Friday, December 23, 2011

Raising Redheads Parenting Magazine

I just saw a bit of TMZ and they were discussing how Prince Harry is turning out to be the most handsome royal, and how unusual that is because he's a redhead/ginger. And then the typical redhead jokes ensued and someone did some googling and found a website called Raising Redheads Parenting Magazine. While I won't share or comment on the distasteful jokes, I will share the website. Good idea!

Friday, December 16, 2011

‘Tis the Season to Take Care of Yourself

Hello my redheaded lovelies!

I’m back after a November vacation hiatus. First, I went to my friends’ wedding in Kona, Hawaii, which was absolutely amazing! Then I went to see my friends and family in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. November has left me feeling very content, and I am trying to sustain that feeling as best I can throughout the holiday season.

BUT the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and if you are like me and could have your way, you would prefer to hibernate in bed (perhaps with your sweetie) and alternate napping with streaming your favorite TV shows or movies.

But no can do!!! ‘Tis the season to make our holiday to-do lists, shop and bake until we drop, travel near and far by car or plane to visit our loved ones, and go make small talk at all sorts of holiday parties. And that doesn’t even include the post-holiday shopping craziness when we finally have a chance to do our own personal shopping therapy. I can never seem to find any time to take advantage of the pre-holiday sales and replace my favorite, but worn-out, blouses and sweaters. And then after the holidays, everything is all picked over or not in my size. Frickin’ annoying!

What happens when our natural desire to slow down and hibernate gets postponed? We lose sleep, we get chilled, we get stressed out, and then we become more vulnerable to those nasty winter germs that are all over work, at parties, and at our kids’ schools. We get sick and cranky! And who wants to be sick and cranky during the holidays? Maybe Scrooge, but not me! And yet…..I kinda sound a little cranky now, don’t I? Hmmm…..where did that November contentment go?

Don’t let it happen to you! Will the world actually crumble if Santa seems to be out of Lollaloopsey dolls this season (you know those silly hair ones), and little girls everywhere will be disappointed? Just explain that the elves can’t make them fast enough and that the Easter Bunny will pick up the backorder slack in April. And then go take a long winter’s nap because you deserve it, darn it!

Here are some tips to take care of the incredible you during the holidays:

Get enough sleep!!!

At least 7-9 hours a night. Research shows that lack of sleep can make us more prone to catching cold and flu viruses.

Practice good hygiene!!!

You know the rules!
To prevent the spread of germs, sneeze or cough into your elbow and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.

Wash your hands often, including but not limited to, after using the restroom, before you eat, when you get to your destination (home or work), etc.

For traveling, bring some disinfecting wipes with you for your hands. I also recommend using disinfecting wipes to wipe down everything around you on the airplane such as the head and hand rests, the tray, and the back of the seat and pocket. You will see how much dirt you will pick up - yuck! My favorite disinfecting towelettes are Desert Essence. They have tea tree oil and lavender and smell wonderfully.

Stay hydrated!!!

When it gets colder, we sometimes forget to drink liquids. Try drinking herbal teas which can keep you warm AND hydrate you.

Staying hydrated is especially important on airplanes due to extremely low humidity. On the day before travel, drink plenty of water. On the day of travel, buy one or more bottles of water after going through security and take them with you onto the plane. Conserve your water and take advantage of asking the flight attendants for water whenever offered - but hold the ice as it can be a source of germs!

Use a saline nasal spray in the morning, at bedtime, and on the airplane to keep nasal passages moist and to maintain nasal pH balance. In the winter, the low humidity and heat can dry out your nasal passages making them more vulnerable to viruses.

Bundle up!!!

We’re not kids anymore so stop hiding your hat and gloves in the mailbox to play cool! Buy a stylish winter coat, hat, and gloves to keep warm while simultaneously feeling fabulous. Sometimes if the HVAC isn’t cooperating at work, I will wear a stylish shawl or poncho and a hat.

Monitor consumption of sugar, alcohol and other simple carbs!!!

With so much temptation during the holidays, this seems impossible, but some experts believe that sugar can suppress the immune system. If you start to feel run down, you may be overdoing the simple carbs and need to back off.

Consume Immune Boosting Foods!!!

Read my fellow redheaded colleague Natasha Bell’s November article Kick Your Pretty Ginger Immune System Into High Gear This Holiday Season to learn about immune boosting foods to consume. If you need a quick Vitamin C boost on the go, put a vitamin C packet in your water bottle. Airborne or Emergen-C work really well especially on travel days.

Slow down, breathe, and try to enjoy some peace during the holiday season!!!

Consider taking a personal vacation day to rest, to get organized, or to get caught up.

Happy Hibernating Holidays!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chocolate, the Halloween Monster that Must be Tamed

First, it starts to lurk in the grocery store in massive bulk packages. Then as you feel pressured to buy it for trick or treaters, it begins to invade your home and you get stuck with all of the leftovers. Then it starts to show up at work in the break room or at meetings. And then your friends put it out at their Halloween parties. It tempts you everywhere you go and makes you think that you are in control of it. But it’s the Halloween monster that sneaks up on you and attacks!

AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!! It’s….. really…..really….. bad chocolate!!!!!

Many of us have a little problem with chocolate. Hey, I’m no one to judge - I’m completely guilty and absolutely love chocolate! Chocolate is made from the cacao bean which naturally contains high levels of antioxidants called flavonols. Studies have shown that as little as 6.7 grams a day of dark chocolate (about half a bar a week) can help reduce inflammation and exhibit beneficial cardiovascular effects. Studies also show that up to 40 grams of chocolate a day can possibly reduce levels of anxiety and stress. However, if you are not careful, there are other ingredients that are frequently manufactured into chocolate that can negate these health benefits. For instance, studies have also shown that highly processed chocolate can be contaminated with high levels of lead.

Below are some tips for taming the chocolate monster that lies beneath.

Choose the darkest chocolate that your taste buds can possibly withstand -- 70% or more cacao content is recommended. Raw cacao powder contains the highest levels of flavanol antioxidants, but it can be very bitter to the taste buds. Next to raw cacao powder are the following types of chocolate in descending order of flavonal content: unsweetened baking chocolate, then dark chocolate, and last is milk chocolate.

Read labels - the simpler the ingredients the better. Aside from cacao beans, cacao solids, or cacao powder, the only other ingredients in your chocolate should be cocoa butter, vanilla, and ideally no more than 20-30% sugar content per serving size. Some chocolate may also contain an emulsifier like soy lecithin, which soy-sensitive individuals may need to avoid. There is a vast array of artisan chocolates available that incorporate other acceptable natural ingredients and flavors into their chocolate including nuts, seeds, berries, chilies or natural infusions like lavender, lemon, ginger or mint. Milk chocolate tends to be more highly processed and has additional sugar and possibly other undesirable ingredients. If you don’t understand what it is, then avoid it!

Chocolate is high in calories so it’s important to exert portion controls and not get too carried away with it. But rather than depriving yourself, limit yourself to half a bar a week by taking a small bite or portion every day. A friend of mine refills chocolate in a small container or shot glass each week, and when she finishes it, that’s all she gets for the rest of the week.

And most importantly……

Take time to savor and enjoy your chocolate. Do not swallow it obliviously as you send that email at work (ha-ha guilty as charged!). Take a moment to breathe and look out the window as you slowly savor and swallow the chocolate – you deserve it after all! Savoring “good” chocolate can help prevent you from giving into temptation and indulging in “bad” chocolate. In fact, I encourage you to do a taste test and purchase some good chocolate and compare it to that crap that comes out at Halloween. Um, yeah, yuck, enough said.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Incredible Edible Apple (cackle, cackle, cackle!)

