Wilbur Scoville and the Organoleptic Test Centennial

By Dave DeWitt

[Author’s Note: The year 2012 marks the Centennial Anniversary of the Scoville Organoleptic Test, so I decided to apply all my food history online research skills that I’ve honed over the past five years to create what is the first definitive—however brief—biographical essay on Scoville. Fortunately, the combination of Google Books, Google Scholar, and other online resources proved successful and at least now we know quite a bit more about Professor Scoville’s professional life. His personal life remains shrouded in mystery.]

Wilbur Scoville as a Young Man

I seriously doubt that Wilbur Scoville ever imagined that he would be most remembered for his Scoville Organoleptic Test that was the first attempt ever to quantify the heat of chile peppers, in 1912. He probably had convinced himself that he would be most famous for authoring The Art of Compounding in 1895, which is now in its ninth edition, a facsimile, published in 2010. Although he was interested in chile peppers, he didn’t write much about them, preferring to focus on even more bizarre chemicals like the cantharides in Spanish fly.


A pharmaceutical chemist, college professor, magazine editor, laboratory director, and author, Wilbur Lincoln Scoville was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1865. We know little about his early life except that his involvement with pharmacy began in 1881 when, at the age of fourteen, he worked at a drug store owned by E. Toucey in Bridgeport. This apparently influenced him greatly for in 1887, he moved to Boston to attend the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He graduated in 1889 with a Ph.G. (“Graduate of Pharmacy”) and married Cora B. Upham in Wollaston, Massachusetts in 1891. They had two daughters together, Amy Augusta, born August 21, 1892 and Ruth Upham, born October 21, 1897. In 1892 he accepted the position of professor of pharmacy and applied pharmacy at his alma mater, where he taught until 1904. He also took on specialized journalism, becoming editor of the New England Druggist in 1894.

After just three years on the college faculty, when he was just thirty years old in 1895, his best-known work, The Art of Compounding, was published. The book was used as a standard pharmacological reference up until the 1960s. The subtitle of the book, A Text Book for Students and a Reference Book for Pharmacists at the Prescription Counter, gives us a clue as to why the book was so popular—there were two markets for it. I found a copy of this book in Google Books, and here are two notable quotes that I discovered. Scoville was one of the first, if not the first person to suggest in print that milk is an antidote for the heat of chiles. “Milk, as ordinarily obtained,” he wrote, “is seldom used except as a diluent [diluting agent]. In this capacity it serves well for covering the taste of sharp or acrid bodies as tinctures of capsicum, ginger, etc., and for many salts, chloral, etc.”

And he was insightful into the process of drug addiction as well as the addicts themselves. “The renewal of prescriptions is also a question for individual judgment,” he wrote. “In the majority of cases renewals are expected and granted, on demand, but occasions sometimes arise where a single vial-full is all that is needed or advisable. The notion that a medicine “can do no harm, if it does no good,” is in most cases erroneous, sometimes very decidedly so.” Then Scoville gets down to the real nitty-gritty: “Moreover, the pharmacist should remember that such conditions as are found in opium or cocaine habitues (not to say drunkards), often originate in the use of a prescription containing one of these drugs in some form, originally prescribed for a legitimate purpose, but renewed from time to time until the habit is established.” Early Oxycontin, anyone?

In 1897, he resigned as editor of the New England Druggist and the following year accepted the position of pharmacy editor of The Spatula, the journal-cum-magazine of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. It was called “The Illustrated Monthly Publication for Druggists,” and carried ads for Clifford’s Moustache Wax, Parke, Davis & Company’s Pure, Uncolored Insect Powder, and the Clean Font Modern Nursing Bottle, among others for industry products like drug bottles. The magazine was a chatty, informative publication featuring articles about new products, notable druggists, drug laws, and a bit of gossip. During his time there and beyond, from 1900 to 1910, Scoville was on the committee to revise the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and he chaired that committee during his final year on it. He also worked on revising the National Formulary and was a staunch advocate of pharmacy standards.

Scoville had a lively, inquisitive mind and did studies on the extracts of witchhazel and cinchona, and he wrote an article entitled “Some Observations on Glycerin Suppositories.” In 1903, his article “Standards for Flavor Extracts” was published in the American Journal of Pharmacy and it proved that Scoville was part of the same debates we have today over natural versus artificial flavors. A review of his article appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and the reviewer had this to say about it: “Professor Scoville points out that flavoring extracts are not all used for the same purposes, that, of those who use them, few are good judges of quality. He who ‘lives to eat,’ the epicure, demands the very best of flavoring, not in the so-called ‘extracts’ only, but in the flavoring and seasoning of all of his dishes. He who ‘eats to live,’ the non-epicure, he whose sense of taste has not been carefully educated, and is not infallible, will allow to pass unnoticed a heavy or even a coarse flavor, or an inharmonius flavoring of the various dishes composing his meal.” At this point in his article, Scoville discussed a situation that modern home bakers still face: “One will insist upon having a vanilla extract made from the best Mexican beans, while the other will be satisfied with an extract prepared from Tahiti or Vanillon beans, or from some combination of these with vanillin, tonka, or cumarin. The difference between these flavoring agents is not one of wholesomeness, but one of taste. If the public finds that the distinction between vanilla and vanillin is too subtile for the average discrimination, and that vanillin holds its flavor better in cooking, why should the epicure object to the non-epicure enjoying it?'”

