Document Type


Publication Date

January 1991


Natural selection for electrolyte conservation has likely been the norm throughout human evolutionary history. However, the current patterns of excessive dietary salt intake create the potential for salt overload. Under these conditions, hypertension may be considered an expected pathological response to an evolutionarily new constraint. The transatlantic Middle Passage may have created a genetic bottleneck for salt conservation in African-Americans. Although the initial consequences of this important historical event probably constricted genetic variability and further magnified the potential for salt-sensitive hypertension, the Middle Passage undoubtedly also served as a more generalized major source of environmental stress and may have stimulated subsequent hereditary diversity in the survivors of this holocaust and their descendants. Accelerated rates of mutation, genetic recombination, and transposable genetic elements in conjunction with enhanced opportunities for gene flow, new selective pressures, and drift have all contributed to the tremendous heterogeneity of contemporary African-Americans. It is unlikely that a single genetic event, even of the severity of the Middle Passage, can account comprehensively for the apparent susceptibility of this macroethnic group to high blood pressure and hypertension.

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