A Tribute to Federico Leighton Puga, MD — 8 May 2012

Frederico Leighton Puga, MD, Professor and Director of the Center for Molecular Nutrition and Chronic Diseases of the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, died on 27 April 2012 at the age of 74 years.  Dr. Leighton was a valued member of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, and was noted for his seminal work in nutrition, antioxidants, the health aspects of moderate wine consumption, and public health approaches for the prevention of chronic diseases.

Many Forum members knew and had worked with Dr. Leighton through many decades.  All feel a deep loss, of a great scientist, a loyal and good friend, and someone very concerned with the health of people everywhere.  As stated by one Forum member, “Federico was a great scientist motivated by curiosity and the desire to be useful for his country.  His culture and education and intellectual rigor were well integrated into his humanity and the sweetness of his character.”  Another commented that Federico was a passionate investigator and a honest advocate for the science of diet, wine, alcohol and health.  Said another: “Federico had in abundance that indefinable quality known as ‘class.’”  The world has lost an honest and honorable scientist.   

Among the notable achievements of Dr. Leighton’ s scientific career were numerous experiments of the effect of moderate wine and alcohol consumption on risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  In a key publication in 2005, Dr. Leighton and his colleagues demonstrated a central role of eNOS in the protective effect of wine against metabolic syndrome.  His research demonstrated beneficial effects of wine/alcohol intake on lipid factors (HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids ratio); hemostasis (fibrinogen, PAI-I, thrombosis, factor VIIc); endothelial function; blood pressure; inflammation (PCR hs, cytokines and others); oxidative stress (damage to DNA, lipids and proteins, antioxidant levels); insulin sensitivity; and anthropometric parameters (BMI, abdominal circumference). 

Further, in an article in 2007, Dr. Leighton stated that the studies carried out by him and his colleagues showed that “Moderate wine consumption improves antioxidant defenses (plasma antioxidant capacity, ascorbate, beta-carotene, and total polyphenols) and counteracts oxidative damage (8-OHdG, nitrotyrosine).  Endothelial function improves while blood pressure has shown inconsistent results.” 

Dr. Leighton summarized these studies: “From our observations, we consider that wine in moderation, as part of the diet, should decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.  The results should take into consideration that there are many cardiovascular risk factors and that their response to moderate wine consumption is not uniform; yet, significant positive changes are observed for a large number of them.”

Dr. Leighton was an international leader in nutritional studies of wine and diet, hosting one of the first Wine and Health symposia, Vinsalud, in Santiago in 2002.  With over 100 participants from around the world, the success of this meeting launched a series of such meetings that continues today.  He was also successively a former Scientific Secretary and an efficient Vice-President of the Wine, Nutrition and Health Sub-commission of the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV).  He brought forth several contributions in OIV resolutions, notably one recommending that OIV member states support further research in the field of wine and health; such research should serve as the basis for public health and education policies.

In addition to his experiments among subjects evaluating the effects on cardiovascular risk factors of a Mediterranean diet and wine consumption , Dr. Leighton led important public health measures in Chile.  One project, Science, Wine and Health, tested the effects on the population of the Mediterranean Diet and of moderate wine consumption.  An evaluation after completion of the public campaign revealed that while the total amount of alcohol consumed by the Chilean people changed very little, they were more likely to consume smaller amounts of alcohol on a more frequenet basis, and with meals, than before the program; binge drinking decreased.  Thus, his work was instrumental in convincing the public to adopt healthier patterns of alcohol consumption and to avoid its adverse effects. 

Dr. Ines Urquiaga, who was his student and colleague, described how his work benefitted his home country: “Since 2000 Dr. Leighton was dedicated to promoting Mediterranean food in the country, researching the effects and benefits, and creating programs that introduced and encouraged this healthy diet — to both white and blue collar laborers.  In this way, he sought to improve the health of all Chileans.”  Dr. Urquiaga added: “I am grateful to have learned from Dr. Leighton’s enthusiasm for doing good things for others.  He was a lover of science and enthusiastic about life.”

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Alberto Bertelli, MD, PhD, Institute of Human Anatomy, University of Milan, Italy.

Dee Blackhurst, PhD, Lipid Laboratory, University of Cape Town Health Sciences Faculty, Cape Town, South Africa.

Giorio Calabrese, MD, Docente di Dietetica e Nutrizione, Umana Università Cattolica del S. Cuore, Piacenza, Italy.

Maria Isabel Covas, DPharm, PhD, Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group, Institut Municipal d´Investigació Mèdica, Barcelona, Spain.

Alan Crozier, PhD, Plant Biochemistry and Human Nutrition, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

Giovanni de Gaetano, MD, PhD, Research Laboratories, Catholic University, Campobasso, Italy.

Luc Djoussé, MD, DSc, Dept. of Medicine, Division of Aging, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.

Alun Evans, MD, Centre for Public Health, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Belfast, UK.

Harvey Finkel, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA.

Tedd Goldfinger, DO, FACC, Desert Cardiology of Tucson Heart Center, Dept. of Cardiology, University of Arizona School of Medicine, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Lynn Gretkowski, MD, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Mountainview, CA, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.

Dwight Heath, PhD, Dept. of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.

Oliver James, MD, Head of Medicine, University of Newcastle, UK.

Ulrich Keil, MD, PhD, Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, University of Münster, Münster, Germany.

Arthur Klatsky, MD, Dept. of Cardiology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Oakland, CA, USA.

Maritha J. Kotze,  PhD, Human Genetics, Dept of Pathology, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, South Africa.

Dominique Lanzmann-Petithory,MD, PhD, Nutrition/Cardiology, Praticien Hospitalier Hôpital Emile Roux, Paris, France.

Ross McCormick PhD, MSC, MBChB, Associate Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Francesco Orlandi, MD, Dept. of Gastroenterology, Università degli Studi di Ancona, Italy.

Lynda Powell, MEd, PhD, Chair, Dept of Preventive Medicine, Rush University Medical School, Chicago, IL, USA.

Ian Puddey, MD, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Australia.

Erik Skovenborg, MD, Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, Practitioner, Aarhus, Denmark.

Jan Snel, PhD, Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Holland.

Jeremy P E Spencer, Reader in Biochemistry, The University of Reading, UK.

Creina Stockley, MSc, MBA, Clinical Pharmacology, Health and Regulatory Information Manager, Australian Wine Research Institute, Glen Osmond, South Australia, Australia.

Arne Svilaas, MD, PhD, general practice and lipidology, lo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.

 Pierre-Louis Teissedre, PhD, Faculty of Oenology – ISVV, University Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2, Bordeaux, France.

Gordon Troup, MSc, DSc, School of Physics, Monash University, Victoria, Australia.

Fulvio Ursini, MD, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.

David Vauzour, PhD, Senior Research Associate, Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

David Van Velden, MD, Dept. of Pathology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Andrew L. Waterhouse, PhD, Marvin Sands Professor, Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California, Davis; Davis, CA, USA.

Yuqing Zhang, MD, DSc, Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.

Co-Directors of International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research:

R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Section of Preventive Medicine & Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.

Helena Conibear, Executive Director, AIM-Alcohol in Moderation, Dorset, UK.