In 1904, Scoville resigned from the college, and Benjamin Lillard, editor of The Practical Druggist, had this to say about it: “Professor Wilbur L. Scoville, who has been known for many years as a prominent professor in the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, has resigned his position and accepted a berth with a large firm of Boston retailers owning four stores. It is unfortunate that the independent colleges are not in position to pay larger salaries and keep men of Professor Scoville’s ability.” Scoville was director of the Jaynes Analytical Laboratory, just purchased by the Riker drug stores, where for $2.50 per patient, his staff performed urine analyses. And he was continuing to publish articles in theAmerican Journal of Pharmacy, like “Aromatic Elixir” in the April, 1904 issue.

But commercial laboratory work didn’t last long. Scoville was recruited by one of The Spatula’sadvertisers, Parke, Davis & Company in 1907 and moved his family from Boston to Detroit. The Bulletin of Pharmacy, published in Detroit, had this to say about Scoville’s hire: “In a great house like Parke, Davis & Company, Professor Scoville will have ample opportunity to utilize his varied abilities to the utmost.” And one of those abilities—his work with Heet, a muscle salve manufactured by the company he had just joined—would make him famous.

Heet was made with chile peppers and the problem was standardizing the type and the amount of chiles that needed to be added to the other ingredients of Heet to standardize the formulation and avoid burning the skin of the person using it. Scoville was assigned to solve this problem, which took a few years due to his other duties. In the earliest reference to his work on chiles, the American Journal of Pharmacy noted in 1911: “Wilbur L. Scoville presented a Note on Capsicum, showing the great variation in the strength of capsicum, and suggesting the possibility of the pungency of this drug being used as a simple test for quality. This paper elicited some discussion in the course of which it was pointed out that the physiological test for capsicum was infinitely more delicate and more reliable than the similar test that has been proposed for use in connection with aconite.”

At the American Pharmaceutical Association annual meeting in Denver in 1912, Scoville presented a paper on his solution to the Heet problem: the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Albert Brown Lyons, writing in Practical Standardization by Chemical Assay of Organic Drugs and Galenicals (1920), explains. “It is quite possible to form a reasonably ‘exact judgment’ of the ‘strength’ of a sample of the drug [capsaicin] by the simple expedient of testing its pungency. W. L. Scoville proposes the following practical method. Macerate 0.1 gm. of ground capsicum overnight in 100 mils of alcohol; shake well and filter. Add this tincture to sweetened water (10% sugar) in such proportion that a distinct but weak pungency is perceptible to the tongue or throat. According to Scoville official capsicum will respond to this test in a dilution of 1 : 50,000. He found the Mombassa chilles to test from 1 : 50,000 to 1 : 100,000; Zanzibar chillies, 1 : 40,000 to 1 : 45,000; Japan chillies 1 : 20,000 to 1 : 30,000. Nelson found that a single drop of a solution of capsaicin in alcohol 1 : 1,000,000, applied to the tip of the tongue produced a distinct impression of warmth.”

“Organoleptic” means using the sense organs for taste, color, aroma, and feel to evaluate a food or drug and Scoville’s worked because the flavor was not important, just the perceived pungency. Scoville used a panel of tasters who kept sampling the mixture of chiles and sugar water until the pungency was gone. At that point the amount of dilution, such as one to fifty thousand, made gave the chile a heat level of 50,000 SHU, or Scoville Heat Units. Of course today, this tedious, expensive, and subjective test has been replaced by chromatography, but in 1912, this was breakthrough technology. As a result, Scoville’s career blossomed.

Scoville in 1907

In 1913, Scoville was elected second vice-chairman of the American Pharmaceutical Association and read his paper “Tincture of Cantharides and its Assay” at the annual meeting. Years later, he would be nominated as president of the association but withdrew his name because he was too busy working on revising the National Formulary. In 1918, his bookExtracts and Perfumes was published. It was a pharmacology study containing hundreds of formulations. The book, published in hardcover, sold for one dollar. In 1922, Scoville won the Ebert Prize from the American Pharmaceutical Association; the prize, established in 1873, is the oldest pharmacy award in existence in the United States and is awarded to the best essay or written communication containing an original investigation of a medicinal substance in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In 1929 he received the Remington Honor Medal, the American Pharmaceutical Association’s top award “to recognize distinguished service on behalf of American pharmacy during the preceding years, culminating in the past year, or during a long period of outstanding activity or fruitful achievement.” Scoville also received an honorary Doctor of Science from Columbia University the same year.

At the age of 69, Scoville retired from Parke, Davis in 1934. The company had this to say about him, probably written by Frank G. Ryan, the president, writing in Modern Pharmacy but covered in theJournal of the South Carolina Medical Association: “Three or four years ago, in the gradual development of our scientific staff, we secured the services of Professor Wilbur L. Scoville, a pharmacist well known to the country and a man preeminent in the field of what has been termed pharmaceutical elegance. Professor Scoville may well be considered an artist in questions concerning odor, flavor and appearance of galenicals. The first task assigned to Professor Scoville was to go systematically and patiently through our entire line of elixirs—regardless of what other workers had done before him, and regardless of what changes were under consideration at the time. He was given carte blanche to go ahead and suggest any modification and improvements which seemed to him necessary.”

Wilbur Lincoln Scoville died in Detroit in 1942 at the age of 77.



