In the past, they were shunned by society due to meeting one being considered to be the equivalent of a bad omen . Overcome these unfounded superstitions, today redheads continue to be placed on a fine line between the attractive and the peculiar.
However, science has spoken in favor of people with orange hair and freckles. Apparently, redheads (whose proportion represents barely 2% of the world population compared to those who do not have this condition), could have in their genetics the key to certain “superpowers” that the rest of mortals would not possess.
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Redheaded women resist pain better
The theory that redheads are made of a special paste is not something new; and it is that the results of a study in redheaded women carried out by McGill University in 2003 already pointed to this idea.
In this work it was possible to demonstrate that women with this particular pigmentation in their hair and skin have a better response to painkillers. Without abandoning the idea that the level of perceived pain is the same for all women, those who have these characteristic features were the ones that best responded to the administration of analgesics for pain in the entire group. In the sample, there were also men and even so, their answers were still not so goodlike those of any redhead in the ensemble.
A mutated gene, the cause of the differences
Everything points to the existence of a brain mechanism for pain that is exclusive to women. The brain receptors (called ‘K-opioids’) to which analgesics attach in this pathway function only in females. Using advanced detection techniques, the professionals found a gene (Mc1r), whose mutation is associated with both red hair pigmentation and pale skin ; and that is the trigger for this difference between women and men.
How does this gene affect pain tolerance
Researchers tested the sequelae of the specific analgesic for opioid receptors, applying to genetically altered mice an inactive version of the Mc1r receptor, equivalent to the subtype exclusive to red-haired people.
Although typical differences in the palliative effects according to sex were observed in the case of normal rodents (they lasted longer than the men); these if they disappeared in mice that had suffered genetic variations. Next, the professionals applied a widely used analgesic for k-opioid receptors (pentazocine), in men and women who had different modifications of the Mc1r gene; which manifested itself in different shades of hair and skin.
As expected, the different variations in the Mc1r gene in men did not affect a better analgesic response to pentazocine. However, the mutation of the Mc1r gene did cause a greater response in red-haired women . This finding suggested that the aforementioned gene affects in some special way the pathways for the opioid receptors only in these women, a fact that would cause said analgesic action to be displayed and increase their resistance to pain.
The other 3 “superpowers”
Apparently, redheaded women have a higher pain tolerance threshold(up to 25% more), thanks to this alteration of the Mc1r gene, which causes its appearance; but it is not the only thing that this mutation contributes. Here are more examples of the exceptional qualities reserved for ginger:
1. Greater resistance to sedatives
Added to the conclusions of the 2003 McGill study are those drawn by the University of Louisville, which determined that 20% more anesthesia to sedate a redheaded person than another with a different hair and skin color. Furthermore, a redhead usually needs between two and three injections of Novocaine (a sedative widely used for dental procedures); while a brown person only needs one dose.
2. They need less vitamin D
Toasting in the sun to achieve a tanned skin tone is practically the goal of most during the summer time. However, it seems that our beloved “carrots” do not need to be exposed to the sun for so many hours to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
3. Sensitivity to changes in the weather
In addition to its analgesic function, the mutated version of Mc1r turns these people in a very reliable source to detect changes in temperature of the environment. So, now you know: if a redhead tells you “winter is coming”, you better believe it.
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To learn more:
McGill University. (2003, March 25). Redheaded Women Respond Better To Painkilling Drugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 13, 2017.