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Is Red Hair Gene Linked to Increased Health Risks?

According to a new study, redheads run an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. As reported by the Daily Mail, the mcr1 gene that is responsible for red hair also limits the amount of dopamine produced and may result in a litany of increased health risks.  

The media has portrayed redheads as having a genetic predisposition to severe health conditions before. These stories may make good copy, but all too often the headlines are misleading.

Consider earlier studies that linked red hair and melanoma. It appears that people with red hair, very fair skin, freckles and an inability to tan have the highest risk of developing melanoma. Not surprisingly, sun exposure was pinpointed as the cause. The usual scaremongering about ultraviolet light and cancer was inevitable.  

The cancer and sunscreen industries have worked hard to vilify the sun. With such skewed conventional wisdom, creating an inaccurate narrative based on the susceptibility of fair skinned redheads to sunburn and their higher incidences of melanoma was too easy. 

No matter what your hair color is, blaming melanoma on sun exposure flies in the face of science. It appears that redheads have an increased melanoma risk whether they go out into the sun or not. The cause appears to be the pheomelanin pigment, which is what makes your hair red, and may cause damaging oxidative stress in the skin cells, triggering cancer.

Regardless, the importance of vitamin D does not decrease just because you burn easily. Sun exposure has actually been found to be protective against skin cancer and the reason is vitamin D. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best time to be in the sun for vitamin D production is actually as near to solar noon as possible. 

This is because harmful UVA rays are constant during daylight hours, but vitamin D producing UVB rays are strongest at midday. During this UVB-intense period you will likely need the shortest sun exposure time to produce the most vitamin D. You only need enough exposure to turn your skin the lightest shade of pink and at midday this may be only 10-20 minutes.

Is it possible that the recent study tying Parkinson’s disease to red hair is as lacking in nuance as the flawed conventional wisdom that links sun exposure and melanoma? It is certainly a subject that requires further investigation and this controversial study only found the link in mice.

While waiting for more conclusive information, I recommend taking proactive steps to optimize your health. Diet and exercise can curb the effects of Parkinson’s disease and promote overall immune system health. Exercise may help improve balance, mobility, and overall quality of life in those with Parkinson’s.

Intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet may also be helpful. Fasting has been shown to protect against cellular changes associated with Parkinson’s disease. Intermittent fasting is one method and involves scheduling all of your meals in an eight hour window. A ketogenic diet is low in carbs and high in high-quality fats. Both are powerful tools to help you take control of your health. 
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