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Could high blood pressure be linked to slavery?

A MEDICAL expert who has conducted studies in the Caribbean and London has suggested that the turmoil of the Atlantic slave trade could have played a role in African-Caribbean people having a higher chance of developing hypertension.

Dr. Damien Cohall, a lecturer in Pharmacology at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Barbados campus, first explained his theory last year while presenting a talk called Cardiovascular Diseases: The Trans-Atlantic Journey at a seminar in Barbados.

Cohall suggests that the poorly ventilated and overcrowded conditions of the slave ships forced the kidnapped Africans, who later became slaves, to adapt to the humid squalid conditions in order to survive the horrific passage from Africa to the West Indies.

He told the seminar that the trauma of these conditions caused slaves to develop a higher prevalence of low renin, a protease produced by the kidneys that is integral to the body’s regulation of sodium.

He said that a low renin state meant that the body retained more salt, meaning that people of African descent were at a higher risk of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

Cohall said that his studies of African-Caribbean people in the UK also showed they have a higher incidence of strokes and end stage renal failure than whites.

According to Cohall, the adaptation to harsh social and economic conditions made by slaves have become a trademark of African-Caribbean people across the diaspora.

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