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December 24: Alexander Leaf and Cancer Prevention

December 24, 2015

scan232A physician and researcher best known for advocating heart disease prevention through exercise and diet, Alexander Leaf (Livshiz) died at 92 on this date in 2012. Chief of medical services at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1966 to 1981, head of the department of preventive medicine at Harvard Medical School from 1981 to 1990, and a founding member of Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1961, Dr. Leaf “traveled the world to make important discoveries about increasing human longevity and to help scientifically establish the dangers global warming poses to the human species,” according to his obituary in the New York Times. His research, some of it underwritten by the National Geographic Society, led him to conclude that people who lived in mountainous regions and worked outdoors into their old age while eating little animal fat and lots of vegetables had the greatest longevity. As late as 2005 he served as lead author of a paper describing the effectiveness of fish oil’s omega-3 fatty acids in reducing heart attacks. In 1995, the Association of American Physicians awarded the George M. Kober Medal, its highest honor, to Dr. Leaf, who published twelve books and 366 refereed papers in the course of his career.

“[He] has done more in his lifetime to exemplify the complete physician, educator, scientist, and world citizen than anyone I know.” —Dr. Arnold S. Relman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine