RED HAIR

by drnieman on April 27, 2017

in Weekly

It is estimated that globally two percent of children are born with red hair. The incidence varies greatly depending on the geographic location. For example, in countries located in Northern Europe and Britain, the incidence may be twice as high. Edinburgh, Scotland, is considered to be a world-class city with the highest odds of finding people with red hair, or carrying the genes to give birth to children with red hair.

There are a number of reasons why having red hair matters. From a cultural perspective it is uncommon and thus attracts attention or comments such as, “Red-haired children must be feisty.” But there are also important medical implications.

Studies suggest that children with red hair may be more easily bullied and some adults who have faced discrimination due to their red hair have equated their fate to racism. (The term “gingerism” refers to people with red hair; some are also despairingly referred to as having “carrot tops”)

On a positive side, countries such Ireland, Scotland and Holland have recently started to hold Red Hair Day Festivals, attracting huge crowds from all over the globe.

Bible characters such as King David and Esau had red hair. David was known as the boy with ruddy hair and this made him stood out from his siblings. A more recent and famous red-haired royal is Prince Harry.

The iconic Anne of Green Gables was known for having read hair which may have impacted her attitude toward life.

Social scientists struggle with solving the age-old debate of how the color of our hair determines how we live our lives. It may be a myth that red-haired women have higher libido’s— although a recent German study claimed that red-haired ladies attract more attention, age slower and radiate an image of vitality and zest.

Thousands of years ago, Ayurvedic Medicine referred to red-haired people as having a Pitta temperament, thus explaining certain attitudinal behaviors.

From a medical perspective red-haired individuals have kept scientists, and particularly geneticists, very busy —especially since 2000 when the genetics of having red hair revealed a gene known as the Melanocortin1 Receptor gene (MC1R). A mutation of this gene leads to having red hair.

Red-haired people have an abundant amount of a pigment pheomelanin. These individuals tend to hold on to their hair pigment longer than the rest of us and it is extremely uncommon for them to turn grey as they age.

Although we tend to look at outward appearances first, people with red hair have significant internal differences as a result of their MC1R mutation: they are far more prone to get skin cancer/ melanoma; they have a different temperature tolerance; Parkinsonism is more likely to occur later in life; they may bleed more easily during surgery; endometriosis is also more common; red-haired men are more prone to getting prostate cancer; the endogenous production of Vitamin D is superior to those who have brown, blond or black hair; dentists and anesthesiologists agree that red-haired people need 20 % more lidocaine to anesthetise their pain. (Red-haired people are twice as likely as others to avoid the dentist due to fear of pain)

Children who have red hair are more prone to getting sunburn and they find it harder to tan. They are also more prone to have freckles, but their fair skin may work to their advantage in terms of Vitamin D metabolism (Sunshine on naked skin assists with our Vitamin D production)

We know that the further North we live from the Equator, the less sun exposure becomes, especially during long winter months. It becomes very common for our Vitamin D levels to fall. Anthropologically the genes of some individuals may have mutated to compensate—thus explaining why red-haired children are more commonly found further away from the Equator.

A Harvard study in 2013 raised concerns that red-haired individuals are significantly more prone to skin cancer. Because many families in Canada take a break from the protracted bleak winter environment by visiting sunny destinations, it is wise to remind those with red hair to be extra cautious with sun exposure. The mechanism by which skin cancer occurs in red-haired people is rather complex when looked at from a genetic perspective. Due to their MC1R mutation they have a reduced ability to activate other genetic markers which protects against cancer.

The role of MC1R in pain regulation involves a complex interaction of hormones and chemical substances in the brain and peripheral tissues. A number of landmark NIH-sponsored studies conducted by anesthesiologists and other researchers have consistently shown that red-haired individuals have different sensitivities to pain and temperatures. Childbirth and visits to the dentist can be particularly challenging unless the appropriate pain control is utilized.

For more information on why Britain has so many red-haired people and carriers of the red-hair gene, see www.Britainsdna.com

DR. NIEMAN IS A COMMUNITY-BASED PEDIATRICIAN WITH 30 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE. HE HAS COMPLETED 102 MARATHONS THUS FAR, CONTRIBUTES TO CTV MORNING LIVE AND AUTHORED A BOOK “MOVING FORWARD”. HE CAN BE REACHED AT INFO@HEALTHYKIDS.CA

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