That gene variation isn’t just a fun quirk, though - it could also come with an increased risk of certain health conditions. The most well-known one, of course, is that redheads are more prone to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. They can thank the MC1R gene for that, too.
Interestingly, researchers have also discovered a link between melanoma and Parkinson's disease - and now, a new study out of Mass General in Boston suggests that the MC1R gene, which is responsible for redheads’ colouring, may be the driving force between the two conditions as well. And that may mean redheads are more prone to Parkinson's, too.
In their study on mice, they discovered that rodents with the MC1R produced less of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the specific area of the brain vital to movement, and were more likely to incur damage to dopamine-producing nerve cells in that part of their brains, too, according to NeuroscienceNews.com. That can set the stage for Parkinson’s, since the disorder occurs when those nerve cells die, leading to a shortage of dopamine.
These findings are important because they provide a causal link to the relationship between redheads and the risk of both melanoma and Parkinson's disease. Plus, the research may provide a pathway for a new treatment for Parkinson’s that targets only MC1R.
Although the study was done on mice, it’s likely that further research will be done to look at the links between dopamine deficiencies, redheads, and Parkinson’s in humans.
This article was originally published on MensHealth.com