Thursday, May 7, 2015

Have You Hugged A Redhead Today?!

I've always found being a redhead a special thing to celebrate. Sure, I was born a redhead by shear luck, but it's something many people are ashamed of. I am quite the opposite. Having red hair is a scarce gift to celebrate, especially considering it is the rarest of all hair colors. Roughly 1% of the global population has red hair -- that's a mighty low number! Of course, people with ancestral heritage from northern Europe are the most likely to posses red hair, such as myself. My ancestry traces back to Scotland and Germany.

Red hair is a result of a recessive genetic trait linked to a series of mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R for short). This is located on chromosome 16. The recessive trait must be inherited from both parents for a child to have red hair. Having red hair is a direct link to possessing fair or pale skin. Germanic and Celtic people from Europe developed fair skin and red hair due to the climate in which they lived. Since it's typically less sunny, more overcast and rainy in that part of the world, they gained the ability to increase the production of Vitamin D in their skin. The lighter your skin color, the more sunlight you absorb. With increased sunlight comes more Vitamin D. Hereby, fair skin and the resulting red hair was a genetic adaptation!

Being a redhead has a couple of medical implications that most people are not aware of. Recent studies in genetics have turned up a few surprising notions. These results are tied to the aforementioned MC1R receptor, which plays a significant role in central brain function.
  • Redheads are more easily affected by thermal pain, though tend to have an increased tolerance to extreme cold.
  • When it comes to spicy foods, those with red hair have a higher level of tolerance for Capsaicin (that's the chemical that causes peppers to be hot). A redhead can ingest extremely spicy foods that others simply can not.
  • Because of their pale skin, redheads are more prone to skin cancer. Time to slather on the SPF 100!
  • A person with red hair has a higher tolerance for anaesthetics, statistically as high as 20% more resistant than people with other hair colors.
  • As a redhead ages, their hair will not usually turn grey. A redhead's hair color will change as they grow older, going from a bright red color in youth, through copper and auburn shades in middle age, and finally turning white.
I marvel at how my own red hair has changed as I've grown older. Here are two photos of me. One was taken at age 5, while the other photo was captured just a few days ago. As you can see, my hair has darkened to a coppery color -- though, it will temporarily lighten and become redder when exposed to sunlight.

Here I am in First Grade at age 5.

And here I am at age 32. My hair has definitely taken on a more coppery hue. My beard is still bright red, though there are streaks of solid white hair in it.

I always find it interesting the number of ways that redheads have been set apart from the rest of society -- often times in a negative light.
  • During the Middle Ages, people with red hair were often suspected of being mystically inclined, whether as a witch, warlock, vampire or werewolf.
  • Redheads have categorically been described as easy to anger, feisty and indomitable. In my case, they're right on all accounts.
  • In popular fiction, bullies are regularly represented as being redheads, with Scott Farkus perhaps the most memorable. This is ironic, considering redheads are usually always bullied in their youth for their hair color. I used to get called Pumpkinhead a lot.
  • Within Christianity, both Judas and Mary Magdalene are described as being of the red hair persuasion.
  • Being a redhead has been connected to having a high sexual drive and strong libido.
  • Adolph Hitler was known to not like redheads at all, going so far as to prohibit the holy union of two redheads. He considered their offspring to be vile deviants.
Red heads tend to have either brown, hazel or green eyes. When it comes to blue eyes, the combination is profoundly rare. Because blue eyes are a recessive trait (just like having red hair), it's quite hard to find a redhead with them. Thankfully, you can say you know a blue-eyed redhead. Redheads with blue eyes make up roughly 1% of the total red hair population. That means only 0.01% of all people on Earth have red hair and blue eyes. I feel pretty darn lucky! In terms of numbers, all of the blue-eyed redheads on Earth could fit on the small island nation of Comoros, which has a population of roughly 750,000 people.

Comoros is right there. You have to look hard. It's tiny.

What do I want you to take away from this information? Treasure the redheads in your life. Each and every redhead is a living embodiment of the phrase "like a needle in a haystack". We're rare, so treasure us!

Have you hugged a redhead today?!

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