I can’t believe that it is October already! October means that it is officially fall. In the Bay Area, we had some rare glorious weather this past weekend – the final throws of summer. It was perfect weather to tour San Francisco with friends. There’s nothing like Lombard Street and North Beach at twilight on a mild day – absolutely gorgeous! And now it’s chilly, foggy, and we just had our first big rain of the season – bleh!

Of course, you know what that means! It’s time to do the following:

•Embrace the fact that our red hair could have possibly caused us to be burned at the stake during the Middle Ages (haha);

•Pull out our witch hats out of respect for all of the persecuted redheads before us;

•Put ‘em on; and,

•Head to the market to shop for apples.

Yes, apples! The apple harvest is in!
Cackle, cackle, cackle!
And no, I’m not talking about the latest iPhone or Siri, although I am very saddened that Steve Jobs passed away. I'm talking Johny Appleseed apples.

A childhood friend recently reminded me on Facebook how one of our neighbors used to give us apples at Halloween every year and how disappointed we always were. But nowadays apples make me so happy! When we were kids, it only seemed like we had two apple choices at the store – red delicious and golden delicious. Um, boring! Do you have any idea how many varieties of apples are grown in the U.S.? According to the U.S. Apple Commission, nearly 100 varieties are grown commercially in the United States; however, a total of 15 popular varieties accounted for almost 90 percent of apple production in 2008.

If you are not a big apple fan, maybe it is just because you haven’t found the right apple variety for you. Are you a sweet, tart or sour apple person? Go to the market, pick one of each variety, and see if you can find a few varieties that you like best. It is my experience that organic apples tend to have better flavor. Personally, my favorite apple variety is Ambrosia. It is a relatively new variety that originated in British Columbia in the mid-1990s. It is sweet, crisp, aromatic, and has low acidity. If I spread a little almond butter on a slice, it is the perfect fall comfort food snack for me.

Apples not only taste good, but they are packed with nutrition. You’ve all heard how “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, research has shown that there is some truth to that saying. While nutritional content can vary, below is a summary of the health benefits of apples:

•Apples can assist with weight loss, can help lower blood pressure, and can reduce the chances of diabetes and coronary/cardiovascular disease.

•Apples are high in antioxidants (including the bioflavonoid quercitin) and can possibly inhibit the growth of cancer cells, promote lung health, and protect the brain from oxidative stress.

•Apples are high in pectin, a soluble fiber, which promotes gut health and boosts immunity.

More importantly, most apples are RED and are a great snack that can make a redheaded fashion statement!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nourish Your Skin From the Inside Out

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re redheads, we get sunburned easily, blah, blah, blah, whatever. That’s easy – stay out of the sun, use sunscreen (preferably a natural zinc-based one), and take a vitamin D supplement if you test low. BUT how many of you also are prone to eczema, dandruff, rashes, hives, skin allergies, psoriasis, etc? How many of you are sensitive to skin products and make up? Or am I the only one?

The first time I noticed my sensitive skin was when I was about 4 years old. I had been out in the neighbor’s yard and came home and my mother said, “Have you been playing with the neighbor’s cat?” “No,” I said guiltily all the while thinking, “How did she know?” She knew because I was covered head to toe in rashes. I hadn’t even really noticed them and was probably was scratching them obliviously. She had promptly put me in a bathtub and then covered me head to toe in hydrocortisone cream. I grew up thinking everyone used hydrocortisone cream as body moisturizer. And thus my lifelong struggle with skin issues began. I have had allergic rashes, anxiety rashes, eczema, dandruff, and cystic acne. My absolute favorite skin condition was when I had skin rashes and cystic acne at the same time and just inches from each other…..gggggrrrr what is up with that?

I’ve also had great spaces of time when I’ve had absolutely flawless beautiful skin, but it takes a certain amount of care to get there. Our skin shows our stress, our allergies, our lack of sleep, and even our digestive and metabolic issues as it is one of the organs where the body eliminates waste. It needs to be cared for – nutritionally from the inside out.

But how? Dietary fat has been given a bad name over the years. The truth is that you and your skin need fat, including both saturated fat and essential fatty acids; however, the standard American diet tends to be too high in inflammatory saturated fats and too low in anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3s. The idea is to rebalance the types of fats and to switch to healthier sources of each.

Switch Out Your Fats and Oils:

-For cooking, switch to an unrefined coconut oil. This is a natural vegetarian-based saturated fat that doesn’t cause the same cardiovascular problems as animal source saturated fats. It also has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and is great for the skin – nutritionally as well as topically.

-Buy a high quality extra virgin olive oil and use it to make your own salad dressing vinagrette by adding lemon and herbs. Olive oil shouldn’t be used for cooking as it oxidizes easily. I recommend buying it in smaller quantities more frequently to avoid it going rancid. If you want to buy larger quantities, store it in dark bottles in the refrigerator to increase shelf life where it will solidify, then remove it once you are ready to use it.

Increase consumption of the following:

-Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, walnut, sunflower and almonds will add more essential fatty acids like omega 3s and 6s to the diet. They are a good plant-based source of zinc and vitamin E which are both important for optimal skin health. These foods add much-needed fiber to the diet, which assists with proper elimination of toxins and waste. I just remembered how much I used to eat fresh and raw nuts as snacks at work and recently switched back to them as a morning snack. They are so satiating, and believe it or not, I’ve noticed that I’ve dropped a few pounds. Try soaking raw nuts or seeds overnight in salt water then dehydrating them in the oven on the lowest heat setting for a few hours until they are crunchy. Yummy! This also makes them a little easier to digest.

Eat Seafood Once a Week: I believe redheads proliferated in northern Europe for a reason! Download safe seafood recommendations from Seafood Watch and choose deep sea fish which is higher in essential fatty acids.

-Eat Plenty of Fruit, Vegetables, and Whole Grains: The skin loves phytonutrients such as ACES (Vitamins A, C and E), beta carotene, chromium, selenium, and zinc.

Decrease consumption of the following:

-Avoid trans-, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats or oils: The body doesn’t know how to metabolize these fats and it can show up on the skin. Every single time I indulge in greasy french fries, I get a big fat zit usually right in the middle of my forehead!

-Avoid refined sugar and alcohol as it may contribute to essential fatty acid deficiency.

Consider Supplementing with the Following:

-Purified Fish Oil or Flax Seed Oil: 3000mg a day of omega 3s. For fish oil, I like Nordic Naturals. For flax seed oil, I like Barlean’s.

-Probiotics: Skin issues can be caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Be sure to get a supplement that has 10 strains of both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, that ensures 15-30 billion active bacteria, and that has enteric coating so that it travels to the small intestine before dissolving.

-N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC): This amino acid is rich in sulfur, assists EFAs in their function of reducing free radicals, and provides liver detoxification support. Start taking 500mg three times a week and work your way up to taking 500mg daily. Then slowly increase your dose over the course of a few months to 1500mg/day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To Go Gluten Free or Not? That is the Question.

Everybody seems to be going on a gluten free diet these days. It’s the latest diet trend among several celebrities. So my dear redheads, I ask the question -- should we go gluten free? Well, as always, I look to science for guidance, but first a little background.

Gluten free diets were originated for those who have Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a food intolerance to a gluten protein found in grains including all forms of wheat such as durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro, and related grains such as rye, barley and triticale. While oats do not have gluten, they have molecules similar to gluten which can cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Oats can also be contaminated from being processed and stored with other glutinous grains such as wheat.

Celiac Disease affects approximately 1 in 133 Americans. It causes damage to the intestinal lining resulting in malabsorption of nutrients and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Celiac Disease is considered to be a multi-system, multi-symptom, autoimmune disorder. If untreated it can lead to other severe health problems and even death. Signs and symptoms of Celiac Disease can vary greatly from person to person. For more information on signs and symptoms, please see here.

Is there a connection between Celiac Disease and red hair? From the studies I’ve read, I personally think there can be. The gene that causes red hair, MC1R, and the gene that causes Celiac Disease, DQ2 and DQ8, are both common to those with northern European ancestry. But that’s not all. The gene MC1R, that doesn’t function on our skin cells and causes our red hair, ALSO APPEARS ON IMMUNE CELLS in the intestinal tract where it helps protect the gut by fighting inflammation. So if MC1R doesn’t function on our skin cells, it could conceivably not function on our immune cells creating a propensity to inflammation in our gut. In other words, just as our skin is vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet radiation from the sun, our intestinal tract might also be vulnerable to the stress and damage of everyday digestion. Now if you happen to have the Celiac Disease gene in addition to the red hair gene, this combination could be like throwing water on a grease fire and boom – inflammation party! Even if you do not have the Celiac Disease gene, wheat and glutinous grains can still cause allergies or gastro-intestinal disturbances due to their difficulty to digest.

But how do you know if glutinous grains (or wheat only) are an issue for you? There are a few tests that you can take:

-A genetic DNA test - this will tell you whether you have a genetic tendency towards Celiac Disease

-A blood test for Celiac Disease - this test indicates whether you might be having an anti-gliadin immune reaction to gluten

-A biopsy of the small intestine - this is the only test that can confirm whether you indeed have developed Celiac Disease. You must be eating gluten regularly at the time of the test for it to be accurate. Partial and full atrophy of intestinal "villi" can indicate Celiac Disease (be sure to always get a copy of your test results)

-Wheat allergy tests – This is separate from Celiac Disease and can be tested with a skin prick test (Immunoglobulin E) and blood tests (Immunoglobulin G).

If you prefer not to do a test, you can also try an elimination diet and remove gluten from your diet for three to six months to see how it makes you feel, then introduce it back into your diet, and observe for reactions or symptoms. If no reaction or symptoms, you can include it in on rotation on every fourth day.

If you plan to go gluten free, it is best to stick to a whole food diet and swap out your whole glutinous grains with whole non-glutinous grains like brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, teff or amaranth. Whole non-glutinous grains are nutritious, high in fiber, and have some vitamin Bs. I recommend supplementing with a high quality Vitamin B complex while on a gluten free diet just in case you don’t get enough. Non-contaminated oats are now available if you want to try them, but they could also cause reactions depending upon the individual.
There are a lot of gluten free baked goods out there that are really tempting and tasty. Ten years ago these types of products totally sucked -- no longer! But watch out! Just because a label says it is “gluten free” does not necessarily mean that it is good for you, nutritious, free of fat, free of sugar, low in calories, and high in fiber. You still need to read the labels. A gluten free cookie is still a cookie after all! Now for those with Celiac Disease who never get to eat cookies EVER, a gluten free cookie is most definitely a happy treat every once in a while. But as with regular cookies, don’t over do it.

Personally, Celiac Disease runs in my family and my redheaded sister has it. While I tested as having a high anti-gliadin immune reaction, I have never been officially diagnosed with the disease. I decided to go gluten free several years ago, and I have found it to be very beneficial to my health and well-being – except of course when I indulge in too many gluten free cookies and gain weight! In summary, I think a gluten free diet is worth redheads trying, especially if lately you’ve been feeling that more than your hair is “inflamed.”

Nutrition and Lifestyle Recommendations for Pain Management

Pain and sensitivity to pain comes in all shapes and sizes and is a very individual thing, and let’s not forget about emotional pain. Maybe the link between red hair and pain makes sense to you or maybe you have another gene that balances out your red hair gene and you think it's a bunch of bunk. If there is anything that I’ve learned about genetics is that the more we learn about genetics, there’s always something more to learn about genetics.

If you are in pain, please consult with your physician or seek out complimentary treatment to try to get to the root cause of your pain and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. The majority of the battle is learning about yourself and having the discipline to take care of yourself. I struggle with it too - I just found out that I aggravated my sciatic nerve, probably while doing forward bends in yoga and then by sitting and writing most of the day. It causes pins and needles in my feet and they swell – ugh! But I’m getting referred to physical therapy, and I’m going to try to do what they tell me to do, so that I can feel better. You can make your health a priority too!

Please do NOT avoid the dentist because of anxiety or fear of pain. As a child, my teeth were drilled on without any numbing medication, and this has given me a certain level of dental care anxiety. Just thinking about the sound of the dental drill makes me cringe – so I can completely relate. But my anxiety is not enough to make me avoid dental care completely. My anxiety actually motivates me to floss daily, get my cleanings every six months (thanks to my employer-based insurance), and pray during my x-ray and exam that I don’t need a filling or a crown or worse -- a root canal. So far, so good on the root canal, and that is most likely because I do all of the above. When I do need dental work, the drugs my dentist uses work pretty well for me (thankfully!), but then again, I only have the red hair gene on one side of my family so I might have a bit of protection that other redheads don’t have. If anxiety and fear of dental pain are an issue for you, please consult your physician to see if you can be medicated before procedures and ask a friend or relative to take you to and from the dentist.

If your dentist or physician dismisses your concerns about your anxiety or past pain experiences, then say goodbye to him or her and find another practitioner. There are many practitioners in the sea who will listen to you and support you. If it helps, print out Redheads and Pain: A Recap, send it to him or her, and interview him or her over the phone or in person before deciding how to proceed. A better sense of control will help ease your anxiety.

Dietary Recommendations for Pain Management

Please consult your physician before embarking on any new dietary regimen.

A fresh, local, seasonal, natural, whole food diet consisting predominantly of plant-based foods is anti-inflammatory and would best support pain. If you have access to organic food that is fresh and local and you can afford it, purchasing it will help reduce your exposure to pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Shop at Farmer's Markets, the Perimeter of the Grocery Store, the Bulk Section and the Oil Section!

-Produce Section – leafy greens (chard, kale spinach), crunchy veggies (broccoli, asparagus, green beans), starchy veggies (yam, parsnip), fruit, sprouts

-Meat/Fish Section – grass-fed, range-raised, organic, hormone & antibiotic free, wild or organically farmed fish

-Cultured Dairy Products (as tolerated) – yogurt, kefir, butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese – try goat dairy products too!

-Eggs – range-raised, cage-free, omega 3

-Bulk Section – nuts & seeds, legumes, whole non-glutinous grains (e.g. wild or brown rice, quinoa, millet)

-Quality Oils – extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, flax seed oil, unrefined sesame or safflower seed oils

Restock your pantry with healthy staples:

-Chicken or vegetable stock

-Non-irradiated organic herbs

-Natural sweeteners (agave syrup, pure maple syrup, or whole leaf stevia powders)

-Change table salt to REAL Salt or Himalayan Crystal Salt and use herbs

-Try seaweed for flavoring (full of minerals and a natural source of iodine)

Eat 2-3 servings a day of quality protein to avoid hypoglycemia (e.g. meat, fish, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds)

Read All Labels and Avoid the Inflammatory Monsters!

