Ask anyone if there’s a disease, condition or genetic defect they wished they had, and the most obvious answer would be “no”. Yet there are certain physical and mental defects that can give one unfair advantage, even superhuman abilities. In this post we look at some of these useful conditions and mutations and, in some cases, mention a real person who has it.
- hDEC2: The Sleep Advantage Gene
- Acromegaly: The Growth Hormone Disease
- Struck by Genius: Brain Injury Turns Man into Math Genius
- ACTN3 Variant: The Sprinting Gene
- Extreme Sports: The Man Who Can Run Forever
- Myostatin-Related Muscle Hypertrophy: Every Man’s Dream Condition
- Savant Syndrome: The Disease of Genius
Side note: This article is about conditions that give one some kind advantage over other “normal”” humans. “Useful defects”, if you like. We’ll not cover certain conditions such as congenital analgesia which causes a person not to feel pain, as the downside to that can be dangerous.
hDEC2: The Sleep Advantage Gene
Who has/had it: 1-3 percent of the population
They say to achieve your dreams you must stay awake. We all know that sleeping less can enable us to do more in our day, which may result in more achievement or success. Many overachievers have done it by “burning the midnight oil”. In fact, some studies show that too much sleep can be bad for your brain.
Virtually everyone knows of knows of a guy or gal who sleeps only four hours a day, but still seems to have boatloads of energy and focus all day. We’ve tried to be like them but failed spectacularly. Ask them how they do it and they’ll probably say they are “used to it” or something like that. Well, it could be that nature just favored them.
Scientists have discovered a gene known as hDEC2 which gives these people an edge.
Natural short sleepers, about 1-3 percent of the population, can function with less than six hours of sleep without feeling tired or losing mental sharpness during the day. These fortunate ones are likely have hDEC2, a gene variation that enables them to function with less sleep than the rest of us.
Scientists were able to replicate the gene variation in mice and found that the mice needed less sleep too. Hope they soon come up with a (safe) pill for the rest of us.
Acromegaly: The Growth Hormone Disease
Who has/had it: Andre the Giant
Born André René Roussimoff, Andre the Giant stood at seven feet and four inches tall, weighed 520LBs (236kg), with herculean strength and an appetite to go with it. He was such a freak of nature that they also called him “the eighth wonder of the world.
Speaking of appetite, try chugging down 120 plus beers or gorging 12 steaks and 15 lobsters, in one sitting. While Andre the Giant didn’t do this on a regular basis, it kind of tells you how much his overgrown body could take in.
Now for his strength. In an HBO documentary, Andre the Giant can be seen lifting a 2000LB weight, and hoisting and carrying two 200 LBs-plus professional wrestlers “like babies” and then squeezing the life out of them with one bear hug.
Andre had a condition known as acromegaly; his pituitary gland produced too much growth hormone.
Unfortunately, the condition has a negative effect. Andre the Giant passed away in his sleep at only 46 years old due to congestive heart failure that was linked to the condition.
Struck by Genius: Brain Injury Turns Man into Math Genius
Who has/had it: Jason Padgett
Often diseases and defects that give you superhuman abilities are inborn. This one is acquired.
Head trauma can be devastating and cause long term negative effects including memory loss, concentration problems, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Like mental illness or addiction, brain injury impacts those close to the person with it as well.
For Jason Padgett, it was the other way around.
Padgett was brutally attacked by two men in 2002 outside a karaoke bar, leaving him with a severe concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But with a positive effect.
After the incident, Padgett became a mathematical genius.
Before the attack, Padgett, who is a furniture salesman from Tacoma, WA, was no academic and had not gone beyond pre-algebra in his math studies. Today, he has what has been referred to as savant math skills, coupled with astounding drawing abilities.
Almost makes me wish someone could whack me on the head in just the right way.
You can read a more detailed story at the Live Science website.
