Dr Denis Burkitt 1911-1993 is one of the unsung heroes of the healthy lifestyle.
He gave his name to Burkitt's lymphoma, a previously unknown facial cancer, which he observed in African children. It’s an unusual cancer because it’s linked to a virus. It came to the attention of Western doctors many years later, when cases started cropping up in patients whose immunity was compromised by AIDS.
His other claim to fame is at the other end of the medical spectrum - the importance of fibre in the diet. Before he published his book in 1979 there was little awareness of this. After its release there was a positive surge in the consumption of wholemeal bread, bran and muesli.
Dr Burkitt observed that Africans rarely suffered from constipation or - more significantly - diseases of the digestive system that were common in the West. He concluded that the African diet, which was very rich in fibre, prevented constipation and so helped to prevent many “diseases of civilisiation” including bowel cancer.
He would have been fascinated in some recent research in which African-Americans swapped diets for just two weeks with some black South Africans. Several significant changes were observed in gut bacteria and molecules associated with colon cancer.
Don’t Forget Fibre in Your Diet, Denis Burkitt pub Martin Dunitz 1979
African diet swap http://bit.ly/1AcdC0J