-Avoid trans-, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats or oils

-Avoid processed and refined carbohydrates

-Avoid white or “enriched” flours

-Choose whole flours or sprouted grain breads and eat minimally

-Choose whole grain pastas and eat minimally

-Avoid refined sugar and alcohol

-Avoid labels that read above 7 grams of sugars per serving

-Watch out for hidden sugars – alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, malodextrin, honey, sucrose (table sugar), molasses, sorghum, cane juice (evaporated too), brown sugar, xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, barley malt, brown rice syrup, date sugar, fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup

-Avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives & additives such as aspartame (Nutrasweet), saccharin (Sweet’n’Lo), sucrolose (Splenda)

-Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates/nitrites in lunch meats, sulfites, and artificial coloring.


Lifestyle Recommendations for Pain Management

Identify and Eliminate Underlying Food Allergies and Treat Inhalant Allergies – For more information, see ‘Tis the Season for Achooo!!

Do things that naturally increase endorphin levels:

-Get enough sleep: 7-8 hours nightly in a darkened room away from electronics

-Stay hydrated – drink eight 8-ounce glasses of purified water a day. Try refreshing it with a bit of lemon or you can substitute water with your favorite herbal tea.

-Exercise: 20-30 minutes daily to increase endorphins and maintain weight and energy. Start slowly by exercising 2-3 times a week and work your way up to daily. If you are injured, ask your physician or physical therapist for appropriate exercises and an exercise schedule -- be gentle with yourself. Exercises like yoga can also be meditative and reduce stress, but do not push yourself like I did!

-Practice meditation or deep breathing

-Put sensitivity to work artistically – indulge the creative redhead in you!

-Seek out complimentary therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy, massage therapy, or cranial-sacral therapy. Consider psychotherapy to work through unresolved emotional trauma or to learn coping mechanisms for stress.

Nutritional Supplements for Pain Management

WARNING: Consult your physician before taking any of the following nutritional supplements.


Inhibits the release of melanocyte stimulating hormone (this effect is not reported in the de-glycyrrhizinated form of licorice or DGL), assists with auto-immune conditions, and supports the adrenal glands. Use a standardized root extract of 100-200mg per day in the morning. WARNINGS: Do not use if pregnant or nursing, if you have heart disease, hypertension, or liver disease or with medications that contain diuretic, digitalis or glucocortiocoids. Do not exceed 600 mg of glycyrrhizic acid daily. Extended use at these levels may elevate blood pressure. If taking medication, consult your healthcare practitioner before use.

5-HTP or L-Tryptophan:
The amino acid in your Thanksgiving turkey that makes you blissfully sleepy, precursors to the neurotransmitter serotonin, helps modulate symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, regulates sleep/wake cycles and assists with pain management. WARNING: Do not use if pregnant or nursing. Do not use concurrently with SSRI medications or MAO inhibitors. 5-HTP may cause gastrointestinal upset in sensitive individuals.
-Some people have better luck with 5-HTP and others have better luck with L-Tryptophan. I like L-Tryptophan myself.
-5-HTP: 50-300 mg per day, in divided doses, before meals (in the afternoon or evening)
-L-Tryptophan: 1000-3000mg per day, in divided doses, before meals (in the afternoon or evening). Take with a piece of fruit to help with absorption.

DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA):
Precursor to Phenylethylamine (PEA) which is a mood enhancer found in chocolate, supports mood and relaxes muscles, inhibits enzymes that breakdown endorphins that modulate emotional and physical pain. 2000-3000mg per day in divided doses, between meals (e.g. mid-morning and mid-afternoon). WARNING: If pregnant or lactating, consult your physician before taking this supplement. Individuals with phenylketonuria or tardive dyskinesia should avoid this supplement. Occasional nausea, heartburn, or headaches have been associated with dl-phenylalanine.

Helpful for stress and anxiety, acts as a natural tranquilizer. 500-750 mg once daily in between meals. WARNING: If pregnant, consult your physician before taking this or any other supplement.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Redheads and Pain: A Recap

Hello My Redheaded Lovelies!

I just had a post published on How to Be a Redhead that recaps all of my posts on Redheads and Pain. I'm re-posting the more long winded version below in case you prefer EXCRUCIATING detail (no pun intended, it's genetic from my Dad). The next How to Be a Redhead post will be about Nutritional and Lifestyle Recommendations for Pain.


I’ve been researching redheads and pain for a few years and have written about it on my blog Blessed with Red: The Redheads Guide to Thrive. It’s a very confusing and complicated topic, and every time I read over a study that I’ve read dozens of times before, I always seem to understand something new.

I also learn from my readers – thank you!

I’m going to try to synthesize and summarize everything I’ve learned so far about redheads and pain in the following.

To recap my last post The Red Hair Factory, you may recall us previously discussing a hormone called alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH). It is the message sent out by the brain (the CEO) and skin melanocyte cells (pigment factories) in response to exposure to the sun (environmental demand). Under normal conditions, α-MSH binds to the melanocortin 1 receptor (MCIR) on skin melanocyte cells and relays the message over the MC1R intercom for the melanosomes (assembly lines) to begin the skin tanning process; however, for us redheads, the MC1R intercom doesn’t function or its function is significantly reduced, the message doesn’t get through, and this is why we burn.

BUT the hormone messenger α-MSH is a multi-tasking fiend!

It doesn't only play a role in pigment and hair color production. It also binds with other receptors to modulate pain. In the central nervous system, different hormones work together to create balance in the perception of pain: α-MSH increases sensitivity to pain via other melanocortin receptors, MC3R and MC4R, while opiates decrease sensitivity to pain via opioid receptors.

Now, unlike the MC1R gene, the MC3R and MC4R genes are not affected at all by the red hair mutation and more than likely work just fine in most redheads. It is postulated that because of the malfunctioning MC1R gene in redheads that there is a negative feedback loop to the pituitary in the brain which causes an overproduction of α-MSH in the central nervous system. The excess α-MSH acts on MC3R and MC4R which in essence overpowers the opiate hormones and receptors. In summary, the theory is that there is a hormonal imbalance in redheads that causes an increased sensitivity to pain.

Redheads and Pain Studies: A History

But how do you test to find out if redheads have more α-MSH pumping in their veins than non-redheads? Apparently, testing α-MSH is expensive and difficult due to circadian rhythms. As far as I know it has never been done….yet.

And what exactly does “sensitivity” to pain mean? How do you isolate and measure pain in an experiment? There are several studies on redheads and pain that I reference below. Some of them refer to the following different thresholds for pain:

-Perception or Sensory: When one initially senses or perceives a stimulus such as heat, cold, or an electrical current (I feel it, but no pain….yet).

-Pain Perception: This is the first point where a stimulus actually begins to cause pain (OK this is starting to hurt……).

-Pain Tolerance: This is the maximum level of pain that a person can tolerate from a stimulus (I can’t take it anymore!!!!! Stop now!!!!).

Study 1:
Pain Sensitivity Differences Between the Sexes and Between Redheads and Non-Redheads (2003)

In 2003, a study was conducted by Jeffrey Mogil and his colleagues that concluded there are significant differences in pain modulation between men and women. The study also concluded that there may be a genetic factor in pain modulation because the narcotic drug pentazocine had a greater analgesic (or pain reducing effect) on the female redhead participants than on other participants.

But how and why? It was postulated that pentazocine not only stimulates opioid receptors in the central nervous system which reduce pain, but that it may also inhibit the pain increasing effect of α-MSH by blocking it from binding with MC3R and MC4R, receptors that increase pain.

