How Redheads Work


Announcer

Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, and -

Chuck Bryant

I am Chuck Bryant.

Josh Clark

Hey Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

How's that?

Josh Clark

It was good.

Chuck Bryant

I'm working on my radio thing.

Josh Clark

I like it. Your voice is smooth as silk.

Chuck Bryant

Is it? Good.

Josh Clark

Yeah, it's nice.

Chuck Bryant

Smooth as spider silk spun from goat's milk.

Josh Clark

Not their anus.

Chuck Bryant

How's that?

Josh Clark

Right. So as you know, I'm a huge fan of Dr. Werner Habermehl.

Chuck Bryant

I did know that.

Josh Clark

Did you?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, but I don't think anyone else did.

Josh Clark

Wow. I'd never told anybody that before. Is it that obvious?

Chuck Bryant

I just had a sense, your T-shirt.

Josh Clark

It's my T-shirt, isn't it? Nice. Well for those of you who don't know who Dr. Habermehl is, he is a sex researcher at the University of Hamburg, in Germany. Hello Germany. And Dr. Habermehl did a study that I read about recently on the Daily Mail. So basically, I'm just letting it all hang out here. I follow the careers of clinical sex researchers and I read the Daily Mail.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

But there was a study he did that I ran across where he compared the sex lives of redheads with the sex lives of brunettes and blondes. And he found, just statistically speaking, he didn't really actually sadly he did pose an idea of why -

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

This is the case. We'll get to that in a second. But he found that redheads have a noticeably much more active sex life.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Than people with any other hair color.

Chuck

Bryant

Interesting.

Josh Clark

The thing that kind of got me was that the same goes for people who dye their hair red.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

And get this, the esteemed doctor said that women who are in a committee relationship and dye their hair red, that is a really big red flag to the guy.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, that they may be stepping out.

Josh Clark

They're looking.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So Emily ever done that?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, she went red for a time, yeah.

Josh Clark

Uh-oh, when was this?

Chuck Bryant

I think it was before we were married. Yeah, it all makes sense now.

Josh Clark

Yeah, right, exactly. You're like I knew my kid looked like the mailman.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So this is -

Chuck Bryant

What are you getting at here?

Josh Clark

Here, you ready?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

So the doctor basically says well redheads have a fiery temperament and they're very passionate, which is just so -

Chuck Bryant

Cliché.

Josh Clark

It is, and it's not necessarily true. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that redheads are among the most maligned and stereotyped people of any hair color.

Chuck Bryant

Redheaded stepchild.

Josh Clark

Even worse than blondes.

Chuck Bryant

The phrase, redheaded stepchild.

Josh Clark

Redheaded stepchild. Did you know, also, that there was a - actually twice, there's been this big news cycle about redheads going extinct.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I've heard about that.

Josh Clark

2005 and 2007.

Chuck Bryant

Which is not true?

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

We just should say that right away.

Josh Clark

No, there was one in 2007. That's the most recent one that said that the Oxford Hair Institute, which sounds so official.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, it does.

Josh Clark

Said that redheads will be extinct by 2060.

Chuck Bryant

Right, because of the recessive gene that carries red hair. In theory, that could die out.

Josh Clark

You want to get into genetics, do you?

Chuck Bryant

I'd prefer not to, but I think we have to.

Josh Clark

Let's do it.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

Let's just give a brief overview. Redheads are - that's a phenotype. It's a physical trait. You can see it. You can sense it. They're genotype, the genetic trait that makes them redheads is this - it's a recessive gene.

Chuck Bryant

Right, it's a mutation in the MC1R gene.

Josh Clark

Yes, and that is the melanocortin 1 receptor gene.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So the MCR1 gene is responsible for certain pigment productions. And redheads actually overproduce a red pigment, called pheomelanin, which gives them the red hair. And they under produce eumelanin, E-U melanin!

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Which gives them pale skin? It's a darker -

Chuck Bryant

Right, fair skin.

Josh Clark

It's a brown pigment, right?

Chuck Bryant

Right, which is under produced?

