A study has found that redheads may be less susceptible to pain than people with different hair colours.

While Redheads may have a tough time in the schoolyard, it seems that they may be able to take the pain. Research has found that people with ginger hair may have a greater pain threshold.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have found a connection between the cells that dictate hair colour and pain receptors. The cells, called melanocytes, are being investigated further but the initial findings have been interesting.

The science

In the paper published in Science Advances, the researchers explained how mice informed the study.

The research notes:

“Humans and mice with natural red hair have elevated basal pain thresholds and an increased sensitivity to opioid analgesics.”

“We investigated the mechanisms responsible for higher nociceptive thresholds in red-haired mice resulting from a loss of melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) function and found that the increased thresholds are melanocyte dependent but melanin independent. ”

Essentially, redhaired mice and people are thought to be missing a melanocortin 1 receptor which is responsible for feeling additional pain.

This has proved to be correct in mice.

The study’s lead author Dr David Fischer has noted the importance of the findings:

“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.”

The cell

The melanocortin 1 receptor is also responsible for colouration after exposure to the sun. Safe to say, it’s easy to spot those who don’t have an active receptor in the summer. This connection between colouration and pain will undoubtedly lead to more studies.

Previous research

There has been plenty of research into red hair and the biology behind the colouring. In fact, a study by McGill University found that women could withstand more than 25 percent more pain than other hair colours.

Furthermore, the melanocortin 1 receptor has been found to be responsible for red-haired people being more receptive to temperature changes.

The recent test also found that redheads will also have the effect of the pain-killing opioid receptors boosted because of the cell.

Going forward

Co-lead author Lajos V. Kemény noted that there is still more work to do in this area:

“Our ongoing work is focused on elucidating how additional skin-derived signals regulate pain and opioid signalling.”

“Understanding these pathways in depth may lead to the identification of novel pain-modulating strategies.”

It seems there is plenty of work still to be done.

It is also worth noting, that ginger people still feel pain and it’s best not to try out this experiment at home. Particularly, as it has only been tested on mice.

Do you think redheads feel less pain?

Images via Alamy