One of my readers wondered whether differences in drug metabolism could possibly account for different responses to drugs (as opposed to differences in pain perception or tolerance). The idea is that some people may metabolize certain drugs faster than others, and therefore will require more of it or less of it than others. That is a great question that could apply to this study and to the ones referenced below, and I do not have an answer for it. Does anybody know?

It is also important to note that the media can often misinterpret information. At an August 2005 press briefing, Professor Ian Jackson of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh was misquoted in a press release that stated Mogil’s study demonstrated that redheads have a “higher pain tolerance.” The press release failed to reference the fact the female redhead participants who demonstrated this effect were completely drugged up on pentazocine!

More simply put, if you are a hot female redhead in desperate need of a narcotic, you might get a better fix on penatazocine than any other type of drug. I'm joking, of course! I do not advocate drug use, as the adverse affects of pentazocine are similar to that of morphine. Also, as with many other narcotics, pentazocine is addictive.

Study 2:
Redheads Require More Anesthesia in Surgery (2004)

For many years, anesthesiologists have anecdotally observed that redheads required more anesthesia in surgery. In 2004, Dr. Edwin Liem and his colleagues at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, decided to put this theory to the test. They conducted controlled scientific experiments that confirmed that female redheads require 19 percent more anesthesia in surgery. Because of Mogil’s study above, Dr. Liem decided to only include female participants in his experiment. The desflurane anesthesia was inhaled by participants and they were monitored for gross involuntary movement of the legs and arms after being stimulated by electrical current. The amount of desflurane was adjusted according to their reaction. Overall, female redheads required 19% more anesthesia than female non-redheads.

Please note that this effect may not be the case for all female redheads so it is important that you discuss these findings with your physician if you ever have the need for a surgical procedure.

Study 3:
Redheads Have Increased Sensitivity to Thermal Pain and a Reduced Effectiveness of Injected Lidocaine

After his first study above, Dr. Liem was flooded with responses from redheads stating that their anesthesia had failed them or that they required unusually large does of local anesthetics to modulate their pain. In 2005, he and his colleagues decided to design another experiment to test whether redheads were more sensitive to pain than non-redheads and whether redheads were resistant to the local anesthetic lidocaine, either when applied topically or when injected. Again, to control for the differences of pain modulation between the sexes, he only included female participants in the study.

His results were as follows:

-Using electrical stimulation, there was no statistical difference between redheads and non-redheads regarding initial perception of the electrical current, pain perception, or pain tolerance.

-Redheads were more sensitive to cold pain than non-redheads, both in terms of cold pain perception and cold pain tolerance.

-Redheads were more sensitive to heat pain tolerance; but heat pain perception was not statistically different between the two groups.

-The local anesthetic lidocaine was less effective in redheads than non-redheads when it was injected (subcutaneous lidocaine); but there was no statistical difference between the two groups when it was applied topically (liposomal lidocaine).

Please note that this effect may not be the case for all female redheads so it is important that you discuss these findings with your physician or dentist if you ever have the need for a procedure that requires the use of lidocaine.

Study 4:
Redheads and Fear of Dental Pain, Anxiety Regarding Dental Care, and Avoidance of Dental Care (2009)

On August 6, 2009, an article appeared in the New York Times called The Pain of Being a Redhead by Tara Parker-Popeimes. It highlighted a new study which appeared in The Journal of the American Dental Association. This article brought the whole redhead and pain issue to the forefront again. Participants in the study completed surveys that measured “general and dental care–specific anxiety, fear of dental pain, and previous dental care avoidance.” The authors tested the participants’ blood samples to detect gene variants associated with natural red hair color. As expected, most redhead participants had the MC1R red hair variants (65 out of 67), but interestingly enough 20 out of 77 dark haired participants also had MC1R red hair variants – that is one-fourth! The conclusion was that participants with MC1R red hair variants, including redheads and non-redheads, reported significantly more dental care-related anxiety, fear of dental pain, and avoidance of dental care, even when the authors adjusted for general anxiety and sex.

It should be noted that this study is somewhat different than Dr. Liem’s studies as it did not attempt to measure pain itself. It used surveys to measure the participant’s anxiety about dental care and dental pain and compared it to genetic MC1R red hair variant results. While any anxiety about dental care is most likely due to painful past experiences, apparently anxiety and phobia about dental care in itself can also be a factor in increased sensitivity to dental pain.

Study 5? (well sort of):
Mythbusters: No Pain, No Gain

In Season 8 of Mythbusters, there was an episode entitled No Pain, No Gain that aired on April 20, 2010. Mythbusters is filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, and I could have totally participated in this episode if I had been paying better attention -- I’m so disappointed that I missed it! Jamie and Adam’s goal was to test three pain myths:

-Women Tolerate Pain Better than Men
-Swearing Increases Tolerance to Pain
-Redheads Have a Lower Pain Tolerance

First, they visited Stanford University to determine what pain testing methods they would use for their experiment:

1. Heat pain tolerance
2. Electrical pain tolerance
3. Capsaicin pain tolerance - the active ingredient in spicy hot chili peppers
4. Cold pain tolerance

They settled on testing cold pain tolerance by setting up a contraption that would measure the amount of time that a person could tolerate leaving their hand in ice water. They maintained the water as close to 1 degree centigrade as possible by adding salt and monitoring it with a thermometer. While they asked participants when they first started to perceive pain, their experiment results only focused on the amount of time until pain tolerance was achieved.

Myth: Women Tolerate Pain Better than Men

On average, women could tolerate cold pain for 100.4 seconds, while men could only tolerate it 84.3 seconds. Apparently, women who had previously given natural childbirth without anesthetics were the ones to pull the average up. Hello! Of course!

Myth: Swearing Increases Tolerance to Pain

On average, the five subjects could tolerate about 30% more cold pain when they swore than when they didn't swear (is this why I swear like a sailor?) However, since the same five subjects immersed their same hands during the non-swearing sessions as they did for the swearing sessions afterward, I wonder if the thermal nociceptors (pain sensory receptors) in their hands might have habituated and adapted naturally. When winter comes, we all have to habituate to it. The same temperature doesn't seem so cold the second or third time around, does it? Hmmmmm……pondering.


Myth: Redheads Have a Lower Pain Tolerance
BUSTED! In fact, possibly the reverse???

On average, non-redheads tolerated 79.1 seconds of cold pain, while the redheads could tolerate 132.2 seconds of cold pain. Jamie was very proud that his redhead-kind are such bad-asses and so am I!

So the redhead myth being busted brings up some interesting questions as it contradicts what we read above in Dr. Liem’s experiments which indicated that redheads were more sensitive to cold pain perception and cold pain tolerance. The discrepancy between Dr. Liem’s experiments and Mythbusters’ experiment may be related to:

-Equipment and Methods: Dr. Liem’s equipment was likely more sophisticated. Also, in Dr. Liem’s first experiment, the participants were completely unconscious; whereas, in Mythbusters, the participants were conscious and it was almost a game or dare to beat the clock. Oh how us redheads love to live up to a challenge or a dare - that is when we are conscious of it!

-Type of Pain Tested: Dr. Liem tested electrical and thermal pain, while Mythbusters only tested thermal pain. Dr. Liem also measured pain perception and pain tolerance. While Mythbusters asked about pain perception, they only measured or published pain tolerance results.

