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Reader’s Digest, Hair Apparent, January 2003

January 12, 2003

Do blondes have more fun? Don’t know–but redheads need more anesthesia. Red hair is the first known visible genetic trait that indicates how much anesthesia a person needs.

Twenty women, ages 18 to 40, were given a common anesthetic gas. Ten had red hair, ten had dark hair. Each received a mild electric shock: Those who twitched were given more anesthetic until reflexes stopped; those who didn’t got less until the reacted.

Redheads needed 20% more gas than brunettes, said anesthesiologist Daniel Sessler of the University of Louisville. The link may occur because a genetic variation that produces red pigment also triggers higher levels of the hormone that increases pain sensitivity. Blonds should respond like brunettes because the share the same pigment, only less.