Josh Clark

It's actually a genetic mutation.

Chuck Bryant

It is.

Josh Clark

Did you know that?

Chuck Bryant

I did.

Josh Clark

Okay. So like you said, it's all recessive.

Chuck Bryant

Right, which means it can skip generations and then reappear much later.

Josh Clark

Yeah, you or I could actually have a mutated MCR1 gene.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Although neither one of us has red hair.

Chuck Bryant

True.

Josh Clark

And we could. We'll never know until we have kids with red hair.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

If either one of us comes up with a kid with red hair, it means that you and your wife both have this recessive gene. It got together and the kid had to have this mutated gene because of the chromosomal contributions by the parents.

Chuck Bryant

Right or it means infidelity.

Josh Clark

Again, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Back to that.

Josh Clark

It depends. It could have been. It depends on what Emily did back when she died her hair red.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Although you'd probably know by now, right?

Chuck Bryant

If she had a child?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I've been around the whole time.

Josh Clark

Okay, good.

Chuck Bryant

So they are not becoming extinct.

Josh Clark

No. They could though. It would take something on the order of an evolutionary bottleneck.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Which as we all know would basically make all of us mouth breathers, because of all the rampant familial inbreeding it would take to expand the genetic pool again.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

It's entirely possible. If everybody who had the recessive gene, the MCR1 mutation, if all of them died out, well there goes redheads.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Technically, that's the case with everything.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly.

Josh Clark

Now, there may be a higher likelihood in an evolutionary bottleneck or it might take less of an evolutionary bottleneck for redheads to die out because they are - it is rare.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But yeah, they're definitely going to be around beyond 2060.

Chuck Bryant

I know quite a few redheads, myself.

Josh Clark

I know virtually none. I'm actually trying to think, right here. I can't come up with a single redhead.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I know a couple. Actually, we don't have anyone on staff, do we?

Josh Clark

This is going to drive me crazy.

Chuck Bryant

Oh well, of course, Candace, our old -

Josh Clark

Candace, yes.

Chuck Bryant

Partner, how can we forget Candace?

Josh Clark

How? I don't know. That's really weird.

Chuck Bryant

She's the reddest of heads.

Josh Clark

She really is. And you know what, she kind of proves the good doctors theory. She's fiery.

Chuck Bryant

She's a spunky girl.

Josh Clark

She definitely is. Okay. So redheads are going to be around for a while, including Candace, I imagine.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, thankfully.

Josh Clark

And they are, as we said, my very shaky thesis for this podcast, much maligned. I've got another piece of supporting evidence that redheads are often mistreated.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, I know where you're going here.

Josh Clark

Do you?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Okay, so you want to tell them about this study?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, it turns out that, and this is a cool little fact that you can share with your friends and family. Redheads actually require more anesthetic when undergoing surgery.

Josh Clark

And apparently the medical establishment, especially among anesthesiologists and anesthetists, this is common knowledge.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But there hadn't been an actual study.

Chuck Bryant

Correct.

Josh Clark

Quantifying this before 2002.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And these University of Louisville researchers conducted this kind of -

Chuck Bryant

Cruel.

Josh Clark

Cruel, a little archaic maybe.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, when I read this, I thought there's got to be a better way to find this out. But maybe there's not.

Josh Clark

So what we're talking about was this Louisville study. They took 20 female subjects, 10 brunettes, I believe, 10 redheads, all of them were on virtually the same menstrual cycle, which ruled out any hormonal explanation for this because apparently hormones can contribute to your susceptibility or rejection of anesthesia.

Chuck Bryant

Correct.

Josh Clark

And they gave them all the gas.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

They gave them, what is it, desflurane?

Chuck Bryant

Desflurane.

Josh Clark

Whish is a general anesthetic gas.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And they knocked these women out.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And then they got medieval on their asses.

Chuck Bryant

Uh-huh.

Josh Clark

They used - I looked this up. They used bilateral intradermal needles to deliver the electric shock. So basically, they were poking these women with needles and then delivering shocks.