-Sex: Dr. Liem limited his study to female redheads because of the differences in pain pathways between the sexes; whereas Mythbusters tested both male and female redheads. Could male redheads have pulled the average up?

I think one Mythbuster participant put it nicely when he said “I think it is a myth. I think we may feel it faster than other people, but I think we can stand it just as well, if not better.” Well said!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Redhead Website: How to Be a Redhead


I wanted to alert you to an amazing new redhead website called How to Be a Redhead. I have been asked by the creators, Stephanie and Adrienne, to be a contributing writer on their nutrition column and will post every other Thursday or Friday starting this Thursday, July 14th. Initially, I will be re-posting some articles that I've written already here on my blog, but eventually, I plan to start writing some new stuff which I will post both here and there. I'm excited! Please check them out when you get a chance!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

‘Tis the Season for AAAAACHOOOOOOOOO!!!

Hello my dear redheaded lovelies! I’ve been horrible. I haven’t written you in forever. Shame on me. Well, in my defense, my Dad passed away last fall and then a dear family friend passed away a month later sooooooo I haven’t been in the mood to write in a while. Also at work, I HAVE to write really boring policy-type stuff which makes me tired of writing, then I don’t wanna do it when I get home.

But enough with this pity party! It is spring! That big bunny is hopping around and hiding eggs, and there is just way too much chocolate mischief going on (preferably dark 70% chocolate, thank you). BUT that also means that some of us redheads may be sneezing, wheezing, and our eyes might be watering and itching. Ugh! Who said spring was awesome?! I myself have to do an allergy scratch test in a couple weeks with my new immunologist. I cannot imagine the torture. Wait, there I go with that pity party again. Focus. Yes, it is allergy season. There is no use in denying it. So we may as well learn more about it and see what we can do to cope.

What are allergies?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are diseases of the immune system that cause an overreaction to substances called "allergens." Allergies are grouped by the kind of trigger, time of year or where symptoms appear on the body, whether they are indoor and outdoor allergies (also called "hay fever," "seasonal," "perennial" or "nasal" allergies), food allergies, latex allergies, insect allergies, skin allergies and eye allergies. People who have allergies can live healthy and active lives. If you have severe allergies and/or asthma, it is very important to consult an immunologist and get yourself on a regimen that will work for you; sudden asthma attacks or anaphylactic shock can be life threatening.

Common inhalant and/or skin allergies and sensitivities:

-plant pollens
-animal dander
-casings of dust mites or cockroaches (Those damn dust mites! I hate them!)
-mold spores
-tobacco smoke
-vehicle exhaust
-formaldehydes or chemical products including paint or cleaning products

Other common skin contact allergens include:

-cosmetic ingredients
-jewelry metals such as nickel, copper and chromates.

Most inhalant and contact allergens can be identified with a skin scratch test. The goal is to either remove the allergen or implement control measures to minimize exposure to it while simultaneously building up immune defenses.

To reduce exposure to allergens and chemical sensitivities:

-Select an environmentally friendly residential neighborhood with minimal exposure to pollutants, pesticides and herbicides.

-Employ control measures in your bedroom to minimize dust and allergens such as encasing mattress, box spring and pillows in dust mite proof covers, laundering sheets weekly and blankets monthly, and keeping pets out of the bedroom.

- Use an air purifier in the bedroom. My immunologist recommended a Blueair (pricey), but I have used Honeywell HEPA filters in the past (slightly more affordable).

-Remove carpeting if possible and vacuum weekly with HEPA filtered vacuum.

-Clean your heating and cooling systems and ducts.

-Purify your water supply. I use the Multi-Pure system.

-Clean and do laundry without toxic chemicals. There are a lot of natural cleaning and laundry products on the market now. Fabric softener, for me, is the worst! A dear friend of mine gave me a pair of her pants that did not fit her and my eyes started watering as I was driving home with them because of the laundry detergent or fabric softener. I had to wash them FIVE times before I could even wear them.

- For pest control, employ toxic-free measures. I have a California ant problem every winter. Inside, I use natural products that have thyme or orange oil. Outside where there is more ventilation, I sometimes use stronger more toxic products in order to get the issue under control.

-Prevent water damage and mold growth. In the Bay Area there is plenty of mold and mildew. I use my monthly Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons to buy Damp Rid and put them in the closets, under the sink and in cabinets where there is a lot of moisture. I also installed a ceiling fan in my studio cottage and open the windows often to keeps the air circulating. This prevents condensation and mildew build up on the walls and windows.

-Properly ventilate gas stoves.

-Use less toxic building materials, paint, and carpeting (e.g. low VOC paint)

-Those with asthma are recommended to not use fireplace. If using fireplace, use clean unadulterated hard wood only, properly ventilate and keep flue closed when not in use.

-Keep your refrigerator clean inside, behind and underneath.

-Use natural hygiene products, cosmetics and clothing, although, you can even be allergic and sensitive to natural products. Anyone can be allergic to anything so listen to your body. I had a reaction to a “natural” deodorant after they changed the formulation. I use Herbal Magic now with no problem.

-For allergic nasal congestion, consider using a neti pot and doing regular saline nasal lavages. I also use saline sprays like Ocean. Cleaning out your nasal passages regularly also keeps colds at bay. See below for a home nasal lavage/neti pot solution recipe.

-If you suspect a metal allergy, ask your doctor to order you a test like the MELISA. Dentists and doctors often order this test to ensure that dental work and bodily implants are compatible.

Elimination and Rotation Diet

A healthy whole food diet can be therapeutic for allergies, but anyone can be allergic to anything, which is why you might consider doing an elimination diet to help identify any possible food allergies and sensitivities. Identifying and eliminating food allergies and sensitivities might also alleviate your inhalant and skin allergies. Eating foods high in Vitamin C, eating nettles (a leafy green), or drinking nettles tea can have an anti-histamine effect and may provide some relief. See resources at the end for some book references for elimination and rotation diets.

Food allergy blood tests are also available. An immunologist can likely test for immunogobulin E (IgE). Immunoglobulin G (IgG) blood tests are also available through places like York Test Laboratories.

Helpful Nutritional Supplements:

Please consult your physician before using any supplement; it can interact with medications that you are taking.

Vitamin C:
-Anti-histamine effects are found to occur with large doses of 2000 mg
-Use a corn-free form since corn is a common food allergen
-Use a buffered form to lessen acidity
-500-5000 mg daily (or to bowel tolerance)

-Quercitin suppresses release of histamines and other substances that cause allergic response
-400 mg daily, 20 minutes before meals
-There are a lot of allergy supplement formulas with quercitin available. I just ordered Designs for Health HistaEze.

N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC):
-Precursor to glutathione for liver detoxification support.
-Augments effects of vitamin C.
-Anti-oxidant and promotes mucolytic activity in the airways.
-I find that the sulfuric component of this supplement helps to calm sensitive skin. It helped to ease my rashes and acne.
-Start with 100-200mg a day and work your way slowly up over the course of a few months to 500mg three times a day (or 1500mg/day).
-This supplement can have a liver detoxification effect that might make you feel a little flu-like after a few days of use, but it should pass. Drink a lot of water (8 glasses a day). If it doesn’t pass, discontinue use.

-Some people find relief with homeopathic remedies. You can find remedies for specific allergens and take them sublingually.
-I use homeopathic eye drops called Similasan which are very soothing.

