It is a truth universally acknowledged that people with ginger hair have it hard.
From playground bullying to endless ‘carrot top’ jokes, redheads have to put up with more than their fair share of teasing and taunting. Indeed, just this month, online dating giants Match.com kicked up a fuss by running an advertisement that suggested freckles and red hair were ‘imperfections’.
But whilst the colouring clearly comes with some downsides – studies have shown that people with ginger hair are more susceptible to diseases from Parkinson’s to skin cancer – there are also several little-known but not insignificant benefits that come with crimson hair…
1. Redheads age better
Earlier today, scientists revealed that a gene which keeps people looking young is the same gene responsible for red hair and fair skin – meaning that ginger people are significantly less likely to age badly.
The research, conducted at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, suggests that those who carry a variation of the MC1R gene – which causes ginger hair – look on average two years younger than they actually are.
Published in the journal Current Biology, the new study asked participants to guess the ages of 2,700 elderly Europeans, and found that those who carried the ‘ginger gene’ were consistently attributed younger ages.
“For the first time a gene has been found that explains in part why some people look older and others younger for their age,” commented Dr Manfred Kayser, Professor of Genetic Identification at Erasmus University. “Looking young for one’s age has been a desire since time immemorial. The desire is attributable to the belief that appearance reflects health and fecundity.”
2. Ginger people can produce their own Vitamin D
Redheads also boast a secret genetic weapon which enables them to fight off particular deadly illnesses more efficiently than others – they can produce their own Vitamin D.
People with ginger hair can’t absorb sufficient Vitamin D due to low concentrations of eumelanin in their body. But, as they can produce their own personal supply of the compound, this means that redheads are significantly less likely to develop rickets, a disease which weakens bones, or contract the lung disease tuberculosis, which can be fatal.
Low vitamin D levels have also been previously linked with diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
3. Redheads are less susceptible to certain pain
In 2012, a Danish study suggested that people with ginger hair, although more susceptible to the cold and toothaches, are less likely to suffer from skin pain and can tolerate much more spicy foods than those with blonde, black or brunette hair.
“Our tests showed that redheads are less sensitive to a particular type of pain: skin pain,” said Professor Lars Arendt-Nielsen, lead researcher on the Aalborg University study.
“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.”
Arendt-Nielsen hypothesised that the increased tolerance was due to the genetic subgroups MC2R, MC3R and MC4R – that are found in those with red hair and affect the way in which the brain functions and processes pain.
4. Ginger people have more sex
Research has proved that, despite the teasing, redheads enjoy more sex – and all of the health benefits that accompany regular sexual activity.
Lead researcher Dr Werner Habermehl, of the Hamburg Research Institute in Germany, studied the sex lives and hair color of hundreds of German women in 2006 and found those with red hair spent more time in the bedroom. Suggested explanations for the findings include that ginger hair may be more attention-grabbing, red locks are rarer and thus could be more coveted, or vibrant hair may be seen as an indicator of youth and fertility.
“The sex lives of women with red hair were clearly more active than those with other hair color,” said Dr. Habermehl. “The research shows that the fiery redhead certainly lives up to her reputation.”
5. Ginger men are half as likely to develop prostate cancer
Three years ago, researchers at Finland’s National Institute for Health and Medicine, in Helsinki, published evidence that men with ginger hair were up to 54 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those with blond, brown or black hair.
After studying over 20,000 men for over 30 years, scientists discovered that the MC1R gene – the same gene that helps redheads age better – may help to control the way in which cancerous cells divide and grow, adding yet another disease to the list of conditions ginger people need not worry about.