Redheads have a higher pain threshold, according to a recent study.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital say their latest research proves that cells from a person’s hair colour – known as melanocytes – can help determine a person’s pain threshold.
To carry out the investigation, scientists tested the theory on red-coloured mice. As animals’ skin cells happen to be very similar to humans, this makes for an easy comparison.
People who have ginger hair carry a genetic mutation which means their melanocytes feature a faulty receptor. This explains why they can’t make the dark pigment that allows a person to go tanned.
However, this has revealed an unexpected knock-on effect, as the research shows it’s also led to an enhanced effect on a person’s pain-stopping receptors.
The particular receptor in question is called melanocortin 1. It’s the one that produces the colouration when people spend time out in the sun. But for redheads, this doesn’t work and that’s why they often burn rather than tan.
Simultaneously, this receptor is altering a chemical called POMC. This is responsible for the various hormones produced that create the balance between pain inhibition and pain enhancement.
So for lucky redheads, less of the POMC is being produced.
Dr David Fischer, who published the findings in Science Advances, said: “These findings describe the mechanistic basis behind earlier evidence suggesting varied pain thresholds in different pigmentation backgrounds.
“Understanding this mechanism provides validation of this earlier evidence and a valuable recognition for medical personnel when caring for patients whose pain sensitivities may vary.”
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