Desensitizing Techniques

Consulting an immunologist and receiving immunotherapy injections are the most common treatment for severe allergies. Other injection therapies include serial endpoint titration (SET), Enzyme-Potentiated Desensitization (EPD) or Provocation/Neutralization (P/N). It is debated whether injections could create an imbalance between humoral and cell-mediated immune response. Alternative non-injection desensitizing techniques include Nambrudipad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) or Natural Elimination of Allergy Therapy (NEAT). I myself get immunotherapy allergy shots for dust mites, grass and dander (so that I can hang out at my friends’ houses without being miserable). Unfortunately, my immunologist mentioned that I might need them for the rest of my life to stay symptom-free – those damn dust mites!

Drug Therapies

Allopathic drug therapy including anti-histamines, oral and inhaled corticosteroids may be necessary in acute cases or in the interim before allergens are identified and effectively controlled. Side effects of anti-histamine use may include drowsiness (which may cause impairment in ability to drive), headaches, nervousness, anxiety, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, impaired learning ability in children, and cardiovascular problems including palpitations, arrhythmias and hypertension. Personally, I have been taking Zyrtec and I haven't had any problems with it, but it depends on the individual.

Long term use of oral corticosteroids such as prednisone can increase patients’ risk for developing osteoporosis, diabetes, immune depression, adrenal suppression, cataracts, facial swelling, candidiasis and loss of minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Long term use of inhaled corticosteroids can slow growth in asthmatic children, suppress normal adrenal function, cause excessive weight gain, and increase risk for osteoperosis. Other asthma drugs such as theophylline can contribute to learning disorders and nervousness and beta-agonist sprays are associated with increased death risk.

Some Allergy References and Resources:

Nasal lavage or Neti Pot Solution Recipe:
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt per cup of water. I use Himalayan or
real salt. They say you can use tap water but that you might want to boil it
first to make it sterile or you can use distilled water and mix the salt in it.

1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda (buy aluminum free baking soda)

2 drops grapefruit seed extract - good for infections/colds

The Allergy Store

Monday, October 25, 2010

Julianne Moore's Freckleface Strawberry Goes Musical!

Julianne Moore's Freckleface Strawberry is going musical. See the article in the New York Times.

Also, check out the children's books on Amazon:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blessed with Red: Clarifying This Blog's Purpose

I recently had an exchange on a Redhead World forum where someone assumed that I believed redheads are made of fairy dust, that if anything goes wrong with our health that I believe it always has to do with us being redheads, and that I am an extremist and do not support western medicine practices. I want to take a moment to regroup and clarify my background and what I'm trying to accomplish in writing this blog.

My background is in nutrition, specifically holistic nutrition. I attended Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts in Berkeley, CA. The scope of what I’m able to do on this blog is to provide nutritional information or give information concerning proper nutrition -- the role of food and food ingredients, including dietary supplements. In other words, I give advice as to how diet and lifestyle can support overall wellness. I do not have medical training, and therefore cannot give medical advice in relation to the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, or cure of any disease, pain, deformity, injury or mental or physical condition. I strongly encourage everyone to consult their doctors about any health conditions they have and before they start any new dietary, nutritional supplement, or exercise regimen.

Personally, I consult my physician and use western medical treatment to complement my holistic diet and lifestyle regimen. I especially consult a physician and get conventional medical treatment anytime I have an acute issue so as to get it under control, but I use my holistic dietary and health regimen to maintain my long term wellness. I see no reason why we can’t benefit from both worlds! I mean why suffer?

But I also want to mention that we often are too quick to dismiss the importance of diet and lifestyle in relation to our overall health and wellness. I often see Dr. Oz and the Doctors on TV tell people that the first step for intervention for any pre-diabetic or high cholesterol condition is to change to a healthier diet and embark on an exercise routine. Yet people often rather take a pill because it is easier, yet pills often have undesired side effects that diet and lifestyle does not have.

It has been my personal experience that I’m more sensitive than other people, and I believe that some of this sensitivity is related to the red hair gene. Studies show that the gene responsible for hair color/skin pigment also manages inflammation. For redheads, this gene doesn’t work, which not only gives us red hair, but may make us prone to more inflammatory conditions. This definitely includes sunburn and skin cancer, but it also may include other inflammatory conditions. I discuss the relation of the red hair gene and inflammation a little further in my post Redheads, Inflammation, and Celiac Disease. I have formed this inflammation theory based on studies I have read, but again, it is a theory. I am not a medical scientist or medical doctor, and I have not proved it.

Now there are many many, many, many other genes in the body that also regulate inflammation so inflammatory conditions may not be an issue for all redheads because these other genes may make up the difference adequately for many. I also think that it is a bit of a slippery slope and it’s too easy to blame red hair for health issues when there is no genetic proof or history of it in a person's family. Correlation is not necessarily causation. Our genes plus the environment in which they operate are much more complex than that. Nothing is ever that simple.

There are so many health-related “myths” out there about redheads, and I come across them all of the time. They intrigue me and sometimes they annoy me. For instance, when I go to my gynecologist and she tells me that I bleed more easily because I’m a redhead, I have to seek out the source of this myth and whether there is any real scientific merit in it. See Redheads, Postpartum Hemorrhage, and Bruising.

The goal of my blog is to explore these redhead myths and tease out whether there is any scientific merit in any of them. Also, if there is anyone who is happening to read the blog with the condition we are discussing, I will also suggest how to nutritionally support wellness related to the issue and welcome them to share their comments and experiences, but nothing that I post is intended to replace or substitute for a physician's care. I may impart my personal belief, experience, or pose questions here and there with an editorial comment, but I will always present the facts and defer to the science over my personal belief or desire.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

World's Largest Redhead Gathering in North America & Redhead Networking

You can attend the World's Largest Redhead Gathering in North America on August 6, 7, 8, 2010 at the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, Ohio. There will be special redhead events on Sunday, August 8, 2010!

Also, here's a list of websites for further redheaded social networking:
Redhead World
Realm of Redheads
Red and Proud

Mythbusters: No Pain, No Gain

So I finally watched Mythbuster's episode entitled No Pain, No Gain. First, they visited Stanford University to determine what pain testing methods they would use for their experiment:

1. Heat pain tolerance
2. Electrical pain tolerance
3. Capsaicin pain tolerance - the active ingredient in spicy hot chili peppers
4. Cold pain tolerance

They settled on testing cold pain tolerance by setting up a contraption that would measure the amount of time that a person could tolerate leaving their hand in ice water, which was maintained at 1 degree centigrade.

Myth: Women Tolerate Pain Better than Men

On average, women could withstand cold pain for 100.4 seconds, while men could only withstand it 84.3 seconds. I've always believed this; women are made to withstand childbirth after all!

Myth: Swearing Increases Tolerance to Pain
(but I have my suspicions)
On average, the five subjects could tolerate about 30% more cold pain when they swore than when they didn't swear. However, since the same five subjects immersed their same hands during the non-swearing sessions as they did for the swearing sessions afterward, I wonder if the thermal nociceptors (pain sensory receptors) in their hands might have habituated and adapted naturally. When winter comes, we all have to habituate to it. The same temperature doesn't seem so cold the second or third time around, does it?


Myth: Redheads Have a Lower Pain Tolerance
In fact, possibly the reverse???
On average, non-redheads tolerated 79.1 seconds of cold pain, while the redheads could withstand 132.2 seconds of cold pain. I always knew redheads were bad-asses!

So this brings up some interesting questions. In my blog entry entitled Redheads and Pain Tolerance, I cite the studies of Dr. Edwin Liem whose experiments showed that redheads were more sensitive to pain, including cold pain and heat pain. The discrepancy between Dr. Liem and Mythbusters may be related to methods, possibly to type of pain tested, or may not have anything to do with pain at all.