Anon. “Review of Standards of Flavoring Extracts, by Wilbur Scoville.” “Pharmaceutical Chemistry,”
Journal of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 25 (1903), 570.
Anon. “Professor Scoville Joins Parke, Davis and Company.” Bulletin of Pharmacy, Vol. 21. Detroit: E.G. Swift, 1907, 496.
Anon. “Westward a Star of Pharmacy Takes His Way.” The Druggists Circular, Vol 51 (December). New York: The Circular, 1907, 799.
Anon. “Elixirs Deluxe.” Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association. Volume 7 (Feb., 1911), 73-74.
Anon. “Section on Scientific Papers.” American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 83 (1911), 440.
Anon. “Minutes of the Section of Scientific Papers.” Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 1, 1912, 1204.
Brainard, Homer Worthington. A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America: Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy. Privately Printed, 1915.
Lillard, Benjamin. Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, Volumes 13-16. Lillard & Co., 1904.
Lyons, Albert Brown. Practical Standardization by Chemical Assay of Organic Drugs and Galenicals.Detroit: Nelson, Baker, 1920, 238.
Marquis, Albert Nelson. Who’s Who in New England, Vol. 1. A.N. Marquis, 1909.
Scoville, Wilbur L. The Art of Compounding. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, Son, 1895.
Scoville, Wilbur L. “Tincture of Cantharides and its Assay.” Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 2, 1913, 18-22.
Scoville, Wilbur L. “Tincture of Cantharides.” National Druggist, Vol. 48, February, 1918, 57.
Worthen, Dennis B. “How Hot is Hot? Scoville’s Test for Heat of Peppers Marked an Early success for Pharmacist Research.” Pharmacy Practice News, Vol. 36:08, August, 2009, online at http://www.pharmacypracticenews.com/ViewArticle.aspx?d=Pharmacy+Heritage&d_id=206&i=August+2009&i_id=553&a_id=13683
Also Consulted:
NNDB, the Notable Names Database.
Wilbur Lincoln Scoville on Facebook.

There surely must be something really healthy in using apple cider vinegar, since historical records suggest that even The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, used it back in around 400 B.C. for its health giving qualities. Apple cider vinegar is made from fresh ripe apples that are fermented and undergo a stringent process to create the final product. The vinegar contains a host of vitamins, beta-carotene, pectin and vital minerals such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, chlorine, sulfur, iron, and fluorine. All the much-talked about organic apple cider vinegar health benefits are attributed to the presence of these very nutrients that it is laden with.

•It contains a significant amount of pectin in it, and therefore this vinegar is known to help in regulating blood pressure and reducing bad cholesterol in the body.

•It extracts calcium from fruits, vegetables and meat, when used salad dressing or to
marinate meat, and thus contributes in the development and strengthening of bones and teeth.

•Apple cider vinegar is loaded with potassium, and therefore it is used for the treatment of a variety of ailments including hair loss, weak finger nails, brittle teeth, sinusitis, and a permanently running nose.

•With its potassium content, it is known to tackle the problem of stunted growth which can be attributed to potassium deficiency. The potassium in this vinegar also helps in eliminating toxic waste from the body.

•The beta-carotene in it helps in countering damage caused by free radicals, helping one maintain firmer skin and a youthful appearance.

•Apple cider vinegar is good for those who want to lose weight, as it helps in breaking down fat to facilitate natural weight reduction.

•The vinegar contains malic acid which is helpful in fighting fungal and bacterial infections. This acid dissolves uric acid deposits that form around joints, and help in relieving joint pains. (The dissolved uric acid is eventually eliminated from the body.)

Research claims that it is helpful in ailments such as constipation, headaches, arthritis, weak bones, indigestion, high cholesterol, diarrhea, eczema, sore eyes, chronic fatigue, mild food poisoning, hair loss, high blood pressure, obesity, along with a host of many other ailments. No wonder then many know apple cider vinegar as the ‘Wonder Drug’.­


Mathis, Kevin. “Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar,” Buzzle.com


Capsaicin, the stuff that turns up the heat in jalapeños, [and Brother Bru Bru’s contains Habañero peppers which have WAY more capsaicin than Jalapeño or Tabasco peppers] not only causes the tongue to burn, it also drives prostate cancer cells to kill themselves, according to studies published in the March 15 issue of Cancer Research.

According to a team of researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in collaboration with colleagues from UCLA, the pepper component caused human prostate cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death or apoptosis.

Capsaicin induced approximately 80 percent of prostate cancer cells growing in mice to follow the molecular pathways leading to apoptosis. Prostate cancer tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of tumors in non-treated mice.

“Capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture,” said Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., visiting scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA School of Medicine. “It also dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumors formed by those human cell lines grown in mouse models.”

Lehmann estimated that the dose of pepper extract fed orally to the mice was equivalent to giving 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times a week to a 200 pound man, roughly equivalent to between three and eight fresh habañero peppers – depending on the pepper’s capsaicin content. Habañeros are the highest rated pepper for capsaicin content according to the Scoville heat index. Habañero peppers, which are native to the Yucatan, typically contain up to 300,000 Scoville units. The more popular Jalapeño variety from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the southwest United States, contains 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units.

As described in their study, the scientists observed that capsaicin inhibited the activity of NF-kappa Beta, a molecular mechanism that participates in the pathways leading to apoptosis in many cell types.

Apoptosis is a normal cellular event in many tissues that maintains a balance between newer replacement cells and aged or worn cells. In contrast, cancer cells seek to be immortal and often dodge apoptosis by mutating or deregulating the genes that participate in programmed cell death.

