Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain

Lindsay MacAdam
Shine On Blogger
Shine On

A new study from the U.K. is looking into the hypothesis that red-haired people feel more pain than everyone else -- and most signs are pointing to yes, as a series of studies from around the world have indicated such.

A 2002 American study from Louisville University, for example, found that redheaded females require 19 per cent more pain medication than women with other hair colours, while a Danish study concluded that red-haired people are more sensitive to cold temperatures than others, reports the Telegraph.

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Another American study from 2009, published in the Journal of the American Dentistry Association, concluded that redheads are more than twice as likely as others to avoid a trip to the dentist, reports ABC News. The reason: they felt more anxious about dental treatments than people with other hair colours.

"Redheads experience more pain from a given stimulus and therefore require more anesthesia to alleviate that pain," Dr. Edwin Liem, who led the American studies, told the Telegraph.

His team hoped to determine the right amount of anesthetic to give various patients to achieve enough pain tolerance and memory suppression without resulting the in pulmonary or cardiac problems that can occur from administering too much.

"Red hair is apparently an important element in this decision," Dr. Liem tells the Telegraph.

Researchers at Southampton University Hospital want to take that research a step further. They believe the gene that's responsible for producing endorphins -- the body's natural pain killer -- also plays a role in determining hair colour.

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As for the U.K. team's soon-to-be published research, they have established a group of red-haired volunteers, over age 30, who will be anesthetized before receiving "small electric shocks to the thigh," reports the Telegraph. The results will then be compared with those of the black and brown haired control group, with conclusions expected in September.

There are conflicting views on this topic, however. A McGill University research team has concluded just the opposite, that red-haired people are less sensitive to pain, reports ABC News.

But since Dr. Liem's studies involved anesthetic, a pain-numbing drug, and McGill's studies used analgesic, a pain-reducing drug, that could very well explain the clash in findings, says Jeffrey Mogil, director of the pain genetics laboratory at McGill, to ABC News.

Speaking of pain relief, it appears that aspirin is more than just a pain killer, and may help to prevent certain kinds of cancer. Check out the ABC news video reporting on the new findings.