Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye, Staffan Lindeberg

A photo Staffan sent me, showing him 
weighing a Kitavan man as part of the 
Kitava Study.
I recently heard the sad news that Staffan Lindeberg, MD, PhD, lead researcher of the Kitava Study, has died.

Staffan was a dedicated researcher and physician at Lund University in Sweden whose work was inspired by the evolutionary health principle.  After reading Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner's seminal 1985 paper on Paleolithic nutrition, in Staffan's words, "it gradually dawned on me that John Harvey Kellogg, a vegetarian zealot, had more influence on dietary advice than Charles Darwin had" (Staffan Lindeberg. Food and Western Disease. 2010).  Long before it was en vogue, he adopted a Paleo-style diet and saw his own chronic disease risk factors, such as body weight and blood pressure, decline.

Shortly thereafter, Staffan organized the Kitava Study-- an investigation into the diet and health of one of the few remaining cultures scarcely touched by industrialization.  Although Kitavans weren't hunter-gatherers by any stretch of the imagination, they did eat a starchy diet free of grains, dairy, refined sugar, refined oils, and all processed foods.  In a series of papers, Staffan reported that the Kitavans showed undetectable levels of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and stroke-- even in old age.  He went on to conduct randomized, controlled trials on the Paleolithic diet, demonstrating that it can reduce chronic disease risk factors in a Western context.  He published an overview his findings in a book, Food and Western Disease.

Staffan's findings were an important counterpoint to the claim that high-carbohydrate diets are fattening and drive chronic disease.  Here we had high-quality evidence that a lifelong diet of 70 percent unrefined carbohydrate and only 20 percent fat could be consistent with lean and often muscular bodies, and a low risk of the most common diseases that afflict us today.

Over the years, Staffan has been very generous with me, sending me photos of the Kitava Study for my talks, conducting an interview for The Hungry Brain and then reviewing chapter 1, and exchanging scientific ideas.  I always appreciated his curiosity and skepticism.

I'm sure the circumstances of his death will be discussed ad nauseam inside and outside the Paleo community.  I don't find these types of discussions very informative so I won't be participating.  If Staffan were here, he would probably point out that what we need isn't more anecdotal evidence, but more research into the connection between diet and health.

19 comments:

Unknown said...

Agreed, he was a great man and researcher.RIP.

microkat said...

So sad and premature. Thanks for the eulogy.

Roland Denzel said...

Seems like a fine man who did good work. I'm glad you got to talk and work with him.

Douglas said...

What were the conditions of his death?
How old was he?

Debbie said...

So sorry to hear this. What a nice man and his work was important to us all.

RIP Staffan.

Robert Andrew Brown said...

What desperately sad news :( :( :(

I met him last year briefly at a seminar; charming, open minded, with a truly inquiring mind and passion for 'humanity'.

His work and observations were invaluable; what a loss to the research community.

My sincere condolences to all that knew and worked with him.

glib said...

I have his book, and the Kitava study was surely most influential in nutrition circles. I am shocked as he was quite young.

Richard Nikoley said...

Glad we both got to meet him that time we were all in the Internet, as I believe you coined it.

I recall him telling me, "I had nothing to do with the price of that book."

What a giant.

Paleo Phil said...

Sorry to hear this sad news. Staffan was one of the greats in the field.

Intermountain Supplements said...

sorry to hear this, he was an often invited speaker across Europe on the concept of paleolithic diet in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and overweight.

glib said...

He was only 66, but he graduated late. to the eternal shame of University of Lund, he was never promoted to full professor. Surely he has produced more than thousands of random drug pushers that populate academia.

guiseppe014 said...

He was one of my favorite researchers. Not only because of his excellent and pioneering work, but also because he was so kind, humble and openminded compared to so many other researchers or «gurus»/bloggers. A couple of years ago he tweeted: «My mom recently passed away of pneumonia age 95. No Western disease. I will eat like her. (Well, she more or less followed my advice.)». Alas, he didn´t get that old. I agree, his death is just an anecdote. His mother living to age 95 free of western disease following a similar diet the past decades of her life, is another anecdote. Diet isn´t everything, and what works for one person, may not work for another.