“When we noticed that capsaicin affected NF-kappa Beta, that was an indication that we might expect some of the apoptotic proteins to be affected,” said the study’s senior author, Phillip Koeffler, M.D., director of Hematology and Oncology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and professor at UCLA.

The pepper extract also curbed the growth of prostate cancer cells through regulation of androgen receptors, the steroid activated proteins that control expression of specific growth relating genes.

In prostate cancer cells whose growth is dependent on testosterone, the predominant male sex steroid, capsaicin reduced cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner. Increased concentrations of capsaicin caused more prostate cancer cells to freeze in a non-proliferative state, called G0/G1.
Prostate cancer cells that are androgen independent reacted to capsaicin in a similar manner. Capsaicin reduced the amount of androgen receptor that the tumor cells produced, but did not interfere with normal movement of androgen receptor into the nucleus of the cancer cells where the steroid receptor acts to regulate androgen target genes such as prostate specific antigen (PSA). Capsaicin also interfered with the action of androgen receptors even in cells that were modified to produce excess numbers of androgen receptors.

The hot pepper component also reduced cancer cell production of PSA, a protein that often is produced in high quantities by prostate tumors and can signal the presence of prostate cancer in men. PSA content in the blood of men is used as a diagnostic prostate cancer screening measure. PSA is regulated by androgens, and capsaicin limited androgen-induced increases of PSA in the cancer cell lines.

More men in the United States develop prostate cancer than any other type of malignancy. Every year, more than 232,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the U.S., and more than 680,000 develop the disease worldwide. Approximately 30,000 men die from prostate cancer in the U.S. each year, which is about 13 percent of all new cases. Worldwide, there are 221,000 deaths – approximately 31 per cent – among men with prostate cancer.

Lehman conducted the studies in Koeffler’s laboratory in collaboration with UCLA cancer researchers Akio Mori, James O’Kelly, Takishi Kumagai, Julian Desmond, Milena Pervan, and William McBride. Mosahiro Kizaki, a former post-doctoral fellow in Koeffler’s laboratory who initiated the capsaicin studies, is currently at the Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.
American Association for Cancer Research

Russell Vanderboom, Ph.D.
215-440-9300 ext. 120

Capsaicin Comparison ~ Scoville Units
Jalapeño 2,500 ~ 8,000
Tabasco 30,000 ~ 50,000
Habañero 150,000 ~ 575,000

By Marvin J. Wolf

When my nephew was born in a Seoul suburb, my Korean in-laws decorated their front door with a cluster of bright red chili peppers, a neighborhood announcement that a son had been born to their household.

But why chili peppers? Some Koreans say the peppers’ phallic shape is the message and, as a bonus, folk wisdom says peppers eaten regularly enhance male potency.

Others, especially those acquainted with Korea’s corps of herbalists and Chinese Medicine Practitioners, say that because a diet that includes chili peppers ensures a long and healthy life, the door decorations symbolize a wish for a healthy, robust child.

It’s no secret that Korean food is often very spicy, especially kimchi, the national dish. At least one of this fiery condiment’s many varieties is served with virtually every meal. And every one is loaded with the fiery seeds and ribs of red chilis.

The complex chemical substance that gives chilis their bite is capsaicin, arguably  nature’s most health-enhancing herb. Applied topically in a cream, capsaicin soothes sore muscles, the aches of rheumatism and the pain of bruises. Ingested
it becomes a wonder drug, lowering blood pressure, releasing brain endorphins, speeding up lipid (fat) metabolism, improving digestion, acting as a gentle laxative, reducing cholesterol—just a few of the long list of its beneficial effects.

And recently, scientists at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and their UCLA Medical School colleagues, observed that capsaicin causes human prostate cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death or apoptosis.

In studies using human cells implanted in mice, Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., a visiting scientist at Cedars-Sinai and the UCLA, concluded that capsaicin not only retards the growth of human prostate cancer cells, it also slows the development of prostate tumors.

Dr. Lehmann’s study also showed that the growth of both kinds of prostate cancer cells—those dependent on testosterone for growth and those that don’t—is frozen.

That’s right: Eat enough chili peppers and your prostate cancer cells commit suicide.

As it happens, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, a result, my doctors think, of my exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. So how many peppers do I have to eat to get rid of my cancer?

Well, Pilgrims, that depends on what kind of peppers. Jalapeños, like those used in many popular hot sauces, or tabascos, from which the most popular hot sauce takes its name, have a fair amount of capsaicin. But neither can hold a candle to a tiny, heart-shaped orange pepper called the habañero. That one nears the top of the Scoville heat index, which measures capsaicin content.

Which is why when I make my extended-family-famous T‘n’T chili (turkey and tofu, patent pending, no explosive qualities) I don’t use Tabasco. Instead, I throw in a couple of finely minced habañeros.

Lehmann estimates that his lab mice ingested capsaicin in amounts equivalent to a 200 lb man eating between three and eight fresh habañero peppers a week.

That’s a lot of fire to swallow. As I recently discovered, there’s an even more delicious way to get capsaicin down the hatch: Brother Bru-Bru’s African Hot Pepper Sauce. Made with habañeros, it’s four-alarm hot. I’ve started using it in my chili and a dozen other dishes; my daughter and her Korean-American cousins can’t get enough of it.

And Brother Bru-Bru’s has NO salt. So those with hypertension or other reasons for a low-sodium diet can safely satisfy their quest for fiery food.

Brother Bru-Bru’s is available in health food and specialty stores in all 50 states and, west of the Rockies, in Whole Foods Markets. It may also be ordered from www.brobrubru.com. A portion of company profits go to help provide clean water for African villages.

