We Shouldn't Be Taking the Ginger Hair Myth as Red; RESEARCH FINDS STEREOTYPES AREN'T PROVED BY EVIDENCE

Article excerpt

Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY

REDHEADS have long been the butt of numerous jokes.

But while it has long been anecdotally regarded as the mark of a fiery temper, a head of red hair has also now been associated with a raft of medical phenomena.

Patients with red hair are widely thought to have a lower tolerance to pain, be more prone to hernias and even bleed more profusely than brunettes or blondes.

Inspired by the birth of his third child Kate - a redhead - earlier this year, and intrigued by the medical traits associated to the distinctive hair colour, Welsh surgeon Jonathan Barry set out to discover the truth about these commonly-held beliefs.

The extent of his light-hearted research will be published today in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal alongside other festive articles describing the merits of Ikea pencils for surgeons.

Mr Barry, a consultant general surgeon at Morriston Hospital, in Swansea, who wrote the paper, said: "Talking to colleagues there seem to be a number of anecdotes about people with red hair - that they are more prone to hernia and some say they tend to bleed more.

"My wife is an anaesthetist and they believe redheads have some problems with anaesthesia.

"It was just after the birth of my third child, who has red hair, that I decided to look into this - I did a Google search to see whether there is any research about it and I was surprised by how many people have looked into this and that there are hard facts."

A series of research studies have examined the link between red hair and bleeding, the effects of anaesthesia and hernia.

There was little evidence of increased bleeding - one study did link red hair with endometriosis - but tests have shown red hair is associated with an increased sensitivity to some forms of anaesthesia.

It is unclear whether having red hair makes people more prone to hernias.

Mr Barry and his colleagues from the Welsh Institute of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery at Morriston Hospital, concluded: "Despite sporadic reports to the contrary, the clinical implications of red hair phenotype remain questionable. "Red hair phenotype may confer an increased requirement for anaesthetics but is associated with no greater operative risk than the remainder of the population. …