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Am J Public Health. 1992 December; 82(12): 1681–1686.
PMCID: PMC1694537

The slavery hypothesis for hypertension among African Americans: the historical evidence.


The slavery hypothesis for hypertension has stated that the high blood pressures sometimes measured in African Americans are caused by one or more of these conditions: first, salt deficiency in the parts of Africa that supplied slaves for the Americas; second, the trauma of the slave trade itself; third, conditions of slavery in the United States. A review of the historical evidence shows that there was no salt deficiency in those parts of Africa, nor do present-day West Africans have a high incidence of hypertension. Historical evidence does not support the hypothesis that deaths aboard slave ships were caused mainly by conditions that might be conductive to hypertension, such as salt-depleting diseases. Finally, the hypothesis has depended heavily on evidence from the West Indies, which is not relevant for the United States. There is no evidence that diet or the resulting patterns of disease and demography among slaves in the American South were significantly different from those of other poor southerners.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Blackburn H, Prineas R. Diet and hypertension: anthropology, epidemiology, and public health implications. Prog Biochem Pharmacol. 1983;19:31–79. [PubMed]
  • Luft FC, Rankin LI, Bloch R, Weyman AE, Willis LR, Murray RH, Grim CE, Weinberger MH. Cardiovascular and humoral responses to extremes of sodium intake in normal black and white men. Circulation. 1979 Sep;60(3):697–706. [PubMed]
  • Wilson TW. History of salt supplies in West Africa and blood pressures today. Lancet. 1986 Apr 5;1(8484):784–786. [PubMed]
  • Steckel RH, Jensen RA. New evidence on the causes of slave and crew mortality in the Atlantic slave trade. J Econ Hist. 1986;46(1):57–77. [PubMed]
  • Curtin PD. African health at home and abroad. Soc Sci Hist. 1986;10(4):369–398. [PubMed]

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