TIME Cancer

A Breakthrough Treatment for Lung Cancer Approved

What you need to know about this promising new drug

On March 5, a novel way to treat lung cancer won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The latest drug, Opdivo, has showed promise with other cancers, and is the first to use the immune system to tackle hard-to-treat lung tumors. Here’s what you need to know.

How does the drug work?

Opdivo (nivolumab), made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, works the same way that releasing a parking brake frees a car to move. Normally, the immune system is held back from recognizing tumors as foreign and potentially harmful, since tumors are the body’s own cells that grow abnormally. Without such checks, “the immune system will destroy you,” says Dr. James Allison, chair of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center who discovered the first such brake that protected cancer cells from the immune system. But nivolumab releases this check on the immune system’s normally voracious appetite for anything it doesn’t recognize, so the body’s own defenses can preferentially recognize tumor cells as targets.

In the study submitted by the company to the FDA, 15% of patients showed some shrinkage or complete disappearance of their tumors.

MORE: On the Horizon at Last, Cancer Drugs that Harness the Body’s Own Immune System

What makes this drug different from other cancer treatments?

Unlike surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or the anti-cancer drugs that interrupt specific signals that tumor cells use to survive, nivolumab doesn’t target the tumor itself. Rather it focuses on the environment in which the tumor lives, unleashing the immune system so it can recognize cancer cells more easily. “This drug doesn’t treat cancer; it doesn’t kill cancer cells so you can’t inject it and expect cancer to melt away immediately because it won’t,” says Allison. But when it’s combined with tumor-targeted treatments, what it could do is lower the risk of recurrent cancers by training the body’s T cells to recognize specific features of tumors, just as they do for viruses and bacteria, so the immune system can be alerted more quickly and efficiently to dispatch any returning or remaining cancer.

MORE: A Shot at Cancer

Other drugs that work in different ways to unleash the immune system have also been approved by the FDA and more are in development.

How will this drug change lung cancer treatment?

While this drug was approved in 2011 to treat melanoma, the expanded approval to include non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer, now means more patients can take advantage of the new, immune-based strategy to fight their disease. It also opens the door for other, next-generation immune therapies for treating the disease, which many experts thought would not be possible, given how aggressively lung cancer progresses. Now lung cancer patients who have failed other therapies and have no other treatment options have another shot at containing their tumors.

MORE: Self-Sabotage: Why Cancer Vaccines Don’t Work

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Seriously, Stop Worrying About Daylight Saving Time

Daylight saving time is March 8 and everyone is freaking out about what the hour of lost sleep will to do them. This is promoted, in part, by the inevitable pile-on of articles about how daylight saving time is harming our health by messing with our sleep. I am actually part of the problem. I’ve written my fair share of “how to survive the time change” stories, and I am sure you can find them with a quick Google search. I am here to admit that those lists were probably helpful 100 daylight saving times ago, but not really today.

MORE: Here’s How Much Experts Think You Should Sleep Every Night

Sure, losing sleep does impact your health over time. But let’s be real—daylight saving time is only one hour of lost sleep. You lose more sleep when you fly from the West Coast to East than you will on Sunday. And honestly, the majority of us have bigger sleep-related problems on our hands, like not getting enough sleep every other day of the year.

I asked Michael Grandner, an instructor at Penn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, for his take: “A one-hour shift at daylight savings hardly deserves dire warnings,” he says (I knew it!). “For most people, it will be a minor inconvenience that they will adjust to in one to two days. Some people, especially those who are already trying to get by on too little sleep, may feel more of these effects and they might be at increased risk.”

So Grandner is a little more forgiving, adding that in a society that’s already low on sleep, a lost hour can mean impaired performance for people who are more sensitive. But I feel justified.

Still, what kind of health writer would I be if I didn’t provide some service? Here is a list of five things that are worse for your sleep than daylight saving time, from the National Sleep Foundation:

1. Your smartphone: With so many ways to stay connected, it’s easy to hop into bed with your smartphone without even realizing it. Every time your phone buzzes or you scroll through your Instagram feed, your smartphone or tablet emits blue light, which can cause over-stimulation and keep you from falling asleep.

2. A bad bedroom environment: TVs, access to email and piles of laundry are common examples of sleep distractions found in the modern bedroom that can produce stress and mental arousal. Anything that doesn’t promote relaxation and sleep should find a home outside of the bedroom to promote a healthy sleep environment.

3. Light pollution: To determine if a bedroom is dark enough for optimal sleep, use midnight as an ideal time indicator. If the room is not pitch black at midnight, light pollution from street lamps, traffic, and city living are reflecting and refracting too much light. This can interfere with the body cues that initiate sleep, and can prevent you from getting healthy shuteye.

4. Taking sleep for granted: According to National Sleep Foundation’s 2015 Sleep in America Poll, Americans who said they were very or extremely motivated to get enough sleep reported sleeping 36 more minutes per night across the week compared to those who were not that motivated or not motivated at all (7.3 vs. 6.7 hours). Simply making sleep a priority and creating a positive sleep environment and routine can help you catch more Zs.

