So DO red heads feel more pain Scientists set out to discover truth of controversial theory
07:00 GMT, 26 March 2012
Red alert: Red-heads such as Karen Gillam, who plays Amy Pond in Doctor Who, may suffer more pain than their blond or black-haired companions
Redheads can have a tough time of it as they go through life.
And now they face another blow – they could be more sensitive to pain than the rest of the population.
A trial is investigating whether pale-skinned and red-haired people react differently to pain.
And it could mean redheads need to be treated differently when receiving anaesthetics.
Researchers at Southampton University Hospital recruited redheaded volunteers aged over 30, anaesthetised them and gave them small electric shocks on the thigh.
Their reactions were then compared with a control group of men and women with brown or black hair.
The trial, which is due to end in September, will no doubt be of interest to the redheaded 3 per cent of the British population, such as Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan.
Red hair is the result of a variant of a gene that plays a key role in human hair and skin colour.
This same gene is involved in the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, and could influence pain thresholds, according to other research.
A U.S. study published in 2002 found that women with red hair needed 19 per cent more painkiller to stop them flinching during unpleasant stimulation than women with dark hair.
The same researchers also found in 2009 that redheads were more anxious about dental treatment and more than twice as likely to avoid a visit.
Dr Edwin Liem, who led the studies at Louisville University, said: ‘Redheads experience more pain from a given stimulus and therefore require more anaesthesia to alleviate that pain. The art and science of anaesthesiology is determining just the right amount of anaesthesia to achieve unconsciousness, pain tolerance and suppression of memory without causing adverse consequences, such as cardiac or pulmonary complications.
‘Red hair is apparently an important element in this decision.’
Rupert Grint, pictured as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series, may also find himself needing more anaesthetic in painful times
A Danish study published earlier this month found that redheads are more susceptible to the cold and more likely to suffer from toothaches.
But there was some good news – the researchers also found that they were less sensitive to certain skin pains and could handle eating hot food better than people with different hair colours.
Professor Lars Arendt-Nielsen, one of the researchers for the Danish study, said: ‘Our tests showed that redheads are less sensitive to this particular type of pain.
‘They react less to pressure close to the injected area, or to a pinprick.
‘They seem to be a bit better protected and that is a really interesting finding.’