Chuck Bryant

Electric shocks into their body to see if they would react and feel pain.

Josh Clark

Because when you're unconscious, it's much different from sleeping. When you're unconscious, your pain gateway is shut down.

Chuck Bryant

Which is why they do it for surgery? You don't want someone digging into your chest cavity and be able to feel it.

Josh Clark

Right. It's a different state. And actually, scary enough, we don't fully understand how anesthesia works on the brain. We don't know enough about the brain.

Chuck Bryant

That's kind of a scary notion.

Josh Clark

we just know it works. We figure out, I guess, through trial and error, patients dying left and right, what the right ratio is for the average person, right.

Chuck Bryant

It's a tough job.

Josh Clark

Oh yeah, they also have the highest insurance premiums.

Chuck Bryant

That's what I've heard. And they also make some pretty good coin.

Josh Clark

Definitely, yeah. So if you're thinking of trying to get into the medical field and you want to make a bunch of money, go anesthesia.

Chuck Bryant

Right and gas those redheads.

Josh Clark

Exactly. Okay, let's get back to this.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So they're sitting there, delivering shocks to these redheads and actually brunettes. Everyone in the study was treated equally cruelly. And they're delivering shocks and they would decrease the gas or increase the gas, depending on the reaction, until they stopped getting pain reactions.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

The other really kind of startling aspect of the study was that one of the researchers described the shocks as intolerable to a conscious person.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So these weren't like little oh, I just licked a nine volt battery.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

these were electric shocks that you would be like - you'd come at somebody who did this to you if you could move. So they just keep shocking them over and over again. And then they wrote down the ratios. And they came up with, as you said, redheads need 20 percent more anesthesia.

Chuck Bryant

On average, 20 percent, yeah, which is pretty substantial.

Josh Clark

It is substantial. But what's the deal? Why?

Chuck Bryant

Well before we move onto that, just quickly, I wanted to point out that another study a couple of years later said that the same thing happened in men. So if you're a man out there, you're going to need some extra gas. It's not just for women. But because we don't know exactly how anesthesia works, we don't know exactly why this is true.

Josh Clark

Yeah. They just finally linked it.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

They said there is a link, but we're not exactly why that link is there.

Chuck Bryant

Which is the MC1R gene which is what we were talking about earlier?

Josh Clark

That genotype has been linked directly to anesthesia for the first time.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly.

Josh Clark

So why? What are some of the reasons they've given?

Chuck Bryant

Well yeah, they don't know for sure, but they have one explanation that that gene is also involved in hormones that stimulate pain receptors, which would make sense.

Josh Clark

It would make sense.

Chuck Bryant

Kind of the obvious route, if you ask me. And I believe they had another one that said that the pigments themselves actually cause an increase in pain sensitivity.

>

Josh Clark

Yeah, I think that was the one where they said it's such an abundance of this pigment, things like to go bind to other things in our body. And they're looking for something. Maybe the pain receptors in the brain are similar to the pain receptors that these pigments would normally attach to.

Chuck Bryant

Right, over stimulates the brain.

Josh Clark

It makes it even more sensitive to pain.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So either way, if you're a redhead, I feel bad for you.

Chuck Bryant

I don't.

Josh Clark

I don't like pain.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, but being redhead is kind of cool. It's like being left handed. I wish I was a left handed redhead.

Josh Clark

Wow.

Chuck Bryant

Instead, I'm just a right handed brunette.

Josh Clark

I know. We're just kind of average guys, aren't we?

Chuck Bryant

Average dudes.

Josh Clark

There actually is one other good thing that came out of this study. It may actually spur development of a kind of anesthesia that's tailored just for redheads.

Chuck Bryant

Interesting.

Josh Clark

That's called pharmacogenetics. You heard of this?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Okay. So it's basically designing drugs to -

Chuck Bryant

More tailor made.

Josh Clark

They're tailoring them to somebody based on their genetic makeup.

Chuck Bryant

Right, that makes sense.

Josh Clark

It does make sense.

