Staffan Lindeberg (1950-2016) and His Legacy

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 in 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.

About Pedro Bastos, MS (PhD candidate)

Pedro Bastos, MS (PhD candidate)Pedro Carrera Bastos is a Portuguese researcher and PhD candidate in Nutrition at Lund University, Sweden (under the supervision of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, author of the famous Kitava Study.) Pedro holds an MSc in Human Nutrition and Post-Graduate Diplomas in Functional Nutrition, Exercise and Health and Clinical Nutrition.

Professionally he is Director of Education at NutriScience (a Portuguese and Spanish nutrition education company), and lectures extensively about Nutrition and Functional Medicine in Europe, the USA and Latin America. He is best known for being an expert on the effects of Dairy in Human Health and for being the first author of the scientific paper "The Western Diet and Lifestyle and Diseases of Civilization", with Prof. Cordain as the senior author.

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“6” Comments

  1. Hi Mr Bastos

    I am Nancy Elliot, 26 and from Kitava Island.
    I was not born yet, when he was with my parents living at our home whilst doing his research.

    He was more than a friend to my Dad, they treated each other like biological brothers.

    I wish he should come back and visit again, but so unfortunately that he didn’t.

  2. He was there living with my parents while doing his research. I never get to meet him,but my two older brothers were in their childhood,he treated them like his real nephews.

    I was only six months in my moms tummy,during his research.
    I had seen all his belongings left behind with my parents as a memory,and I tried my very best to see him,which did not work out..

    I am sadly realising that he has passed away.
    May your soul rest in peace.

    thank you
    (Daughter of Champion Elliot)

  3. If he was eating a Paleo diet, I wonder if he drank coffee. My brother died at 52 from pancreatic cancer but he ate a very SAD diet full of insulin raising carbs plus he drank a LOT of coffee and smoked. That was in 1996. The food my brother craved when he was sick was steak which he loved to grill because at that time the current diet information that doctors were handing out was to avoid saturated fats, which my sister-in-law adhered to quite faithfully, and he said he missed meat the most. She too got cancer; of the breast. So it is a shock that this doctor died from it as well, following a Paleo diet.

  4. I was very happy to shake Staffan Lindeberg’s hand at the 2015 nutrition conference in London.

    What you wrote about him here is quite heartening Pedro 🙂

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