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Staffan Lindeberg (1950-2016) and His Legacy

By Pedro Bastos, M.S. (Ph.D. candidate)
February 22, 2017
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Dr. Staffan Lindeberg was a pioneer of the Paleo Diet® as well as a wonderful colleague and friend. The following tribute was written by his Ph.D. student Pedro Bastos. Dr. Lindeberg would have been 67 today (February 22nd.)

Dr. Staffan Lindeberg was a Swedish physician, who, like Prof. Loren Cordain, got hooked in Evolutionary Medicine when he first read Drs. Eaton and Konner’s now classic paper (‘Paleolithic nutrition: a consideration of its nature and current implications’) published in 1985 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. One of the things that caught his attention in that paper was a note on the absence of chronic degenerative diseases among hunter-gatherers. He began searching the scientific literature for more data on the health of traditional populations and eventually stumbled upon the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea, where so called “western diseases” were apparently rare. Convinced by the famous Swedish archaeologist Göran Burenhult, Dr. Lindeberg conducted a field study in one of those islands, Kitava, where he found a near absence of common western diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, despite a significant proportion of elderly. This became his PhD thesis and the results of this groundbreaking work can be found here.

His Kitava study along with the data from various other studies has led him to conclude that the western diet and lifestyle were the main causes of chronic degenerative diseases, such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases. He compiled that evidence in his masterpiece book ‘Food and Western Disease.’ However, his scientific and skeptical mind was not at rest, so he dedicated the latter years of his career planning and conducting dietary intervention studies to see if his theories were correct. Those studies can be found here, here and here.

This was a characteristic of Staffan: a very open-minded and curious man, but with a healthy dose of skepticism. I will always remember him saying to me after I have presented my theories with detailed mechanistic explanations to support it: “Pedro, that is a very nice story. Now, let’s see if it is true.”

Staffan was not only an extraordinary scientist, to whom the “Paleo” community owes a great deal, but a great human being, whose life was centered around four pillars:

  1. Science. He believed that ego and science cannot co-exist and that every argument is valid and should be put to the test. He also believed in not withholding any data. He was a fan of open access and a proponent of always sharing one’s data with the scientific community so that others could pursue further research. Thankfully, his research team at Lund University, led by Dr. Tommy Jönsson, is following up on Staffan’s work.
  2. Family and friends. He was a devoted husband, father, uncle and grandfather and the best friend you could find.
  3. His patients. He was a caring physician obsessed with how to prevent and cure typical diseases that caused so much suffering.
  4. Music. He was an accomplished musician who until his death continued to sing and play various instruments;

For me, Staffan was not only a wise and highly intelligent Professor and supervisor who has taught me how to be a scientist, but above all a mentor, a great friend, and an example of humility, integrity, tolerance, and kindness (even in the face of adversity.) He continues to inspire me to become a better human being.

Thank you very much Staffan! You will be deeply missed.

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