Superheroes have been around long before Marvel and the MCU, with Sherlock Holmes and Dracula being examples of characters who had superpowers – even if they weren’t called superheroes. If you really pay attention to fiction, you’ll notice that they tend to recycle the same powers.
That’s because a lot of these powers are based on real-life diseases that people actually have. It makes them stronger, smarter, and fearless – just like in stories.
Unfortunately, the stories cut out the part that no one wants to consider. Most of those apparent superpowers come with their own downsides. After all, the powers are a result of diseases, so a person can’t just shake off a superhero landing and move on expecting to be perfectly fine.
1. Savant Syndrome
Let’s start with something that really messes with your head. People who have this syndrome are usually diagnosed with Autism because their brains simply work differently compared to the rest of us.
They are able to play instruments from a very early age, can complete complex math, or draw an accurate map of an entire city after just flying over it. They may often be called geniuses because their skills are absolutely remarkable.
However, this syndrome means that in the areas where the person doesn’t excel, they may not be able to learn. They have mental deficiencies that create gaps in their ability to learn. Alonzo Cemons is a great example of someone with Savant Syndrome. After suffering a brain injury, he could not learn how to do things like read or tie his shoes, but if you show him a picture of an animal, he can create a perfect sculpture of it after just looking at the image for a matter of seconds. His mind is able to see shapes and figures from the images, then replicate them in some amazing artwork.
Sticking with the brain, Hyperthymesia is also called super memory. This disease is so rare that only about 60 people have been diagnosed with it across the globe. If you have Hyperthymesia, you remember everything, including things from your early childhood. You could recite long passages from your favorite book – or your favorite memory. At first, this seems fantastic.
Then you realize that it means you can’t forget anything. Embarrassing situations, times when you were afraid, or situations that may have been traumatic. You remember all of these with absolute clarity.
The disease also causes frequent headaches and can make it difficult to sleep. If you’ve ever had your mind working in overdrive, you can understand how being unable to forget anything can keep you up late at night.
3. Congenital Analgesia
What if you could live without feeling pain? That’s definitely a superpower, right? That’s exactly what happens for people with this problem – they are insensitive to pain. In other words, they don’t feel physical pain. If they are in a car accident, they aren’t going to suffer the kinds of adverse effects that the rest of us do. Working out isn’t going to cause them problems the next day. And they aren’t going to flinch if someone punches them.
This sounds like it would be wonderful, but pain is actually a survival mechanism. A person with congenital insensitivity to pain isn’t going to feel pain when they get burned on a stove, meaning that they won’t know to move their hand because it is being hurt.
It doesn’t take long to realize that this disease is particularly dangerous because the people who have it won’t be able to realize when they need medical attention. This puts them at very serious risk. The pain you feel the next day after working out lets you know that your muscles need a break. You can do serious damage if you don’t take time off. It is known to be fatal for children who have it because they don’t know how to seek help from an adult to get help when they are hurt.
4. Urbach’s Syndrome
Ok, maybe being unable to feel pain isn’t so great, but what if you could live life without feeling any fear? There are several interesting cases where people have reported not feeling fear, no matter what situation they were in. These people have Urbach’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that so far only about 300 people have been diagnosed with. Roughly half of the people with Urbach’s Syndrome live in South Africa.
Researchers have tried to get people who have this disorder by doing things that would make most of us cringe. How would you feel about being put in a room full of venomous spiders? What about having a lot of venomous snakes around you? People with Urbach’s Syndrome will be just as comfortable in these situations as they are lounging on the couch watching their favorite show.
You wouldn’t be able to enjoy horror movies or Halloween attractions if you had this syndrome. However, that’s not the real downside to this genetic syndrome. It causes those with the disease to have problems with their skin, such as it being drier, more wrinkled, or vulnerable to harm. It can also cause nodules and lesions on their face.
The amygdala is affected by this syndrome, and it is what controls some emotions, particularly fear. It tends to harden and can cause significant problems, such as epilepsy and increased risk of stroke, as well as mental disorders.