Chuck Bryant

It seems like it would be safer.

Josh Clark

It definitely falls into that controversy about genetic testing, though, doesn't it?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, true.

Josh Clark

So it's kind of a fine line, like keep redheads out of pain or choose only blonde haired blue eyed children in the future.

Chuck Bryant

Right, the Boys from Brazil, eventually.

Josh Clark

Weird stuff.

Chuck Bryant

You know what I would call that if they actually do manufacture this?

Josh Clark

What?

Chuck Bryant

I'd call it red gas.

Josh Clark

Nice.

Chuck Bryant

That's what I'd call it.

Josh Clark

Yeah, you couldn't call it red death. You'd have a terrible market share, wouldn't you?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I believe so.

Josh Clark

Red gas is pretty good. Nice one, Chuck. Well look for red gas in the future. And if you want to know more about redheads and anesthesia, extinction, that kind of stuff, you can type those words in in any kind of clever combination in our handy search bar at HowStuffWorks.com. Don't go anywhere because Chuck's got something for you. I think it's called listener mail.

Chuck Bryant

Listener mail time. See Josh, we're back here; mere seconds later and I have an exceptional listener mail. This is what I've titled it. And I keep a little folder of exceptional mail. And I've been holding on to this one for a while. You might remember this from our buddy, Greg Storkin, who wrote us a top ten. Do you remember that one?

Josh Clark

Oh yeah, wow.

Chuck Bryant

This was one of our first mails.

Josh Clark

I love this guy. This is titillating and arousing.

Chuck Bryant

It was. I'm going to give Greg his due. I'm not going to read all ten, but he basically wrote a top ten reasons why he's obsessed with Stuff You Should Know. So I'm just going to go over a few of my favorites. You purposely leave early for work and then take side streets along the way, simply to have more time to listen to your new episode.

Josh Clark

Nice.

Chuck Bryant

So this guy's furthering his commute. You hum the jazzy theme song as you go about your day, which I do as well. You have more fun learning from Josh and Chuck than you did from your super hot organic chemistry professor, which is awesome.

Josh Clark

It is.

Chuck Bryant

A little piece of you dies when you hear the theme music fade back in, signaling the end of the episode. It's very sad. And his number one reason was you have a full fledged man crush on Josh and Chuck.

Josh Clark

Man crush.

Chuck Bryant

And we bring this up because we've had, oddly, quite a few men write us and say they have man crushes.

Josh Clark

I know. We're super hot organic chemistry teachers.

Chuck Bryant

It's just weird. But the man crush phenomenon is a real thing. I know you have quite a few.

Josh Clark

Bromance.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. I know actor John Leguizamo, you're very hot for him.

Josh Clark

I don't like to talk about it. I hope one day that I will meet John Leguizamo. I'm not really holding out hope. I don't want to touch him or anything. It's more just like being next to him, you know what I'm saying, and have him punch me in the shoulder and be like hey Josh, how's it going.

Chuck Bryant

I think that's what a man crush is. It really means is what you want to do is you want to go out and have a beer. I have a tremendous man crush on George Clooney because I want to go hang out with George Clooney and talk about basketball and drink a beer.

Josh Clark

You know it's underrated these days, but there is such a thing as platonic love.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, if he kissed me, I wouldn't -

Josh Clark

That's not platonic.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, but I wouldn't - it's George Clooney. It would be a good story.

Josh Clark

It depends on how forceful a kiss was, right?

Chuck Bryant

True and how shaven he was.

Josh Clark

Exactly. Well if you want to tell Chuck or I about your recent Bromance or who you have a man crush on, or you want to send us a top ten list, and by the way Greg, you can expect a T-shirt for that top ten list buddy.

Chuck Bryant

T-shirt worthy.

Josh Clark

Definitely, send us your size and your mailing address to the e-mail address we're about to give. Actually, you've already got it, so just send it again, will you? And if you want to send us one for the first time and you're not quite certain who to address it to, what e-mail address you need to ship it off to, you want to send it to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.

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