November is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

Zero – The Project to End Prostate Cancer

10 G Street NE, Suite 601
Washington, DC 20002
(888) 245-9455
(202) 463-9455
(202) 463-9456 Fax

Screenwriter and author Wolf is based in Los Angeles and is working on a mystery novel.

Young and healthy African-American men were found to silently develop hypertension earlier than their white counterparts, according to a new study. How blood pressure is measured may be the key to early detection. Central blood pressure, in the aorta near the heart, not brachial pressure, in the artery of the arm, may be the key to screening, the study found.

Young and healthy African-American men have higher central blood pressure and their blood vessels are stiffer compared to their white counterparts, signs that the African American men are developing hypertension early and with little outward sign, according to a new study. While the study found that central blood pressure — the pressure in the aorta, near the heart — was higher in the African-American men, the study found no difference in brachial blood pressure — measured on the arm — between the two groups.

Taken together, the findings suggest that hypertension (high blood pressure) may be developing undetected in young African-American men and that measuring central blood pressure may be a better means of detecting the problem as it develops.

“Central blood pressure holds greater prognostic value than conventional brachial blood pressure as central pressure more aptly reflects the load encountered by the heart,” the authors explained. “Thus, brachial blood pressure may neglect important information on cardiovascular burden and response to therapy in African-American men.”

The study, “Racial differences in central blood pressure and vascular function in young men” was carried out by Kevin S. Heffernan, Sae Young Jae, Kenneth R. Wilund, Jeffrey A. Woods and Bo Fernhall, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The study appears online in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, published by The American Physiological Society. Dr. Heffernan has since moved to Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Dr. Jae is also affiliated with the University of Seoul.

‘Silent killer’

African-American men have higher levels of hypertension than white men. Hypertension is known as the silent killer because it can develop without the individual knowing it. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. In 2002, hypertension was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for 277,000 Americans.

The University of Illinois researchers hypothesized that the blood vessels of the black men would show greater dysfunction than the white men, even though both groups were young and equally healthy and fit. The vascular damage they looked for included stiffening and thickening of the blood vessels. These conditions result in pulsatile (not smooth) blood flow (and at higher pressure) to organs. The pressure can damage the organs over time.

Both Groups Healthy

The study included 55 young men, 30 white and 25 African-American. Most were university seniors. The average age was 23. There were no differences between the groups on a variety of measures, including heart rate, cardiorespiratory fitness, body mass index, body fat, blood lipids and glucose levels.

The researchers measured vascular function in a variety of ways, including:

• aortic blood pressure and stiffness
• brachial blood pressure
• carotid artery blood pressure
• carotid artery thickness and stiffness

They found the African-American men had similar brachial blood pressure, compared to the white men, but they had significantly higher:

• Central blood pressure, a measure of the pressure found in the artery, near the heart. The researchers used an instrument that takes blood pressure at the wrist and then calculates the central blood pressure.
• Carotid artery pressure. The carotid artery runs through the neck.

The African-American men, unlike the white men, also showed signs of early vascular damage that could lead to hypertension. For example, they had:

• Thicker carotid arteries, a sign of vascular damage that is usually found in older individuals and associated with atherosclerosis.
• Stiffer arteries, which are associated with high blood pressure. When the heart beats, blood flows through stiff arteries at greater speed and pressure. Elastic arteries provide a smoother blood flow and help prevent damage to organs receiving the blood and place less stress on the heart.
• Less change in diameter of the arteries when the heart beats, another measure of vascular stiffness. A healthy artery is more elastic will change in size as the blood flows through with each beat of the heart.

“Although having a similar cardiovascular risk factor profile as young white men, diffuse macrovascular and microvascular dysfunction is present at a young age in apparently healthy African American men,” the authors wrote. “Values seen are comparable to values often reported in older individuals or individuals with more advanced hypertensive disease,” they said.

These results do not shed light on why this happens to young and fit African-American men, Heffernan said. There may be environmental differences, such as differences in diet, which were not examined as part of this study, he said.

A fuller audio interview with Dr. Heffernan is available in Episode 15 of the APS podcast, Life Lines, at http://www.lifelines.tv.

Funding: American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function to create health or disease. The American Physiological Society (APS) has been an integral part of this scientific discovery process since it was established in 1887.


American Physiological Society (APS)

Blood pressure normally rises and falls. When the blood pressure is elevated over time, it is called high blood pressure. Any person can develop hypertension, which is the technical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure measures the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels when the heart contracts to pump blood and when the heart rests between beats. In people with hypertension, the tension within the blood vessels is greater, which makes the heart work harder.

Hypertension has been called the “silent killer” because it can cause damage to many body organs without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, vision problems and even death.


African Americans and people of African descent in the United Kingdom have among the highest rates of hypertension of any race or ethnic type in the world.1

35% of African Americans have hypertension, which accounts for 20% of the African American deaths in the United States – twice the percentage of deaths among whites from hypertension.1

Compared with whites, hypertension develops earlier in life and average blood pressures are much higher in African Americans.2

African Americans with high blood pressure have an 80% higher chance of dying from a stroke than in the general population.2

African Americans with high blood pressure have a 20% higher chance of developing heart disease than in the general population.2

African Americans with high blood pressure have a 4 times greater risk of developing hypertension related end stage kidney disease than the general population.2

1 CDC, National Center for Health Statistics.

2 “The Puzzle of Hypertension in African Americans,” Scientific American.


Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower an already elevated blood pressure.

Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarians, in general, have lower blood pressure levels and a lower incidence of hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Experts postulate that a typical vegetarian’s diet contains more potassium, complex carbohydrates, polyunsaturated fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin A, all of which may have a favorable influence on blood pressure.


A high-fiber diet has been shown to be effective in preventing and treating many forms of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension.
The type of dietary fiber is important. Of the greatest benefit to hypertension are the water soluble gel-forming fibers such as oat bran, apple pectin, psyllium seeds, and guar gum. These fibers, in addition to be of benefit against hypertension, are also useful to reduce cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, chelate out heavy metals, etc.

Take one to three tablespoons of herbal bulking formula containing such things as oat fiber, guar gum, apple pectin, gum karaya, psyllium seed, dandelion root powder, ginger root powder, fenugreek seed powder and fennel seed powder.


Sucrose, common table sugar, elevates blood pressure. Underlying mechanism is not clearly understood. It is possible that sugar increases the production of adrenaline, which in turn, increases blood vessel constriction and sodium retention.

Take a diet that is rich in high potassium foods (vegetables and fruits) and essential fatty acids. Daily intake of potassium should total 7 grams per day. The diet should be low in saturated fat, sugar and salt. In general, a whole food diet emphasizing vegetables and members of the garlic/onion family should be consumed.

In an NIH sponsored research called “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH),” researchers tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. The results showed that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasized fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and was low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. The DASH diet included whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It employed reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages.

Reduce Salt and Sodium in Your Diet

A key to healthy eating is choosing foods lower in salt and sodium. [Brother Bru Bru’s has 0 mg Sodium.] Before the widespread availability of medication to control high blood pressure, people with serious hypertension had only one treatment option, a drastically salt-reduced, low-calorie “rice diet.” Some people can significantly lower their blood pressure by avoiding salt.

Studies show that people in countries that use a great deal of salt in their cooking tend to have higher blood pressures than people in countries that use little salt. For example, the Japanese, whose cuisine is among the saltiest in the world, also have the highest blood pressure; and so do Americans. Americans take it for granted that blood pressure will rise as we age. But in countries with low per-capita salt intake, blood pressure does not rise significantly after puberty. For example, blacks in Africa, who typically eat a low-salt, high-fiber diet, have relatively low blood pressure, but for African-Americans, just the opposite is true. Nearly 50 percent of all African-Americans have high blood pressure, often beginning early in life.

Excessive consumption of dietary sodium chloride (salt), coupled with diminished dietary potassium, induces an increase in fluid volume and an impairment of blood pressure regulating mechanisms. This results in hypertension in susceptible individuals.

A high potassium-low sodium diet reduces the rise in blood pressure during mental stress by reducing the blood vessel constricting effect of adrenaline. Sodium restriction alone does not improve blood pressure control; it must be accompanied by a high potassium intake.

Most of us consume more salt than we need. NIH recommends limiting the sodium consumption to less than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams [mg] ) of sodium a day. That equals 6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of table salt a day. The 6 grams include ALL salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking and at the table. Recent research has shown that people consuming diets of 1,500 mg of sodium had even better blood pressure lowering benefits. So, your doctor may advise eating less salt and sodium if you are suffering from high blood pressure. The lower-sodium diets also can keep blood pressure from rising and help blood pressure medicines work better.

In a clinical study, researchers looked at the effect of a reduced dietary sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH diet or a typical American diet. Results showed that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for both the DASH diet and the typical American diet. The biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits were for those eating the DASH diet at the lowest sodium level (1,500 milligrams per day). This study showed the importance of lowering sodium intake in your diet.

Watch what you eat. Do not add additional salt to your food. If you have high blood pressure, avoid eating certain highly processed, overly salted foods, such as frozen pizza, canned salted vegetables, meals from fast-food restaurants, and the like.

Beneficial Vegetables and Spices for Hypertension

A number of common vegetables and spices have beneficial effects in controlling hypertension. Incorporate these into your cooking. Alternately, you can make a tea or a vegetable soup.

Celery (Apium graveolens). Oriental Medicine practitioners have long used celery for lowering high blood pressure. There are some experimental evidence that shows that celery is useful for this. In one animal study, laboratory animals injected with celery extract showed lowered blood pressure. Eating as few as four celery stalks was found to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure in human beings.

Garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic is a wonder drug for heart. [Brother Bru Bru’s is loaded with Garlic.] It has beneficial effects in all cardiovascular system including blood pressure. In a study, when people with high blood pressure were given one clove of garlic a day for 12 weeks, their diastolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels were significantly reduced. Eating quantities as small as one clove of garlic a day was found to have beneficial effects on managing hypertension. Use garlic in your cooking, salad, soup, pickles, etc. It is very versatile.

Onion (Allium cepa). Onions are useful in hypertension. What is best is the onion essential oil. Two to three tablespoons of onion essential oil a day was found to lower the systolic levels by an average of 25 points and the diastolic levels by 15 points in hypertension subjects. This should not be surprising because onion is a cousin of garlic.

Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum). Tomatoes are high in gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a compound that can help bring down blood pressure.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea). This vegetable contains several active ingredients that reduce blood pressure.

Carrot (Daucus carota). Carrots also contain several compounds that lower blood pressure.

