Is there a link?
The potential connection between having red hair and having an increased risk for Parkinson's disease has been debated for many years. Data across all studies has not been conclusive but has raised the possibility. Another new study raises the possibility of a connection.
People with a specific gene known as the MC1R gene tend to have red hair. Some studies have suggested that certain MC1R gene variants may have a risk for Parkinson's disease. When researchers recently engineered mice with a defective form of the MC1R gene, they found that the mice developed changes in the same region of the brain known to be affected in Parkinson's disease (called the substantia nigra). The mice also developed movement problems.
While this research again calls into questions whether some people with red hair are at risk for Parkinson's disease, the final answer is still not here yet. The research does, however, suggest that promoting normal MC1R signalling in patients with Parkinson's could provide a treatment strategy.
Chen et al. The melanoma-linked "redhead" MC1R influences domaminergic neuron survival. Annals of Neurology. 2017.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Vancouver office at 604.283.9299