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HOLLENBECK: No more redheads? Study says the hair color will fade into obscurity

July 26, 2011

Courier Editor Brent Davis recently made a startling statement in my presence. He said he had seen a TV piece that claimed in a hundred years or so, redheads would fade out of existence.
Wow! That was scary news to me. You can be an endangered species and not even know it.
The statement prompted me to do some Internet research, which, surprisingly, brought some comfort. It seems the thing Brent heard had come from National Geographic Magazine quoting unnamed “genetic scientists” who claimed red hair is likely to die out in the near future. Various blogs and news sources ran similar stories that attributed the research to the magazine to the “Oxford Hair Foundation,” but other sources say this isn’t so.
A How Stuff Works article says that the foundation was funded by hair-dye maker Procter & Gamble, and that other experts have dismissed the research as either lacking in evidence or simply bogus. The National Geographic article in fact states that “while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn’t going away.”
Red hair reportedly is caused by a relatively rare recessive gene, the expression of which can skip generations. It’s not likely to disappear at any time in the foreseeable future, the account noted.
Whew! I feel better now.
I do have some concern that my family’s lineage for red tresses does appear to be waning. None of my children has red hair and, so far, none of their offspring children has auburn-colored locks.
The dark-haired genes truly are dominant, as I’ve found out with my progeny.
I’m a product of a redhaired father and an almost-redhaired mother who most people thought was a redhead but really wasn’t. That’s a convoluted way of saying that her hair was really light reddish-brown, which was helped along by weekly visits to Elizabeth Duren’s beauty shop in Cotton Plant.
If her hair color ever started to dull a bit, my father would suggest gently that she needed to “go see Elizabeth.”
He apparently liked her nearly red hair.
Shortly after marrying him, Mamma announced to my Aunt Pete (yep, that’s right) that she was going to have “a redheaded little girl.”
Mamma generally got what she wanted and so I came along about a year later. I’m not sure that many times I wasn’t more than she’d bargained for, but at least I filled her order in the physical sense.
The late Henry Brown is the only person who ever referred to my hair color as “titian,” which I thought had a nice literary tone.
The color titian reportedly takes its name from the artist Titian, who often painted women with red hair. Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus depicts the mythological goddess Venus as a redhead. Other painters notable for their redheads include the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmun Leighton, Modigliani and Gustav Klimt.
We do know that red hair is the rarest natural hair color in humans, but dogs, cats, horses and cows certainly can have red coats.
When my children were little, we had a red cocker spaniel named Runtsey, so named because he was the runt of the litter and had been intended to go to another home but didn’t and the temporary name became permanent.
The dog adored me, so much so that he wouldn’t eat if I wasn’t home at mealtime. He slept with me and took every step I took at home. For 16 years, he was my devoted companion.
Oftentimes I’d bring him to the office when I would come back at night or on weekends. This was during the Sam Hodges-as-publisher days.
No one ever loved dogs anymore than Mr. Hodges. While some people found him intimidating, I never did. I admired his absolute brilliance and his wry sense of humor.
Once when I was working at my desk with Runtsey lying on the floor beside me, Mr. Hodges walked by and took in the scene.
“Lynda, I hate to say this, but I just have to. Your dog looks more like you than your children.”
He was right. The dog’s coat was the exact color as my hair. I thanked him.
The fact that redheads require more pain medication, namely more anesthesia during surgery, continues to baffle many. I learned this years ago from medical friends who thought it was information I should have for self-protection — possibly self-preservation.
The unexpected relationship of hair color to pain tolerance appears to be because redheads have a mutation in a hormone receptor that can apparently respond to at least two different hormones: the skin pigmentation hormone melanocyte-stimulating hormone and the pain relieving hormone known as endorphins.
A lot of scientific double-talk explains this in more specific terms, but I didn’t understand anything other than we hurt more, we need more medicine, so bring it on.
Remember: There’s a common belief that redheads have fiery tempers and sharp tongues. Wanna test it?

Lynda Hollenbeck is associate editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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