5 Real People With Mind-Blowing Mutant Superpowers (Part 3)

#2. People Who Live at High Altitudes Have More Strength With Less Oxygen

Olga_Danylenko/iStock/Getty Images

Out of 7.2 billion people alive today, roughly 140 million live at an altitude 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) or higher. And those people might as well be a whole other goddamn species.

For most humans, prolonged exposure to high altitude leads to a number of unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, heart disease, delirium, and good old-fashioned death. Survive up there long enough, though, and you begin to evolve past those issues and become stronger. Take Tibet, for example. Over 2,750 years ago, the Tibetan people split from mainland China and decided to live in the mountains instead. At over two and a half miles up, the world is very different indeed. The air is thinner and contains 40 percent less oxygen than the air we lower-landlubbers breathe. Of course, that doesn't mean Tibet is a deadly, unlivable void-space. It's only 40 percent of a deadly, unlivable void-space.

Antoine Taveneaux, via Wikipedia
Don't let the mystic beauty fool you; this place is a dick-kick to the cardiorespiratory system.

After millennia, Tibetans' bodies adapted to these conditions, bestowing upon them some of the highest endurance levels on the planet. They've done so by pure mutation: The EPAS1 gene normally produces more red blood cells once the body is deprived of oxygen. In Tibetans, the gene actually creates fewer cells in lower-oxygen environments. Now, no scientists have ever said that the following statement is actually true (and for some stupid reason, they call the cops whenever you try to test it), but we're pretty sure that means Tibetans will only get stronger when you suffocate them.

Then there are the Kalenjin people of Kenya: Their forefathers belonged to the Nilotic tribes, and they lived at sea level for thousands and thousands of years. Only recently have the Kalenjin moved to their current home of the Great Rift Valley, at roughly 7,000 feet above sea level. This means that, unlike the Tibetans, whose genetic superpower prevents them from overdeveloping red blood cells, a Kalenjin's body may function like it's constantly adapting to the higher altitude, thus producing a gargantuan amount of red blood cells. When they descend to mere mortal ground, the extra oxygen could very well manifest itself in their most famous attribute: running forever and ever.

Tom Page, via Wikipedia
"Take my picture quick; I'll need to start early if I'm gonna jog back to Kenya by tomorrow."

Everybody talks about the insane success of Kenyan long-distance runners, but the truth is that most Kenyans have no better stamina than the rest of us. The Kalenjin, who make up 1/10 of the Kenyan population at best, are the reason for the country's reputation -- for every 10 Olympic medals Kenya has won for running, seven are in Kalenjin hands. Of all the world running records held by Kenyans, only one is not held by a Kalenjin. Oh, and in all of recorded history, only 17 Americans have run a marathon in under two hours and 10 minutes. That's pretty neat-o, except for the fact that 32 Kalenjin have done it.

In October of 2011 alone.

#1. Ecuadorian Dwarfs Don't Get Cancer or Diabetes

Arlan Rosenbloom, The New York Times

Deep in the heart of Ecuador, there is a group of little people known as the Laron Dwarfs. There is one key difference between these and other dwarfs: The Laron Dwarfs never get cancer or diabetes. Ever.

Arlan Rosenbloom, The New York Times
Before you mock, remember that he'll be the tall one when you're 6 feet under the ground.

Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre has been studying these people since 1987. In all that time, he found no instances of diabetes whatsoever, and only one occurrence of (non-lethal) cancer. And most Laron Dwarfs don't exactly live the healthiest lifestyles: Many are alcoholics, just about all of them are inbred, and quite a few also suffer from obesity. However, when you account for other, more preventable causes of death (addiction, accidents), you find that the Laron Dwarfs live inordinately long lives. It's an entire group of fat, old, drunken dwarfs who just will not die.

Valter Longo
We're pretty sure Tolkien covered that somewhere before.

The Laron lack a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor 1. The lack of IGF-1 is apparently the cause of their dwarfism, but it's also the reason they could walk up to the next Chernobyl and run around naked with no ill effects.*

IGF-1 has been shown to increase cancer cells in a body, and studies suggest that reducing or outright removing the hormone can stop the spread of such cells. Since the Laron naturally have extremely limited IGF-1, cancer (and diabetes commonly associated with cancer) just can't get through. True, a Laron Dwarf's condition dashes any and all hope for an NBA career, but that seems like a small price to pay for the first small step toward functional Highlanderism.

*Remember, all of our dear Laron readers: Never take any of our advice.

Follow Dennis Fulton on Twitter, where he desperately tries to win the @midnight #HashtagWars. Pay attention to me, Chris! Also, check out his friend's Web series.

Related Reading: There are people in this world with real super powers, like this man who can eat anything. And then there's this man who is somehow immune to electric shock. You don't have to be born special to have a superpower, though. This man built himself a jetpack.

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