You must have heard that redheads handle their alcohol better than others. While there isn’t some rock-solid evidence, there have been several reports of alcohol resistance in redheads. This may be attributed to MC1R gene mutation, the genetic twist responsible for the signature red hair color of gingers. This is because this gene might also be responsible for handling other bodily functions, one of them being the metabolism of alcohol.
In this blog, we will dive into the science of this superstition, discussing current scientific knowledge and theories and exploring the validity behind this claim.
Understanding Alcohol Tolerance
Alcohol tolerance is the body’s way of adapting to repeated alcohol consumption. In simple terms, it means that if you drink alcohol regularly, your body might need more of it over time to feel the same effects you used to feel with smaller amounts.
Our genes play a big role in how our bodies handle alcohol. Some people’s genes make enzymes that break down alcohol more efficiently, so they might need more alcohol to feel drunk. Others might have genes that lead to slower alcohol breakdown, making them feel drunk faster.
Cracking the Code: The MC1R Gene
You must be well aware of melanin, the pigment in our bodies responsible for our skin color. Well, it is not just the skin getting the color from melanin, but also your hair and eyes. The factory unit that produces melanin inside your body is called melanocytes. These factories have a receptor on their walls called melanocortin 1 receptor. This receptor regulates things like how much melanin will be produced, what type it will be, and when it will be released.
The MC1R gene encodes a receptor that controls the type and amount of melanin produced. This receptor determines whether eumelanin (which results in darker colors) or pheomelanin (which contributes to lighter colors) is synthesized. And in redheads, this receptor is slightly different, producing the red color we associate with gingers.
People with certain MC1R variations, including those with red hair, might experience altered responses to pain and possess a different sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Let’s find out how the changes in genes cause varied responses to pain, drugs, and alcohol among redheads:
Research has shown gingers experience pain differently than other individuals. In medical practice, the doses for pain medications are often downsized as gingers experience pain 20-30% less than other people. But they may be more prone to different stimuli like heat and cold.
For this reason, some people might associate their increased pain tolerance with increased alcohol tolerance as well. However, a consistent link is yet to be established.
Response to Drugs
Redheads are often given different dosages of drugs than other individuals, especially in anesthesia. Some studies claim redheads have lower levels of the enzyme ADH (Alcohol dehydrogenase) and ALDH (Aldehyde dehydrogenase) in their bodies.
These enzymes are responsible for metabolizing alcohol in the body, converting it into excretory products which can be easily removed from the body. Lower levels of these enzymes mean you are more likely to experience hangovers and headaches and stay intoxicated for a more extended period.
5 Factors that Affect Alcohol Tolerance in Redheads
Every individual is different; while there may be a trend of redheads being more tolerant of alcohol, only you know your limit. Various factors influence your ability to handle alcohol. Some examples to help you better understand this are:
Older adults who consume alcohol in a controlled amount have a higher tolerance than young adults, as their bodies adapt over time.
Women generally exhibit lower alcohol tolerance compared to men. This discrepancy is mainly attributed to differences in factors like body composition, metabolism, and the body’s alcohol-processing mechanisms.
3. Body Size
People with greater body mass have higher alcohol tolerance. The idea is simple; more alcohol is needed for the larger body to achieve higher blood alcohol concentration.
If you’re suffering from a genetic condition, it may affect your ability to tolerate alcohol. For example, some people have mutations in their ADHB1 gene, making them more resistant to getting drunk.
People from different ethnic groups have different tolerance levels; Asians have lower alcohol tolerance due to a slightly different variation of the ALDH2 gene.
Besides these factors, there are other things that you can control, like the type of beverages you consume. Drinks with lower alcohol content can be a great alternative, allowing you to have a good time without going overboard.
Exploring Alternatives for Responsible Drinking
We suggest the following alternatives to help you moderate your alcohol intake.
The standard beer only contains around 5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), and a regular light beer, with an ABV of about 3%, is a decent choice if you want to go even lower. You can also order these the next time you’re at the bar: Light Lager, Guinness Draught, Pilsners, and Heineken Light.
Most light wines fall in the range of 6-12% ABV, considerably more than beer – a good choice if you want your drink to carry more punch. Rieslings, Moscato, Pinot Noir, and Beaujolais, are popular options with low ABV to look out for on the menu next time you dine out.
If the taste is what you’re after, cocktails indeed can be your savior. There is so much to choose from. A good old spritzer, a refreshing shandy, or a mojito might just save you from the hangover the next day while you’re out with your friends.
If you wish to avoid alcohol entirely, scout for other options on the menu; there will be plenty of options to choose from in the non-alcoholic beverages section. Do not let social pressure dissuade you from enjoying what you are comfortable with.
While there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that redheads are more tolerant of alcohol, there is evidence they process drugs differently. So, more research is needed to establish a link. However, with so many intricacies involved in one’s alcohol tolerance, it is best to use your experience with alcohol to gauge your limits.
Remember to always drink responsibly and avoid drinking excessively due to myths like redheads are more tolerant of getting drunk. Alcohol poisoning is a serious medical condition, and if you think someone around you needs help, contact emergency services immediately.
I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.