Still, he looked old for his age and I have been wondering if something was wrong with his diet (which I assume was similar to the samples found on his website), even from a paleo perspective. Did he get optimal amounts of calcium and vitamin D relative to phosphorus and magnesium for example? This is known to accelerate the aging process in cats and dogs, at least, and likely increase the risk of various cancers, including the pancreatic cancer he died from. Living in dark Sweden will make this matter worse. And really, the amount of calcium found in the diet of many modern «paleo dieters» is typically too low for example to supply what is needed for a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, even if they go to great length to select all the greens that have the most absorbable calcium (spinach has almost none) and the nuts (like almonds) with the most calcium etc. But hunter gatherers do not have the digestive system required, nor the wish to eat pounds and pounds of greens, as gorillas or cows do. So something isn´t quite right about all of this. The truth, however, is that calcium is always found along with animal foods, abundantly in insect shells or small eggs like from ants or fish, in small fish etc. But we don´t eat much of these foods. Then the only option is the bones from large animals, or bone meal supplements, which those in the paleo movement also typically stay away from. Also, did he consume any coconut products, as the Kitavans he studied did? This has also been suggested to reduce the risk of cancer, perhaps through the antiviral effect of lauric acid/monolaurin.

KathyG said...

Thank you Stephan for posting this. I would not otherwise have known of Dr. Lindeberg's passing. I also appreciate you listing his book Food and Western Disease as a reference book on your website because, again, I might not have heard of his work otherwise. I purchased his book several years ago and find it fascinating. God speed to a fine human being.

Nate said...

After reading this post, I'm sorry I did not know of Staffan until now. It appears to be a good person and researcher.

Because of the many health benefits that I have experienced, I have been eating a low carb, high fat diet for the past 15 years. However, as Staffan has apparently shown, everyone is different. I think that is a very important nutritional lesson. (Which btw makes the wide of range anecdotal evidence logical, at least, to me) This lesson has been 'discovered' by two very different nutritional experts, Dr. Christopher Gardner and Dr. Atkins.

Richard Nikoley said...

guiseppe014:

I've often wondered about calcium and you make some interesting observations.

What do you think about canned sardines (with the bones) for a good way to get calcium naturally?

Anders said...

I was a close friend of Staffan since 35 years and can only add to the many so sympathetic condolences here, the tragic loss of a diligent,true,bold,very talented,respectful and very friendly friend, family physician,associate professor,researcher,husband and musician!
Of course we cannot say anything substantial about the cause of his fatal disease .The impression to all of us that know him and met him regularly was his youthfulness ,rapid movements and mind,he really seemed much younger than an ordinary swedish pensionary.Amid all sorrow it will be a lasting comfort to be able to listen to him or to hear him play his music on youtube.

glib said...

If Guiseppe is the same person posting as Giu on paleohacks (and he looks like it), he has posted a number of times on mineral balance. Mineral balance is a big thing in animal husbandry, and one wonders why it is not applied to humans as well. Re: calcium, I put powdered egg shells in my smoothies for a long time, yet I found no change in my well being when I stopped that (I stopped potato starch in the smoothies at the same time). I still eat the cartilage and surrounding bone of roasted birds. I also note that Ca absorption in the gut is related to vit. D status. If you have good vit. D, absorption improves.

Influenced by Giu, I started juicing instead, for the purpose of increasing the K, Mg and Ca content of my diet. I have a large garden with large amounts of trash greens (daikon and turnip tops, cutting celery, clover, wild thistle, collard stems, mustard greens), perfectly edible but too coarse for salads, while maintaining a high consumption of salads and potherbs. It seems unlikely that, if there is a mineral deficiency related to poor greens consumption, the deficiency be limited to Ca. In particular no one ever gets the 4.7 grams of K which are the current RDA. K pills are not commercially available except in 100mg amounts (1/47 of the RDA), so juicing is the only way out of this conundrum.

Ned Kock said...

When you look at the question "Do prominent health gurus live longer?", the answer tends to be often "no" - unfortunately:

http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2016/01/do-prominent-health-gurus-live-longer.html

SoccerGuro said...

Staffan was one of my favorite researchers and I have largely based my diet off his studies on the Kitavans. Does anyone know what kind of diet he ate? It might not be in good taste to be asking this and I know diet isn't always everything but there is always that thought in the back of your mind that you might not be eating the correct diet for longevity.