Redheads are trouble. Redheads are a pain. Redheads have stirred things up for centuries. Who are these redheads? People like Napoleon, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Lucille Ball, Thomas Jefferson, Richard the Lionheart, and even the current British royal family’s redhead Prince Harry.
But let’s be fair, it’s not really their fault. It’s a genetic deal. It seems that one of the things that distinguish redheads from the rest of us is that they have a lower pain threshold. They seem to feel pain more severely and make greater attempts to avoid painful situations.
A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) evaluated resistance to local anesthetics and level of anxiety in people with red hair versus non-redheads. They found that redheads experienced more anxiety and fear of dental procedures and tended to avoid them more often than others. Other studies have shown that redheads may require as much as a 20% increase in both local and general anesthesia and in pain treatment than do non-redhead.
So what is the deal with redheads?
The problem seems to be related to a gene that produces a substance called melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R). The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain and a mutation in this gene apparently alters the person’s sensitivity to pain. Though this mutation can occur in non-redheads, it is more common in redheads. Normally the MC1R gene produces melanin but if the mutation occurs it produces a substance called pheomelanin, which in turn causes the individual to have red hair, fair skin, and a lower pain threshold.
So the next time the redhead in your family or circle of friends gets his or her “Irish Up,” it might be that they are suffering discomfort. Or maybe redheads are simply fiery and feisty by nature.