Saffron (Crocus sativus). Saffron contains a chemical called crocetin that lowers the blood pressure. You can use saffron in your cooking. (It is a very popular spice in Arabic cooking.) You can also make a tea with it. Many Indians add a pinch of saffron in the brewed tea to give a heavenly flavor. Unfortunately, it is very expensive.

Assorted spices
Spices such as fennel, oregano, black pepper, basil and tarragon have active ingredients that are beneficial in hypertension. Use them in your cooking.


Gluten seems to be the food ingredient non grata these days. Bakers are coming up with recipes for gluten-free cupcakes and baguettes. Anheuser-Busch sells Redbridge, a gluten-free beer made from sorghum. And, of course, times being what they are, you can easily slip into an Internet swirl of blogs and Twittering about gluten-free foods. It’s not just talk: cash registers are ringing. By some estimates, the sales of gluten-free foods have tripled since 2004.

Gluten-free food has become more popular partly because doctors are diagnosing more cases of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms are triggered by gluten, the protein content in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt (an ancient form of wheat that’s catching on as a health food). Celiac specialists say the disease isn’t diagnosed as often as it should be. As a result, many people suffer with it for years, often after getting other — and incorrect — diagnoses and useless treatments.

But a growing number of the people dodging gluten fall into a gray area: they don’t have celiac disease but seem to be unable to digest gluten properly. There are no tests or strict criteria for this problem, aside from simple trial and error with a gluten-free diet. Often people self-diagnose. It’s hard to know what’s going on. Some people may be getting caught up in a food fad. But many others probably do have a real problem digesting gluten or perhaps the sugars in some of these grains, a condition akin to the lactose intolerance that makes it hard for many people to digest dairy foods. Their problem is not as well-defined or well-understood as celiac disease but they have a problem nonetheless.

There’s a third group of gluten-free converts: people who are blaming gluten for a wide range of medical conditions, not just gastrointestinal distress. For example, there’s a fairly loud Internet “buzz” about autistic children improving once they’re on a gluten-free diet.

There’s good, solid evidence of an overlap between celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders, particularly type 1 diabetes. And celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders sometimes have neurological effects — peripheral neuropathy, for example, which involves nerve damage that results in numbness and pain.

But based on what is currently known, it’s a big leap to attributing autism and other problems to gluten, and an even bigger one to prescribing gluten-free eating as a treatment. It’s possible that some people benefit from a gluten-free regimen for reasons that have less to do with gluten and much more to do with the structure involved in planning and sticking to such a strict eating plan.

Misreading the situation

Gluten is an imprecise term that shifts meaning depending on the context. Gluten comes, not surprisingly, from the Latin word for glue, and cookbooks define it as the protein-based substance that makes dough resilient and stretchy. If you’re making bread, you want gluten in the dough, so that when it’s baking the walls of the little air pockets formed by yeast expand but don’t burst open. But if you’re making cookies or a pie crust, you want to keep the gluten content of the dough and batter low. Otherwise, your results will be tough and gummy.

In the context of celiac disease, gluten refers to the protein of grains capable of provoking an autoimmune response. Other grains also contain protein, but wheat, barley, rye, and spelt contain varieties that aren’t broken down by digestive enzymes. In wheat, the difficult-to-digest protein is gliadin; in rye, it’s secalin; and in barley, hordein.

These proteins don’t faze the guts of most of us. But in people with celiac disease, when they get absorbed into the walls of the small intestine, the immune system misreads the situation, views them as intruders, and unleashes a furious inflammatory response that damages tissue (see illustration). The inside of a normal, healthy small intestine is carpeted with millions of fingerlike projections called villi that produce digestive enzymes and soak up nutrients. The misguided immune response triggered by the gluten proteins sometimes attacks these villi, so they lose their slender shape and become short and stubby, even flat. When that happens, the villi produce fewer digestive enzymes and absorb fewer nutrients.

Symptoms — classic and non

The classic and most immediately noticeable symptoms of celiac disease are, not surprisingly, gastrointestinal: bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea, sometimes with smelly stools. People who can’t digest gluten or grain sugars may have similar symptoms.

Celiac disease can severely impair the absorption of nutrients. In children, this may lead to stunted growth; in adults, the consequences include anemia (because iron isn’t being absorbed) and weaker bones (because calcium and vitamin D aren’t getting into the body). Anemia causes fatigue and malaise, but some people with celiac disease feel that way without anemia.

Doctors sometimes miss the celiac disease diagnosis because they’re looking for the classic gastrointestinal symptoms, not the vaguer ones that stem for the most part from malabsorption of nutrients.

One major difference between celiac disease and grain-related digestion problems is that when it’s just a digestion problem it typically doesn’t lead to malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies.

Women with untreated celiac disease have higher-than-normal rates of menstrual abnormalities and infertility. A large study published in 2007 found an increased risk of pancreatitis in people with celiac disease. It’s not clear whether a cause-and-effect relationship can be inferred from these associations or if celiac disease and these conditions happen to be consequences of a shared, common cause.

According to some research, several of the nongastrointestinal conditions associated with celiac disease might be caused by an overabundance of antibodies that the immune system churns out, especially those it produces in response to an enzyme in the small intestine called tissue transglutaminase. The antibodies travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Perhaps the clearest example of one of these antibody-related symptoms is a skin condition, dermatitis herpetiformis, which causes itchy red bumps. Less certain is whether the anti–tissue transglutaminase antibodies might get into the brain and cause neurological problems, such as loss of muscle control (ataxia).

