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Due to their genetic makeup, redheads experience pain more profoundly than other hair colors

By: April Carson

Evidence suggests that those who possess natural red locks may be more vulnerable to particular kinds of pain and demand bigger amounts of some forms of medication. Nevertheless, research also reveals their general tolerance for discomfort might actually be higher than most people's.

Furthermore, individuals with this hair color tend to react better when taking opioid-based remedies but in lesser doses compared to others. Thus, it is essential for redheaded people to be particularly careful when being prescribed pain-relieving drugs. As a result, proper medical advice and guidance should always be sought from a qualified healthcare provider when dealing with any kind of discomfort.

People with red hair possess a unique variant of the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene, which regulates the production of melanin - pigment that gives skin, eyes and hair their distinctive colour. The cells responsible for producing this pigment only produce two types – eumelanin and pheomelnanh– but those with red locks mainly create pheomelanin, associated also with fair complexions unable to tan easily - as well as freckles.

Dr. David E. Fisher of Massachusetts General Hospital, together with his team and funded by NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), delved deeper into the suspected correlation between red hair coloration linked to different pain processing capabilities in a study published April 2nd 2021 in Science Advances. The research aimed to elucidate what is behind this connection: the MC1R gene mutation associated with red-hairedness.

The study pinpointed that the MC1R gene mutation enables the coding of a receptor protein on the surface of nerve cells, triggering a cascade of events which sensitise these neurons and their communication with other neurons.

Results from the study indicated that MC1R gene carriers, typically those with red hair, experience pain differently than their non-carrier counterparts. They are more sensitive to certain kinds of acute pain and require higher doses of anesthetic during medical procedures or surgery.

The researchers took a strain of red-haired mice with the same MC1R variant seen in people with red hair and tested their heightened pain tolerance. The mutation suppresses function of melanocortin 1 receptor, resulting in an increased ability to withstand discomfort. As expected, these mice showed significantly more resilience to pain than those without this genetic variation.

To understand the role of pigment, scientists crossed red-haired mice with an albino strain to prevent melanin synthesis. Astonishingly, they discovered that these MC1R variant-carrying creatures exhibited a higher pain tolerance even without producing any pigmentation. Further investigations revealed that while more melanocytes—the cells responsible for making melanin—did influence their resistance to agony, this increased endurance was caused by MC1R's lack of functionality in their skin's melanocyte rather than other cell types.

The implications of this research are far-reaching, as it has the potential to provide insight into how pain can be managed more effectively. Rather than relying solely on drugs or other treatments, understanding and manipulating the underlying genetic mechanisms may offer a more comprehensive solution to reducing suffering.

After analyzing the melanocytes, researchers determined that red-haired mice produced less of a protein called proopiomelanocortin or POMC. This particular compound is divided into various hormones including one that hampers pain perception (melanocyte stimulating hormone), and another substance known as beta-endorphin which heightens it. Consequently, these chemicals modify the level between opioid receptors (OPRM1) alleviating discomfort and melanocortin 4 receptors (MC4R) amplifying distress sensitivity.

By changing the genetic makeup of these rodents, scientists were able to alter the activity of receptors and subsequently modify their reactions to painful stimuli. This data may provide us with a better understanding of how pain works in humans and hopefully pave the way for more effective treatments.

The equilibrium between these two receptors is usually kept in check by the presence of hormones. Remarkably, however, a study conducted by an investigative team revealed that the MCR1 red-hair mutation tips this balance towards favouring opioid receptors instead. A plethora of opioid receptor hormones meant that these signals were essentially unchanged, leading to a greater chance for anti-pain opioids. Consequently, since no distinct MC4R hormone exists, this further contributed to higher pain thresholds due to the surplus of opioid signals.

As a result, redheads experience pain more profoundly than other hair colors. With the prevalence of this gene mutation understood, it has opened up opportunities to customize treatments according to genetic makeup and unlock new avenues of research that could potential lead to better pain management.

Fisher states, “Our research results explain the previous evidence that people with different skin tones differ in their pain threshold. Grasping this mechanism not only reinforces these findings but also serves as a significant reminder for healthcare providers when caring for patients whose responses to ache could be unique.”

By uncovering the mechanisms that impact pain sensitivity in redheads, we could potentially develop more efficient strategies to reduce or manage chronic pain for people of all hair colors. It could also help to explain the differences in drug potency and dosage among individuals with different pigmentation. Such insights may provide a pathway to more personalized pain management approaches.

Ultimately, understanding how melanocortin-1 receptor function relates to hair color and chronic pain can help us develop alternative treatments that are tailored to patient’s individual needs.

Billy Carson & Doctah B Sirius January 7th 2023 Event Warm-up.


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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