The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

Activity and Genetics

  • Many studies show that genetic inheritance influences physical activity. Some of us, therefore, are predisposed to be couch potatoes. This chapter begins with an interesting story of how sled dogs are now bread for their work ethic as opposed to speed or size. Similar experiments with rodents show the same thing. Animals and humans use to being very active tend to have addictive personalities where exercise takes the place of drugs. It also seems that stimulants like Ritalin do the same thing for normal mice that is already occurring in the brains of very active mice. The brain’s dopamine system responds to exercise. This is why exercise can be used to treat depression and Parkinson’s disease, which destroys brain cells that make dopamine. Once you drive dopamine up, activity decreases which is why Ritalin is used to treat ADHD in children.

Other Athletic Genes

  • Science has recognized some gene mutations that result in certain diseases. One heart disease in particular with a genetic cause results in heart failure in someone engaged in intensive exercise. Another increases the chances that athletes likely to sustain concussions will also suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Others determine how likely you are to suffer bone and joint injuries and how well you can deal with pain. As far as testing for genes that can impact athletic abilities, we are just at the beginning. The concern about genetic privacy, however, caused congress to pass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2009, which bars employers and health insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of genetic information.

Gold Medal Mutation

  • This chapter tells of a Finnish gold medal cross country ski racer who has a gene mutation that causes abnormally high blood hemoglobin levels. Due to this elevated ability to transport oxygen, every member of this family with the mutation who skied, became a world class athlete. During the last several decades there have been a number of scandals involving athletes to take blood transfusions prior to races and those to take EPO, which stimulates red cell production. For athletes who have naturally elevated hemoglobin, there are systems that allow them to compete as long as they can prove their elevated hemoglobin is natural. While having lots of hemoglobin and red cells sounds like a good idea, it can raise the viscosity of the blood, which is a negative consequence.
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2 Responses to “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein”

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