5. Myostatin Disorder
What about super strength? A very small group of people who are able to start building muscles when they are incredibly young. They lose their body fat very early, making them start to look more like bodybuilders when they are still toddlers or young children. Their bones do grow quickly too, so the muscles don’t cause extra stress to their bones.
This is actually one of the few known diseases that doesn’t have any obvious drawbacks. It is still being studied, and there aren’t very many cases of this genetic disorder. If you have this disorder, your muscle mass grows remarkably fast.
One of the most famous cases is Liam Hoekstra. At just 3 years old, he had 40% muscle mass, something that was never seen before. And he eats like someone who regularly pumps iron, even winning a local eating contest. It takes a lot of calories to keep developing muscles.
This is a unique disorder, resulting in a person being born with an additional limb or limbs. A person can be born with another arm, another pair of legs, a couple more fingers or toes, and or even more than one …. Ehem, male members. That’s not one you are likely to see without getting very close to someone.
This one is still being studied because there are several potential reasons why someone could be born with more than the usual number of arms, legs, and other body parts. Sometimes these other parts are fully functional, but that is not always the case.
The downsides are pretty obvious to this one. Clothing is going to be a lot harder to find to accommodate the extra body parts. When the extra parts aren’t functional, they can get in the way. They often opt to have the extra parts removed. However, if you had another arm or two to help you get more done, you may find it worth doing a little extra work on your clothing because that extra arm is just too handy to remove.
7. Hypohidrotic Ectodermal
Let’s move into more of the supernatural realm – did you know that vampires are based on a real genetic disorder? Hypohidrotic Ectodermal is also called Vampire Syndrome, and it is a genetic disorder that affects many of a persons’ physical characteristics. Their teeth don’t form like most peoples, so people with this disorder tend to have fewer and poorer teeth.
The disorder affects their sweat glands and their skin, making them far more sensitive to sunlight. This can make their lives a lot more difficult because going outside is dangerous to them. Forget enjoying the beach. They often look different, especially since the disease can affect their hair, making them bald pretty early in life.
There are also people who have a disorder that inspired the idea of werewolves. People with Hypertrichosis have hair growing all over their bodies. And lots of it. They have lush hair all over their head, including on their faces. As a result, the syndrome has been called werewolf syndrome. The difference is that people with this syndrome don’t become hairy during the lunar cycle – they are like that unless they remove the hair themselves.
This syndrome is thought to be caused by a genetic mutation since it does seem to run in families. However, some people who tried to stop going bald reported the problem as well, demonstrating why it is best to be careful about trying to treat a problem with anything less than something that has been through rigorous testing.
9. Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva
People who suffer from this disorder develop very tough skin and potentially everything else. This disorder is more commonly called the Stone Man Syndrome, but it isn’t stone like the Thing has in the Fantastic Four. People who suffer from this syndrome have soft tissue that grows back as bone.
It can be debilitating because bones can fuse together, including parts of the spine. Joints may become nonfunctional because there is too much bone. Nor can the bone be removed because it will simply grow back as more bone. There is no treatment available to cure this genetic disorder. It is incredibly rare, with only about 1 in 2 million people being known to have this syndrome.
10. Genetic Mutation hDEC2
What if you could work fantastically after getting just 4 hours of sleep? Maybe you love sleeping, so this is not something you would find a great superpower. But that is exactly what people who have the mutation hDEC2 are able to do – work nearly perfectly with only 4 to 6 hours of sleep.
If you could function fantastically with just 4 hours of sleep, that would give you 20 hours in your day. They literally have more time built into their day because they don’t require the recommended 8 hours every night to be very effective. They tend to be happy and more energetic. As a result, people with this mutation often take on a second job with no problem, helping them to get ahead with relative ease.
Some of these seem like superpowers, but do you think it is worth the downsides? It’s definitely something to think about the next time you enjoy a movie about superheroes – there’s more to worry about than having their identities discovered or fighting supervillains.