A blood test and a biopsy

Compared with other autoimmune disorders (such as Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis), the diagnosis of celiac disease is pretty straightforward. In the United States, the issue has been getting doctors to consider the celiac diagnosis as a possibility. That’s changing. For example, the guidelines for irritable bowel syndrome were revised to include testing for celiac disease.

The diagnosis begins with a blood test for the antibodies generated by the immune response that gluten provokes. Tests exist for several different types of antibodies, but the one for the antibodies against the tissue transglutaminase enzyme is the most reliable and accurate. If the blood test is positive, the next step is biopsy of tissue from the small intestine to see if the villi have been damaged. Collecting the biopsy involves snaking an endoscope — a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the tip — down the throat and through the digestive tract and snipping out small pieces of tissue that can be examined under a microscope.

Dr. Daniel Leffler, a celiac disease expert at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says the biopsies show, on average, that over 90% of people with positive antibody tests and celiac symptoms have intestinal damage, and the presumption is that they have celiac disease. But if the biopsy shows a lack of intestinal damage, that usually rules out celiac disease as a diagnosis.

In people with symptoms, judging whether there’s a favorable response to a gluten-free diet isn’t difficult: the turnaround from illness to health can be quite dramatic. But Dr. Leffler notes that many — indeed, perhaps most — people with a positive antibody test and intestinal damage do not have symptoms or have atypical ones that are subtle and vague. These patients raise some important questions. Is this a case of test results in need of a disease, rather than the other way around? And from the patient’s perspective, why bother with a diet that’s inconvenient — despite the growing number of choices — and expensive if you don’t have symptoms?

Celiac disease experts have a three-part answer. First, if doctors and patients were more aware that problems like anemia and fatigue can be traced back to celiac disease, they’d see that a gluten-free diet improves these symptoms. Second, if symptoms are subtle, so might be the improvement. Third, like many so-called silent diseases, celiac disease may not have showy symptoms, but if left alone, it may result in serious problems down the line related to poor nutrition. And some data suggest that the risk of developing other autoimmune conditions (including thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease) may be related to how long someone with celiac disease has been eating gluten.

The super six

We’re often too quick to depend on pills instead of first working to change our diet and exercise habits. But with celiac disease, there’s no pill, and a fairly radical change in diet is the only treatment. Ironically, doctors who treat celiac disease lament the lack of pharmaceutical industry involvement. Drug companies have started to take some interest in the disease, and treatments that would block the absorption of gluten are being investigated, but none so far are close to gaining FDA approval.

Gluten-free eating is a two-way street: getting the gluten out while bringing in healthful — and palatable — alternatives. Some foods are obviously made with wheat and the other gluten-containing grains. Conventional bread, bagels, pizza — they’re out if you have celiac disease. But until you need to avoid gluten, you probably don’t realize how ubiquitous it is. Gluten is used as a thickening agent and filler in everything from ketchup to ice cream. The inactive ingredients in many medications are gluten-based. And even when gluten isn’t an ingredient, it may inadvertently get into a food because a wheat-based food was processed in the same factory, or wheat was grown in a nearby farm field. At home, wooden utensils and toaster ovens are gluten “hot spots.” Oats don’t contain gluten, but many people with celiac disease avoid them because of contamination problems.

The gluten-free diet has traditionally depended on starch from rice, corn, and potatoes. Food makers have also learned how to use xanthan and guar gums to replace gluten’s elasticity: a common complaint about gluten-free baked goods is that they are powdery. But these formulations can also leave diets short of fiber and B vitamins. Melinda Dennis, the nutrition coordinator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Celiac Center, encourages patients to eat foods made with unconventional but nutritionally well-rounded substitutes, including amaranth, buckwheat (no relation to wheat), millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff. She calls them the “super six” because of their high vitamin and fiber content.

Eating out is one of the biggest issues for people with gluten problems, says Dennis. Vegetables get contaminated because they are steamed over pots of pasta water. Fish and chicken are floured to hold seasonings. But many restaurants are beginning to offer gluten-free items. And there are some celiac-friendly cuisines, even if they are not overtly gluten-free. Dennis put Ethiopian (which uses teff), Indian, Mexican, and Thai in that category.

Harvard Health Letter, June 2009

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, a strategy that has proved quite effective in lowering blood pressure. The diet involves consuming less salt and fat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It’s low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and includes poultry, fish, and nuts, but includes much less red meat and fewer sweets and sugared beverages than most Americans are accustomed to consuming. Another version of the DASH diet limits sodium intake. [And Brother Bru Bru’s has 0 mg Sodium.]

By following the DASH diet, you should be able to pare 5.5 to 11.4 points off your systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) and 3 to 5.5 points off your diastolic pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading). Research also suggests that the diet reduces blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid that may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.

The DASH diet gives you 2,000 calories a day divided among 4 to 5 daily servings of vegetables, 4 to 5 servings of fruits, 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy products, 7 to 8 servings of grain products, and only 2 small servings of meat. You’re also allowed 4 to 5 small servings of nuts, beans, or seeds per week

Other strategies for lowering blood pressure are losing excess weight, exercising regularly, and reducing daily stress through meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or biofeedback.

The diet I recommend in my book Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being is similar to the DASH diet with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and natural anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and ginger. Both are similar to the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, crusty breads, whole grains, and olive oil as well as more fish and legumes and less meat and poultry than the typical Western diet contains. Whether you’re trying to lower blood pressure or simply eat well, you can’t go wrong with the DASH diet, or with the alternatives mentioned above.

Andrew Weil, M.D.