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Better Off Red

Posted on 2/23/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Scotland is home to about 650,000 redheads, all of whom naturally create more vitamin D than their blonde and brunette counterparts.

Question: What’s the real reason why Scotland is home to so many redheads?

Answer: They can produce their own vitamin D

Globally, less than 2% of people have red hair—however in Scotland, the portion of redheads falls somewhere between 6 to 13%. Why is that so? Some might think it’s because of the long line of Vikings who settled in the British Isles, which is partly true, but the real reason behind this rarity is rooted in science.

Those with crimson-colored hair have a sort of genetic superpower that allows them to produce their own vitamin D more efficiently. Absorbed through sunlight, vitamin D is essential for ensuring healthy bones, teeth, nervous system, and immune system. When redheads go outside, it takes a shorter amount of time and less sun exposure for them to begin to manufacture their own vitamin D. In places like Scotland where the climate is cold and gray, this ability gives them a genetic advantage compared to those with other hair colors.

Hundreds of years ago during the days of the Vikings, having red hair was actually an evolutionary edge for surviving long, cold winters. Because of this vitamin advantage, they would be less likely to have conditions like rickets as children and would be more likely to beat illnesses and have strong bones for bearing children. This natural strength helped them to survive and pass on their red-haired genes.

Recently, Scotland launched a DNA project to count all of the redheads in the country, and their research showed there are about 650,000 individuals—or about one in eight people. In addition, researchers estimate that as many as 1.6 million Scots carry the red-haired gene. In order for one to be born a natural redhead, both parents need to carry this recessive gene. Edinburgh boasts the highest concentration of red-haired gene carriers out of the entire world, making it the redhead capital of the globe.

Although red hair is frequently associated with Scotland, Ireland, and England, people of color can also be born with natural red hair. For example, places like Morocco and Central Asia have higher proportions of redheads. In fact, some research suggests that the first redheads were from the Steppes of Central Asia more than 100,000 years ago. It was caused by a mutation in the M1CR gene which caused hair to turn red, but in return, this mutation is what allowed red-haired folks to be more efficient at absorbing much-needed UV light. These pioneers from Central Asia eventually migrated throughout Europe and to the British Isles during the Bronze Age.

Science shows that given the small percentage size of the recessive red hair gene out of the world’s population, it could at some point become extinct. Also, with climate change causing warmer conditions throughout the world, redheads in places like Scotland someday might not need to absorb as much Vitamin D as previously needed. For now, redheads continue to be genetic anomalies with a secret gift for thriving in winter.

A Few More Fun Facts about Scotland:

  • Along with redheads, Scots are also more likely to have blue eyes than the rest of the population in the United Kingdom.

  • Scotland is world famous for its single malt whisky, scotch; however, this famed drink was not invented here. The distillation of grains to make whisky was first done in the early 1400s in Ireland, and the name whisky comes from the Old Irish term “uisce beatha” which means “the water of life.”

  • Scotland is comprised of more than 900 different islands, divided up into the Inner Hebrides, Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, and Shetland Islands. Some of these isles contain ancient ruins and the remains of Viking settlements.

  • The game of golf was developed in Scotland, and the ancient golf club St. Andrews remains as the game’s world governing body. It’s been played on the island since the Middle Ages, while the Old Course at St. Andrews dates back to the mid-1500s.

  • The Scotland-England soccer rivalry is the oldest in the world because the first international soccer game was played between the two in Scotland in 1872.

  • There are three different official languages in Scotland—English, Scottish Gaelic, and Scots. Scottish Gaelic is an ancient Celtic language mostly spoken in the Highlands and Hebrides, and Scots is a Germanic language closely related to English. Some argue that Scots is a dialect, not a separate language.

  • Haggis, Scotland’s famed national dish, has been eaten since ancient times. The meal is made from offal (internal organs) from sheep along with oatmeal, onions, and spices. It has actually been banned from import into the United States since the 1970s because of its ingredients.

Scotland’s one-of-a-kind culture and traditions come to life during our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure.

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