Redheads are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease, a new study claims.
Scientists have discovered the same gene that gives ginger people a higher risk of skin cancer also sets them up for the debilitating and fatal brain disorder.
It all boils down to the fact that the gene mutation which creates red hair (mc1r), and makes skin more susceptible to sun damage, also affects brain chemicals.
As redheads age, mcr1 limits the amount of dopamine (the ‘love hormone’) released into certain parts of the brain – and dopamine is essential for attacking toxins that sew the seeds for Parkinson’s.
The findings, published today by Massachusetts General Hospital, align with the widely-held understanding that Parkinson’s sufferers have a lower risk of all cancers except melanoma. And in turn, melanoma patients have a high risk of Parkinson’s.
Analyzing this link between the two condition, Dr Xiqun Chen, focused on how the melanoma-linked gene affects the brain.
The research team honed in on the substantia nigra, a region of the brain commonly referred to as the ‘ground zero’ for Parkinson’s.
Specifically, they were looking at how mcr-1 might affect dopamine-producing neurons, since they are hampered in Parkinson’s sufferers.
The scientists found mice who had the melanoma-linked gene had fewer dopamine-producing neurons than control mice.
As they aged, they suffered a progressive decline in movement and a drop in dopamine levels.
They also were more sensitive to toxic substances, which damage dopamine-producing neurons.
Most importantly, this all seemed to exacerbate oxidative stress – the natural rusting process that happens to the body over time.
Researchers warn natural redheads (like Prince Harry and Jessica Chastain) to investigate their risk factors for Parkinson’s – though they don’t elaborate on any concrete methods to do that
The researchers say the breakthrough discovery could pave the way to a new drug that targets the protein in Parkinson’s sufferers.
Dr Chen also said this should inspire redheads to investigate their risk factors – though they don’t elaborate on how one might do that.
‘Since MC1R regulates pigmentation and red hair is a shared risk factor for both melanoma and Parkinson’s disease, it is possible that, in both conditions, MC1R’s role involves pigmentation and related oxidative stress,’ Dr Chen said.
‘Our findings suggest further investigation into the potential of MC1R-activating agents as novel neuroprotective therapies for Parkinson’s Disease, and together with epidemiological evidence, may offer information that could guide those carrying MC1R variants to seek advice from dermatologists or neurologists about their personal risk for melanoma and Parkinson’s disease.’