Biohistory of slavery and blood pressure differences in blacks today. A hypothesis

Hypertension. 1991 Jan;17(1 Suppl):I122-8. doi: 10.1161/01.hyp.17.1_suppl.i122.


Genetic factors are known to play an important role in the variations in blood pressure levels. However, genetic factors that explain the higher average blood pressure levels of western hemisphere blacks when compared with African blacks have not been seriously considered. Because the genetic makeup of a population is largely determined by biological and ecological forces in the past, an examination of the biohistory of blacks, specifically the slavery era, was conducted. An overview of the salient findings of that investigation is included in this article. The published historical evidence on the transatlantic slave trade and New World slavery (from the 16th century to the 19th century) reveals that conditions existed for "natural selection," and therefore, genetic changes were virtually inevitable in the slave populations. During this period of history, mortality was extremely high, and fertility (or reproductive success) was so low among the survivors that most plantation societies in the western hemisphere depended on a constant importation of captives (over 12 million) from Africa for the viability of the plantation communities. Because the major causes of death were salt-depletive diseases such as diarrhea, fevers, and vomiting, it is argued that individuals with an enhanced genetic-based ability to conserve salt had a distinct survival advantage over others and were, therefore, more likely to bequeath their genotype to subsequent generations of Western hemisphere blacks. Thus, it is predicted that blacks in the Americas have a greater frequency of individuals with an enhanced genetic-based ability to conserve salt than African blacks.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blacks / history*
  • Blood Pressure*
  • Cause of Death
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / chemically induced
  • Hypertension / genetics
  • Hypertension / history
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mortality
  • Sodium Chloride / metabolism
  • United States


  • Sodium Chloride