Seems that when we ponder the question of whether our inner diva is more saint vs sinner – aka Betty Cooper vs Veronica Lodge or Jackie O vs Marilyn Monroe – we also need to keep in mind that our natural hair hue reveals a lot about our health. That’s because the same genes that determine whether you are blonde, brunette or a redhead also decide your medical profile. For instance, natural blondes are more susceptible to skin cancer, brunettes are more at risk for nicotine addiction and redheads have an increased sensitivity to pain. Which sounds mean and prejudiced but is actually your body’s way of protecting you by giving visible warnings of the dangers ahead. So, learn to listen and combat your colour chart.
If you are a blonde
Protect your eyes: The fairer your hair, the greater your risk of developing macular degeneration – the eye disease that can lead to blindness. So, protect those peepers with sunglasses, regular eye exams and an eye-healthy diet rich in dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Cover up your skin: We all know that a fair complexion ups your chances of skin cancer. But researchers at Harvard now say that fair hair is a high-risk factor as well. That’s because blondes produce less melanin – the stuff that gives skin its colour and helps shield it from harmful UV rays. This makes their skin (especially their scalps) more sensitive to sun burns, sun damage and melanoma. The preventive? Load up on sunscreens that shield against both UVA and UVB rays. And always wear a hat when you’re in direct sunlight.
If you are a brunette
Hold on to your hair: Experts estimate that one in four American women experience hair loss and a majority of them – more than 60 percent – are brunette. That’s because brown tresses tend to have fewer hair follicles and fewer hair follicles mean a greater risk of hair loss. As if that wasn’t enough, brown hair is also usually thicker and coarser than red or blonde strands. Which means that when brown hair follicles die, they leave behind more noticeable bald patches. You can’t change genetics but you can stave off hair thinning by eating right: load up on foods high in iron, like oatmeal, broccoli and raw spinach to help promote hair growth. Or talk with your doctor about taking an iron supplement.
Stub out that cigarette: Excess melanin makes hair brown. It also prevents your liver from metabolising nicotine. And the longer nicotine in your system, the faster you become addicted. The fix? Don’t smoke! Need to boost your body’s ability to metabolise? Vitamin C-rich foods (like oranges, broccoli and peppers) help promote better liver function.
Mind the acne: “Brunettes tend to have oilier skin than blondes or redheads, which means they’re more prone to acne outbreaks,” says celebrity trichologist Philip Kingsley. But there is good news as well – oily complexions are generally slower to show signs of ageing. Keep those spots at bay by drinking plenty of water, having a healthy diet and using products specially formulated for oily skin.
Prep for pain: Researchers at Louisville University in Kentucky have found that people with red hair are more sensitive to pain than blondes and brunettes, to the extent that they may need 20% more anesthetic during surgery. That’s because the “ginger gene” – known as MC1R – stimulates a brain receptor that is related to pain sensitivity. But don’t let that keep you from getting good oral care or partaking of a bikini wax: talk to your dentist about pain management or take 500 milligrams of ibuprofen an hour before the appointment.
Look out for Parkinson’s: A Harvard study concludes that redheads are nearly 90% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. That’s because ruby hair is a result of a hereditary DNA mutation – and it’s the same gene mutation that causes this illness. On the plus side, research shows that folic acid may slow the progress of Parkinson’s. So, get yours from beans, nuts and lentils.
Be wary of blood pressure: The same MC1R gene can also cause faulty production of anti-stress hormones. And the inability to manage stress is a major cause of high blood pressure (seriously, how much mischief can a pesky little gene create?), so voila! The next time you feel like you’re going to lose your call, munch on an apple. German researchers recently discovered that the quercetin in apples can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.