Blondes may have fun but redheads can take the pain

According to a new British study, blondes may have more fun, but redheads are less likely to feel the pain.

For reasons as yet unexplainable, women with red hair appear to be more stoic when faced with pain, compared to women with other hair colour, and to men.

These findings, although preliminary, will be investigated in a study to be launched in Britain by the medical research council's Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh.

Already a panel of redheads has been recruited to take part in the research.

Professor Ian Jackson, says one of the aims is to see if there is a natural mechanism at work in redheads that can be adapted to help develop new pain-killers and anesthetic.

According to Professor Jackson, people are interested in developing new anaesthetics or co-anaesthetics, as treatment for chronic pain is difficult.

In studies on "redhead" mice, which have blonde fur but carry a similar gene to the one that causes red hair in humans, scientists were able to target the pain-reducing mechanism.

Jackson says red-haired mice show a similar ability as human female redheads, to withstand higher pain thresholds compared to other mice and require less anaesthetic to block out certain pains.

The original work on red hair and pain was carried out by Professor Jeffrey Mogil, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

He identified a mutant version of a gene called melanocortin-1 (Mc1r), which is linked to ginger hair and fair skin.

This apparently gives women a higher pain threshold, but does not appear to have the same effect on men.

This is possibly explained by subtle differences in the way male and female brains process pain.

It appears that in most people, the Mc1r gene produces a protein that reduces the ability of opioid drugs to block pain.

However in redheaded women, who have a non-functional version of the gene, such painkillers are free to work unhindered.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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