‘Genes Matter’ When Evaluating Higher Hypertension Rates Among Blacks, Letter to the Editor Says
The "controversy surrounding the 'slave trade' hypothesis for hypertension ... should not cloud the fundamental reality that genes matter," Mehmet Oz, a physician, writes in a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times in response to a recent opinion piece (Oz, Los Angeles Times, 5/24).
Osagie Obasogie -- director of the project on bioethics, law and society at the Center for Genetics and Society -- recently wrote in a Times opinion piece that the "slave trade" hypertension theory suggests "slaves who survived the food and water deprivation, dysentery and vomiting endemic on [their] grueling voyage had a genetic predisposition to retaining sodium." According to Obasogie, this "is believed to have loaded the African-American gene pool with genes favoring salt retention, which in turn, generates high blood pressure." Obasogie called the theory "dubious" and said it is "questionable at face value." Obasogie stated, "What's so pernicious about this 'bad gene' theory is that it attributes current health disparities to actions taken nearly four centuries ago, when the more relevant issue may very well be what is happening today," such as the effect of stress on blacks (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 5/17).
Oz writes that "we routinely mistreat segments of the population because of our inability to identify genetic clues to effective solutions," adding, "Many experienced clinicians treat blacks and whites with hypertension differently because they appreciate this difference, especially in salt sensitivity."
Oz writes, "Environmental issues are indeed prominent drivers of the disparate rates of hypertension among African-Americans," but Obasogie's "belief that 'reducing health disparities to genes obscures more sensible conversations' is erroneous" (Los Angeles Times 5/24).