I was shocked and saddened to hear that Staffan Lindeberg (MD, PhD) recently passed away. Staffan was one of the leading scientists in the Paleo/ancestral health field and helped spearhead the research on evolutionary nutrition. I consider him to be one of the founding fathers of the ancestral health movement. I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, so I obviously can’t give a detailed account of what kind of man he was. That said, I’m very familiar with his work, and I’ve also had some brief e-mail exchanges with him over the years.
My impression is that Staffan was a kind, gracious man who had a lot of integrity. Unlike many other researchers and explorers, he was not overly protective of his work. I got the impression that he didn’t care much about fame or glory. His primary concern wasn’t that he got credited and acknowledged for his work, but rather that the message about Paleo and evolutionary health promotion got out to the public, and that the science underlying these concepts became stronger and more robust every year.
He allowed me to share and freely use the photographs he had taken during his visit to the Island of Kitava back in 1989, and when I asked whether it may be possible for me to do a PhD at his research institute, he was more than happy to put me in touch with people who may be able to make that happen.
I don’t know much about the circumstances surrounding his passing except that I heard he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a couple of months ago, and died shortly thereafter. I don’t want to speculate about the details of his death, and to be honest, I don’t really care that much how he died. I would much rather celebrate his life!
A great scientist has left us
Dr. Lindeberg was a great researcher, and one of the very first people to recognize the power of Darwinian medicine and evolutionary health principles. He possessed many of the traits that characterize a great scientist. Among other things, he was cautious and smart. He gradually built his knowledge base via science, and didn’t make grand statements unless they were supported by solid evidence.
He is probably best known for the Kitava study, a landmark study within the evolutionary health field that I’ve talked a lot about here on the blog. What is sometimes forgotten, though, is that his work extends far beyond the Island of Kitava.
Studies examining the health and physical fitness condition of non-westernized people (e.g., the Kitava study) have clearly shown us that the natural, evolved state of Homo sapiens is one of leanness and good physical health. However, these observations and findings are not sufficient to persuade the skeptics that ancestral health principles should be incorporated into clinical medical practise and be used to guide the development of public dietary guidelines. The skeptics need to see hard data derived from controlled clinical trials before they consider changing their minds, and even then, they may be resistant to budge.
Staffan Lindeberg knew this. He knew that most researchers and medical professionals wouldn’t take the whole ancestral health thing seriously before several RCTs had been conducted. Moreover, he knew that one should be very cautious about drawing causal conclusions from the Kitava study and other similar studies. In my mind, there is no doubt that one of the key reasons the Kitavans are so healthy is that they eat a very healthy diet. However, other factors, such as sun exposure, genetics/epigenetics, and physical activity levels, undoubtedly contribute as well. Finally, Dr. Lindeberg knew that clinical trials needed to be carried out to establish how industrialized people respond when they are put on an ancestral diet and/or lifestyle.
So, he set out to do these trials. Over the past decades, Dr. Lindeberg didn’t just write several review papers on evolutionary health promotion, but he also spearheaded the clinical research in this area. Together with his research group at Lund University, Sweden, he has conducted several clinical trials on Paleolithic nutrition. We can largely thank him and his colleagues for the fact that the Paleo diet today has a solid foundation of clinical research to stand on.
Besides conducting studies and writing scientific papers, Dr. Lindeberg also wrote a book, entitled Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend doing so. I also recommend that you check out some of the articles and videos below, which give a broad overview of Staffan’s work.
His research: A selection of papers and studies
- A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease
- Agrarian diet and diseases of affluence – Do evolutionary novel dietary lectins cause leptin resistance?
- Evolutionary health promotion
- Paleolithic diets as model for prevention and treatment of Western disease
- Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century
- Dietary Shifts and Human Health: Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in a Sustainable World
Are Western Diseases Normal?
Evolutionary aspects of nutrition
Food and Western Disease
Thanks for all the excellent work you did, Staffan Lindeberg. You will not be forgotten!