Real, Rare, and Amazing Conditions

November 9, 2017

If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Flight? Super-strength? An imperviousness to cholesterol?


A condition called tetrachromatism enables a person to see more of the color spectrum than the rest of us. Those with it can notice more subtle shades of colors, even within a single object; something may appear red to most people is a whole slew of reddish shades to a person with tetrachromatism. They can see an estimated 100 times more colors than the average human.


Elizabeth Taylor is certainly the most famous person ever diagnosed with distichia. Rather than sprout from their usual place on the eyelid, eyelashes grow from some other spot around the eye. Or, as was the case with Taylor, in addition to their usual place. The film star had double eyelashes, which only served to accentuate her famously violet-colored eyes.

Primary Familial and Congenital Polycythemia

Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mantyranta won seven Olympic gold medals between 1960 and 1972. In 1972, he admitted to “doping”—taking hormones to improve his performance, although they weren’t banned by the International Olympic Committee at the time. Nevertheless, he had a genetic condition called primary familial and congenital polycythemia, which gave him a competitive edge. A mutation in his erythropoietin receptor gene made his bloodstream hold 1.5 times the amount of oxygen that another person’s bloodstream would. All that extra oxygen meant he didn’t get tired as easily, and could ski for much longer and at faster speeds than the other guy.


Another celebrity example of a remarkable condition: Marilu Henner. The Taxi star is one of only about two dozen people ever confirmed to have a complete and total photographic memory, or hyperthymesia. She can recall specific, precise, and minute details about her life on any given day from her lifetime. Scientists think the condition results from an enlarged temporal lobe and caudate nucleus in the brain.


People with a very rare problem with the PCSK9 can eat all the extremely fatty, cholesterol-laden food they want. The body lacks enough copies of the gene in question, which is responsible for helping to absorb and process dietary fat and cholesterol. That means cholesterol just doesn’t affect them, and that their risk of developing heart disease is around 90 percent less than that of the general public.