The Hypertension Pandemic: An Evolutionary Perspective

Physiology (Bethesda). 2017 Mar;32(2):112-125. doi: 10.1152/physiol.00026.2016.


Hypertension affects over 1.2 billion individuals worldwide and has become the most critical and expensive public health problem. Hypertension is a multifactorial disease involving environmental and genetic factors together with risk-conferring behaviors. The cause of the disease is identified in ∼10% of the cases (secondary hypertension), but in 90% of the cases no etiology is found (primary or essential hypertension). For this reason, a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling blood pressure in normal and hypertensive patients is the aim of very active experimental and clinical research. In this article, we review the importance of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) for the control of blood pressure, focusing on the evolution of the system and its critical importance for adaptation of vertebrates to a terrestrial and dry environment. The evolution of blood pressure control during the evolution of primates, hominins, and humans is discussed, together with the role of common genetic factors and the possible causes of the current hypertension pandemic in the light of evolutionary medicine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology*
  • Hypertension / genetics
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Pandemics*
  • Potassium, Dietary / metabolism
  • Renin-Angiotensin System*
  • Sodium, Dietary / metabolism


  • Potassium, Dietary
  • Sodium, Dietary