Image: Creative Commons
ACTN3 Variant: The Sprinting Gene
Who has/had it: Usain Bolt
Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for a decade or more, you’ve at least heard of Usain Bolt. The sprinter from Jamaica has running speed that fits his last name. The former sprinter is a world record holder in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4 × 100 meters relay. He’s widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time.
While nature has favored him in other ways, such as an abundance of fast-twitch muscles and long legs that give him longer strides than his rivals, Usain Bolt also has a gene known as Actinen A or ACTN3, in variant form that gives “power” athletes such as sprinters and power lifters advantage over the rest of us. Not surprisingly, ACTN3 has been dubbed the “gene of speed”.
Whilst we all have ACTN3, athletes have certain variants of it that produces a protein known as alpha-actinin-3. This protein has been linked to the speedy tensing and flexing of the muscles involved in sprinting or weightlifting.
Related: How Fastest Man Alive Trains
Image: Creative Commons 3.0
Extreme Sports: The Man Who Can Run Forever
Who has/had it: Dean Karnazes
Meet the real-life Forest Gump.
Imagine running for three days straight, without sleep. Then imagine you’re not imagining. You would be Dean Karnazes, the man who can run forever. And yes, he has run for three days straight without sleep only stopping because the sleep deprivation was making him psychotic (his own word), not because he was tired.
And, get this, Karnazes has never had a muscle cramp in his life. The ultramarathon runner was born in born in Inglewood in Los Angeles County, California. He is 57 years old (at the time of this post).
Karnazes ran his first endurance event in 1976, at a school fundraising for run on track, to raise money for underprivileged children. While the other students did 10-15 laps, he did… 90!
Karnazes’s superhuman running ability is linked to a rare genetic condition that removes lactic acid from his body. When the average person exercises, lactic acid builds up, creating fatigue and muscle cramps. This does not happen to Karnazes, thanks to his rare genetic condition.
Image: Creative Commons 2.0
Myostatin-Related Muscle Hypertrophy: Every Man’s Dream Condition
Who has/had it: Liam Hoekstra the “Super Kid”
Now let’s talk about the real-life Superman, born and reared on planet earth.
Most men, I included, have to sweat it out in the gym and eat right to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. Liam Hoekstra does it without lifting a finger.
Liam Hoekstra is reported to have 40 percent more muscle mass than others in his age, with almost no body fat. Born of a father who is reported to have possessed incredible strength, Hoekstra was diagnosed to have Myostatin-Related Muscle Hypertrophy at the age of 3.
This condition is characterized by extremely fast muscle mass growth accompanied by extremely fast metabolism. In other words, every man’s dream body.
Liam could do chin ups at 1 year old, which is unheard of. At 18 months, he could move furniture around the house.
Unlike people with Acromegaly such as Andre the Giant (mentioned above), Liam’s skeletal structure and muscle mass grow fast without any damage to the heart or any recorded negative impact on his body.
You can read a more detailed story at the Fitness Genes website.
Savant Syndrome: The Disease of Genius
Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which a person with serious mental disabilities including but not limited to autism and Asperger’s syndrome, demonstrates certain abilities above and beyond the average. However, not all savants have autism or Asperger’s.
A person with savant syndrome could be capable of effortlessly memorizing vast amounts of data or solve complex issues. They may demonstrate extreme talent in mathematics, music, architecture, or art. Some savants are multi-talented and can be, just for example, artist, musician and mathematician at the same time.
Typically congenital, savant syndrome may also be acquired after a head injury, stroke or other central nervous system (CNS) incident, as in the case of Jason Padgett (above). The person can “suddenly” and unexpectedly start to demonstrate astonishing new abilities, usually in music, art or mathematics. This is sometimes called Sudden Savant Syndrome.
There are many other interesting diseases and conditions that may give one superpowers. Unfortunately, most of these conditions and mutations that give you superhuman abilities, including those mentioned above, come at a price or at the expense of something else. And they can often impact normal life. They can be, as Detective Monk of a show by the same name would say, a gift and a curse.
 Men’s Health