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Ginger Thursday: Parkinson’s Disease

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In researching the genetics of redheads, I stumbled across several articles dedicated to our propensity to develop Parkinson’s Disease. I knew we were susceptible to things like skin cancer and other skin/sun related conditions, but PD seemed a little extreme. In my last Ginger Thursday post I mentioned that the substantia nigra portion of the brain may be playing a role in the firey tempered redhead stereotype, and this week I’d like to go a little more in depth with it.

First, let me refresh you on the two forms of melanin which the body produces: eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is the most common form of melanin and is what causes tanning in the sun and generally darker pigments of skin. Phaeomelanin is the melanin produced by redheads as our MC1R genotype mutation causes a reduction in the production of melanin. This leads, of course, to our pale skin and freckles. What might be less obvious is the effect this has on other areas of the body which contain melanin, namely the substantia nigra. This portion of the brain is named for its darker pigmentation as compared to the rest of the brain. This discoloration is caused by an increase in neuromelanin production within the area. Due to the MC1R mutation, redheads have less neuromelanin and thus results in a slightly different substantia nigra than the rest of the population.

When an individual develops PD, the area of the brain which is targeted by the disease is, you guessed it, the substantia nigra. Cells within this area begin to degrade and die off, leading slowly to the tremors and movement difficulties which come along with PD. It is postulated that the lack of neuromelanin in redheads may be a direct cause of PD development, the substantia nigra being already in a weakened state. This hypothesis is based on statistics which show redheads developing PD notably more often than individuals with other hair colors.

Parkinson’s Disease is serious and highly detrimental to anyone who develops it. As a redhead, knowing what I do now about PD and my personal risks, I’m worried and at the same time happy to have learned it. This, along with the other genetic abnormalities of redheads, is something I feel other redheads should know and be prepared for.

And to close, I’d like to hopefully brighten your day with some of my favorite firey gingers.

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