If you’ve read lots of rumours about redheads and pain, you’re not alone!

Redheads and pain

I read everything I can find about Redheads and there is a lot of information that applies to redheads and pain; how we experience pain, our tolerance to pain and how redheads react to anaesthetic. Some of this information appears to contradictory, so we’re going to go through exactly how pain affects redheads. As a bit of a precursor – if there are any contenders for a ‘mutant power’ this may be it!

Types of Pain experienced by Redheads

First things first, when you’re thinking about ‘pain’ what do you think of? There are actually lots of different types of pain and Redheads are more sensitive to some and less sensitive to others. According to this illuminating article from Science Nordic, we:

  • are more sensitive to the cold
  • suffer more from toothaches
  • are at greater risk of developing sclerosis and endometriosis
It’s even suggested that redheads get ill more often because we stay out of the sun to protect our skin and so lack Vitamin D, which is crucial in fighting off illness. However, Redheads’ pale complexion permits more sunlight into the skin, where it encourages the production of vitamin D as cited in a Daily Mail article on the health benefits of being a Redhead. So as long as we get out in the sun a little, it’s enough for us!
So where’s the flip side? The same study from Science Nordic points out that redheads are less sensitive to stinging pain in the skin. Is this from being used to sun burn I wonder? I hope not!

Why do Redheads experience pain differently?

It’s thought that it’s part of our genetics, and the same thing that makes our hair red, is related to having a different experience of pain. The receptor gene MCR1 which is responsible for making redheads hair red was the focus of a study performed on mice and evidence suggested that mice with different MCR1 genes responded differently to pain and treatment. “It seems that MCR1 is involved in central functions in the brain, and we know that subgroups like MC2R, MC3R and MC4R, which are also linked to redheads, have considerable involvement in brain functions. This could be the key to explaining why redheads are a little different to other people,” says Arendt-Nielsen. Very little is known about this gene at present, but the more we know about it, the more we will know about redheads.So the result is: Redheads are less sensitive to pains on the skin such as scratches, pressure and needle pricks, but more sensitive to cold and heat, and any pain caused by exposure to them. Got it? Good.

Anaesthetic and Redheads

Knowing about how we experience pain doesn’t do much to alleviate it does it? This leads us to another long held belief about Redheads: anesthesiologists  suspected that redheads required more anaesthetic to experience the same relief as anyone else and are more difficult to put under.  In 2002, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville, proved that it takes an average of 20 percent more anaesthetic to eliminate the pain that the red haired participants were experiencing. To hear more about how Redheads work, you may enjoy this podcast from How Stuff Works.com on redheads which covers amongst other things; the link between anaesthetics and red hair.The study involved administering electric shocks to 20 women of varying ages half of which were redheads and half brunettes. It sounds pretty medieval doesn’t it?

Have your say on Redheads and Pain

What has your experience been? Can you back up any of these studies with your own experience? Have you heard any other rumours? Comment below!