from a semi-governmental organization and take his life back; a life he already had once almost lost to cancer.

In fairness of course, the intention of that essay had been two-fold. One to promote the realization that government has now effectively strangled the individual human search for creative solutions to life in favor of collective control through endless rules and regulations and two, that in the polarization process of our current society, we’d rather be ignorant and accusing, than exploring options and opportunities on a much bigger scale. Lance Armstrong went from a terminally ill cancer patient to a super human…huh how did he do that and can I get something pretty please?

And that brings me to something our human race constantly chooses to overlook or rather buries in prison terms and  penalties: The Fact that Accidental Discoveries, also called Disruptive Technologies/Innovations, almost always the result of individual efforts, have changed the course of the world and the human race more often than any scheduled collective research.

Besides in real technology, there are also numerous examples in bio-technology that are considered accidental discoveries. Take Penicillin, Viagra, Aspirin, Ritalin, Warfarin yes even Coca Cola; they are all unintentional discoveries, mostly done by individuals, yet because these discoveries were unscheduled and unintentional, they were given the collective stigma of unreliable and possibly dangerous and consequently covered by a burden of proof only pasty white lawmakers in small square cubicles can come up with. Now it’s okay to protect us “innocent citizens” against potential harm from untested findings, but to “protect” us against innovations and discoveries that upset the so called natural flow of business for banks, power companies, pharmaceutical companies etc. is a bad idea, at least in my opinion. Especially because in today’s world many of these innovations become stigmatized with untruth and badly written media publicity.

Here are some examples how accidental (unintended) discoveries came about.
During the 1920’s, cattle were dying of uncontrolled internal bleeding. A chemical compound in spoiled hay, coumarin, was identified as the culprit. Coumarin, shortly thereafter, was renamed Warfarin and sold as rat poison. But then…an accident of fate occurred…
In 1951, a U.S. Army inductee tried to commit suicide by swallowing Warfarin – but he didn’t die!  Re-examination revealed medicinal functions and Warfarin was soon approved for medical use in humans as an anticoagulant, a blood thinner, to prevent stroke and heart attacks. DuPont Pharmaceuticals quickly patented Warfarin under the brand name Coumadin and made billions!

Alexander Fleming didn’t set out to discover penicillin – a drug that combats infections and cures diseases. He was merely growing bacteria in a petri dish. But by an accident of fate, he had left a petri dish uncovered, and when he returned to it the next morning, he discovered that mold (penicillin) had killed the bacteria. And that seemingly random, innocent accident of fate, had the ultimate effect of extending the average human life span from 45 years at the turn of the 20th century, to about 80 years today.

You’ve heard how Coca Cola started out as a health syrup. Viagra was the side effect of clinical search to cure Angina, a heart condition and high blood pressure. Human trials were very disappointing but, the trial volunteers were reporting an unusual side effect – no erectile disfunction there! Viagra was born and became one of the most prescribed drugs in history.

Another remarkable example is the drug Ritalin, which doctors indiscriminately seem to prescribe for kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders these days. Ritalin is a drug that entered the market place more than 50 years ago designed to treat adults with depression. It didn’t do too well in that function, contrary to its effect on over-active children and recently scientists found that it works as a cognitive enhancer, making people without ADHD smarter and more alert! If this topic interests you, here is a reference link to Prof. Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge.

Telltales of Our Historic Life span

There are many more examples of accidental discovery that have increased mankind’s life span to a remarkable 80 year on average these days.

For the vast majority of human history, life was hard and lifespans were short. For Greeks during the Classical period of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., the average person lived about 28 years.

Life spans then rose to about 30 years in Medieval Times. In the early 20th century, that’s only 100 years ago!!! in the developed world, our average lifespan rose to about 45 years.

Before the mass production of penicillin, which helped extend our current average life span to about 80 years, a broken bone that protruded through the skin resulted in death at least 50% of the time. Getting thrown from a horse, kicked by a cow or bitten by any kind of animal was a potentially life-ending matter.

Indeed, in the “olden days,” the only way to survive a nearly inevitable sequence of industrial and household accidents was with a strong inflammatory immune response from your own body or amputation. If individuals didn’t have the ability to mount a powerful inflammatory response, well, they were unlikely to live long enough to pass on their DNA. If you sneezed in medieval times, the “God Bless You” that accompanied the sneeze was essential a death sentence, because often the sneeze implied that you were infected by the black plague.

Since the Black Plague, science has discovered that inflammation is the most underestimated cause of disease and aging and when we’re talking about cancers, tumors, heart disease and a myriad of organ failures as well as neurological diseases, we’re essentially talking about how our immune system reacts to the normal effects of aging as if they were injuries. The aging process initiates inflammation, an immune response that in turn causes cellular stress, which increases the degree of chronic inflammation — which causes even more damage and death before our critical lifespan possibilities.

Yes our maximum life span is determined by the number of telomeres on our chromosomes. Let me visualize this as follows: If you think of a chromosome as a shoelace, the telomere then is the plastic tip at the end that keeps it from fraying and unraveling. We are born with a finite number of telomeres that theoretically allow us a maximum life span of about 120 years.

But as we suffer age related inflammation, we lose telomeres at an increasing rate. And when we have no more telomeres left… we die. So by reducing inflammation… the telomere loss is slowed… and life can be extended.

And that was the essence of the Armstrong story: accepting the challenge to extend life through means that may be unusual or periodically even illegal, but  with the potential to be readily accepted and even welcomed when unequivocal results show us a road to human longevity. But since ‘politicians’ have not found ways to sustain live financially, the immediate reaction is always to build roadblocks.

I have never been a “pill popper” in my life and even now when family and friends easily share “medications of comfort”, I decline. But frankly I’m tired of the small ongoing chronic pains and ever so slowly diminishing energy that many of us seem to accept as the price of getting older. These days I’m not that adverse to at least trying nutraceuticals that in my case are bringing about a remarkable change in everyday life.  And that was what my story about Lance and Neil Armstrong was all about: to come out of the corner of defeat and face the challenges and opportunities of life’s unstoppable advance into old age.

I realize also that there’s no such thing as a totally safe medicine, there’s no such thing as a medicine that we know absolutely everything about. Therefore there is some uncertainty and that persists over time. Any medicine -bioceutical, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical or completely organic – will disrupt and alter some fundamental biological process and may produce some unwanted effects on a variety of people with different molecular structures. Knowing that, the question than becomes, “what risks are you prepared to take for what benefit?”

Lance Armstrong knows what he wants from life. His decision not to contest the doping charges from a miserable organization like the USADA any longer, will allow both him and his charity “the Lance Armstrong Foundation” to finally move on after more than a decade of being harassed. That his sponsors and the public in general agree with his decision not to fight the USADA any longer, was never shown louder and more articulate than the day after the USADA wiped out 14 years of Armstrong’s career and barred him from the sport of cycling for life.  But guess what…the same day Armstrong was banned, the amount of donations to his foundation more than doubled to $78,000 from $32,300 the day before and the number of donations nearly tripled to 937 from 313 the day before. Corporate sponsors NIKE, Anheiser Busch, Oakley Sunglasses and Johnson Health Tech have publicly announced to stand by Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong Foundation, in a way expressing that many are getting fed up with overzealous officials who seem hellbound to put our life in their strangleholds.

The consensus is that Lance Armstrong had already served enough years of “jail” time (if he ever was guilty to the charges), even before the sentence was handed down. Lance finally threw off the shackles of stress and walked away. His world can only get better now.