There are different types of nociceptors for different types of pain - thermal, mechanical, chemical, and sleeping/silent. The Mythbusters experiment only used thermal stimulation; whereas, Dr. Liem's experiments used both electrical stimulation and thermal stimulation. It also seems that the equipment Dr. Liem used to test thermal pain tolerance was more sophisticated than Mythbusters (or complicated depending on how you want to look at it). Also, possibly to account for the myth above that women have a higher pain tolerance than men, Dr. Liem restricted his redhead study to women only, whereas Mythbusters tested both male and female redheads. Any of the above could account for differing results.

Also, Dr. Liem's original experiment, which showed that redheads need more anesthesia in surgery than others, may not have accounted for differences in metabolism rates of the drug used for the experiment (desflurane). Some people may metabolize the drug faster than others and therefore will require more of it (thanks to Celtic Curls for hooking me onto this theory).

In any case, this Mythbusters episode only raised more questions for me than it answered. And my redhead studies continue.....

Friday, April 9, 2010

What is Mythbusters Up To? Busting a Redhead Myth?

Alas, I am inconsolable. I saw a post on a forum from January that the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters was looking for natural redheads in the Bay Area to volunteer. The problem is that I saw it in April and am too late. I wonder what they are up to? There are several redhead myths that they could test, many of which have been posted on their web forum. I wish they could have a regular segment on their show dedicated to redhead myths, and I could guest star. One can only dream.....

I want to apologize for not regularly posting, but unfortunately this is a hobby and the job and life tend to take my focus away, but I will not give up on this blog. It is a passion and I have many many posts to come, but must wait for time and inspiration. Please stick with it and me and check regularly.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Redheaded Self-Acceptance with the Help of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald

I happened to pick up the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair while in a waiting room today and there was this really great article on John Hughes called
Sweet Bard of Youth by David Kamp. After being horribly picked on for most of my childhood, it was really great to be a redheaded female teenager in the 80s mainly because of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald. They really helped me accept myself, embrace differences among people, and enjoy life.

Thank you John and Molly! John, you will be missed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Therapeutic Diets for Redheads

As I mentioned in my previous post on Redheads, Inflammation, and Celiac Disease, we all know that a redhead's skin is subject to burn in the sun, but a redhead's digestive tract might also be vulnerable to the stress and inflammation of everyday digestion. Identifying and avoiding food intolerances and allergies can be very therapeutic for a redhead's overall health. Below are some therapeutic diets and cookbooks that can help keep digestive inflammation in check.

Gluten Free Girl and the Chef Blog

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Makes Red Hair Red?

The chemical compound found exclusively in red hair which causes the “red” is trichosiderin which was first isolated in 1945 by Dr. Peter Flesch and Dr. Stephen Rothman from the University of Chicago. This compound is made up partly of iron. So it would seem that “rusty head”, which implies the oxidation of iron, may be a more appropriate nickname for redheads than “carrot top,” which would mistakenly suggest that beta-carotene causes red hair. I guess my Grandpa Leo had it right when he affectionately called me rusty head while gently giving me a noogie.

Does this mean that redheads need more iron in their diet to produce more red hair? Something to ponder. Good dietary sources of iron include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, leafy green vegetables, soy, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas. Animal protein sources of iron tend to be more absorbable than vegetarian sources of iron. It's not recommended to take iron supplements unless a blood test confirms that you are low and a doctor recommends it.

Also, there is yet another gene that Europeans may have inherited from the Vikings that causes a condition called hemochromatosis. It causes people to retain iron, which can be very dangerous. If you are a redhead AND you have hemochromatosis, you probably have too much iron, actually almost an endless supply to produce the "red" in your hair. Doctors recommend that those with this condition donate blood regularly to help maintain normal iron levels.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Redheads, Postpartum Hemorrhage, and Bruising

How many of you female redheads have visited the gynecologist and were told that you bleed more easily, have more fragile or less elastic tissue, or are at risk for postpartum hemorrhage? I have been told all of these by my gynecologist and my physical therapist. But when you ask where they have heard this information, they are unlikely able to cite a source or a scientific study.

Like anesthesiologists who observed for many years (until it was scientifically proven) that redheads have a lower pain threshold, the redheads and postpartum hemorrhage observation is only anecdotal at this point. Currently, there are no scientific studies conducted to prove that female redheads are at risk for postpartum hemorrhage; however, it is common in practice for gynecologists, obstetricians, obstetric nurses and midwives to warn redheads that they are predisposed to postpartum hemorrhage. Often OBGYN manuals at birthing centers inform medical staff to take special precautions for natural redheads who are in labor. An article in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health mentions that risk factors for hemorrhage were criteria for intravenous hydration (IVH) during labor and that natural redheads are at risk for hemorrhage. In Peggy Vincent’s Baby Catcher, an appendix entitled “Pearls of Wisdom” simply states “Redheads bleed” with no explanation or source. The scientific accuracy of this topic is often debated on online chat message boards such as Midwifery Today Forums, and It should be noted that other risk factors for postpartum hemorrhage include: prolonged third stage of labor, preeclampsia, mediolateral episiotomy, previous postpartum hemorrhage, multiple gestation, arrest of descent, maternal hypotension, coagulation abnormalities (see the Redhead Bruising Phenomenon below), lacerations of the cervix/vagina/perineum, Asian or Hispanic ethnicity, delivery with forceps or vacuum, augmented labor, nulliparity/multiparity, and polyhydramnios.

To be cautious and to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, all women especially redheads, should optimize their nutritional status prior to and during pregnancy by eating well and by taking high quality prenatal supplements, preferably supplements that are research-based and have pharmaceutical grade manufacturing practices. A colleague of mine, Julie Matthews conducts classes on holistic nutrition for pregancy and conception and has some information on her website at Healthful Living. Redheads should also have blood work that checks their blood coagulation (see more info below), and their practitioners should not rush delivery of the placenta.

For more information about painful intercourse, please see Redheads and Pain.

The Redhead Bruising Phenomenon

How many of you have had a boyfriend who told you that you bruise like a banana? Only me? Dr. Edwin Liem, who previously studied redheads and pain, has once again stepped up to the plate for redheads to test whether they bruise more easily.

Dr. Liem’s predecessors, Reid and Trotter, observed that the blood of redheaded males takes slightly longer to coagulate than the blood of dark-haired males, but both groups remained within the normal range. This study was conducted in 1973, and blood coagulation tests have since improved.

Dr. Liem recruited female volunteers aged 18-40 of comparable heights and weights with bright red hair and dark black or brown hair. Each volunteer completed a questionnaire about their bruising history and were given blood coagulation tests. Seven out of 25 redheads reported a history of easy bruising versus only 2 of the 26 dark-haired volunteers. There were no significant differences in the blood coagulation tests between the volunteers. The conclusion was that if red hair is associated with bruising, the abnormalities are subtle and not detected by commonly used blood coagulation tests.

However, it should be noted that the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), whose function may be compromised in redheads, appears on endothelial cells which are a vital part of the lining of the blood vessels. This malfunctioning receptor also appears on immune cells which contribute to anti-inflammatory processes during the blood clotting process. It remains unknown whether the malfunctioning MC1R compromises the structural integrity of the skin or blood vessels or compromises anti-inflammatory response during blood clotting, but it is possible that these theories may help to explain the observed “Redhead Bruising Phenomenon” that 7 out of 25 redheads (and my ex-boyfriend) report.