Are red-headed people more sensitive to pain?


(PHOTO: "Six," from Flickr user goldsardine's CC-licensed stream)

…or are they just big old wusses? Let us ask science.

Spotted in the New York Times health blog "Well," an item about new research showing that redheads require larger doses of anesthesia and are often resistant to local pain blockers like Novocaine. A new study from The Journal of the American Dental Association says people with red hair tend to look forward to dental procedures even less than the rest of us, and are "twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist as people with other hair colors." Not because they're wimps, mind you, but because of mutant genes. Snip:

Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color. In people with brown, black and blond hair, the gene, for the melanocortin-1 receptor, produces melanin. But a mutation in the MC1R gene results in the production of a substance called pheomelanin that results in red hair and fair skin.

The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a mutation in the gene appears to influence the body's sensitivity to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads require, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring. And in 2005, researchers found that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs used by dentists.

The Pain of Being a Redhead (Via Mind Hacks via Maggie K-B)