5. Constantly interrupting your sleep cycle: Sleep is vital to overall health, just like diet and exercise. However, due to life pressures, sleep can be the first thing we skimp on when life gets hectic. Consistently lacking sleep can lead to a vicious cycle of other health effects. Adequate sleep helps rejuvenate the body and mind, regulate your mood and hormones, improve learning and memory function, and reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Ways to Make the Switch to Daylight Saving Time Less Miserable

Start by dialing back your bedtime now

You’ve made it through the endless winter of 2014-15 (almost), and spring is around the corner. The first signpost of the new season arrives in the wee hours of Sunday, March 8, when most of us turn our clocks ahead one hour to inaugurate Daylight Saving Time.

But “springing forward,” as fun as it sounds, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, according to sleep specialist and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD. “Most people actually have a harder time adjusting when we ‘spring forward,’ because we’re losing an hour of sleep,” Breus says. And those of us who are already chronically sleep deprived can’t afford to lose any more. In fact, a survey released this week from the National Sleep Foundation found that, on average, Americans report a sleep debt of about 26 minutes on workdays (that’s the gap between how much shut-eye people say they need and how much they actually get).

But, thankfully, there are steps you can take to make the time change more bearable.

Read more: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Start by dialing back your bedtime

“If you’re among the many Americans who are sleep deprived, it probably won’t be difficult for you to fall asleep at the new time,” Breus says. Just be sure to set your clock ahead before going to sleep on Saturday, March 7. “That way, seeing the lost hour up front will motivate you to go to bed earlier.” Waiting to change your clocks the next morning and watching that hour disappear can feel like a loss, says Breus.

If you’re among the only marginally sleep deprived, or if you have generally good sleep habits, you can get yourself in gear by pulling back your bedtime incrementally before the time change. “On Thursday, go to bed another 15 minutes earlier, and another 15 the next two nights so that by Saturday, you’re going to bed an hour early,” Breus suggests.

The time change disruption is worse for kids, for whom regular bed times and consistent habits are especially important. “If they get to stay up until 11pm on Friday night, make it 10pm,” says Breus. “Since they’re losing the hour, they need to go to bed earlier.” It’ll pay off come school day.

Read more: How to Sleep With Someone Who Snores

Avoid certain drinks this weekend

You already know that limiting your alcohol intake is generally a smart move, and this weekend in particular, Breus advises capping your nightcap. “Even though alcohol makes you feel sleepy, it prevents you from reaching those all-important deeper stages of sleep. So if you’re already going to be losing an hour of sleep, the last thing you need is poorer quality sleep.” Abstaining may make for less fun on the weekend, but will help you get back in the swing on Monday.

Breus also suggests going easy on the caffeine. If you feel like that cuppa Joe is necessary to jump-start your acclimation, just be sure to stop sipping by 2pm so as not to interfere with your new, earlier bedtime.

Read more: The Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

Play it safe on Monday morning

Not all of us have the most flexible work schedules, but Breus advises seeking leniency this one day out of the year. “Ask your boss if you can come in to work a little late the Monday after the time change, or ask if you can work from home.” For one, this allows you to reap the health benefits of catching up on those all-important lost zzz’s. And if you drive to work, it also allows you to stay off the roads on a particularly hectic and potentially dangerous morning. Research has shown an increase in fatal car accidents on the Monday following the spring time change compared to other Mondays before and after the start of Daylight Saving Time. “It’s not a bad idea to avoid rush hour on Monday morning when roads will be filled with sleep-deprived people running late for work or school,” Breus says.

Read more: 17 Ways Your Job Is Making You Fat

Tweak your workout schedule (maybe)

For some folks with a regular fitness routine, switching things up can help you adjust to Daylight Saving Time. “If exercise chills you out and relaxes you, the extra hour of evening light gives you more opportunity to exercise outdoors,” Breus says. And regular exercise is a key component to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Just remember to preserve a three-hour window between your sweat session and bedtime so you have enough time to wind down, he suggests.

“On the other hand, if you feel energized after your workouts, you should keep doing it in the morning, time change or not, because you don’t want that energy boost to lead to insomnia,” Breus says. You’ll just be up in the dark—again.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Charcoal Juice Is Now a Thing

'That was actually a bigger hurdle for us: trying to have a drink with activated charcoal that people wouldn't gag on'

This is This Is Now A Thing, where we check out the science behind new health phenomena.

Courtesy of Juice Generation

The thing: A $9.95 bottle of Juice Generation cold-pressed juice mixed with two teaspoons of activated charcoal. Here, that means the pitch-black powder of heated coconut shells, but activated charcoal can also be made from sources like wood or coal. Also called activated carbon, activated charcoal is incredibly porous and adsorbent. (That’s not a typo—it’s a word that means a wide range of molecules and chemicals stick to it.) That last quality makes it useful in all kinds of contexts, from water purification to gas masks to an application in clinical emergencies like overdoses or poisonings.

Dr. Maged Rizk, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, uses activated charcoal during poisonings to limit the body’s absorption of the toxin. “It’s black,” he says of the charcoal he administers to patients. “It’s this really nasty looking drink. You have them swallow it, and you hope they vomit.” Charcoal’s rather gruesome use as a hospital drink aside, the ingredient has recently popped up in a more glamorous place: the juice world.

Juice Generation founder Eric Helms saw a glut of beauty products like face masks and pore strips touting activated charcoal as a “detoxifying” ingredient, and he knew many of his customers drank green juice in hopes that it would improve their skin. “If it had charcoal in it, it would be sort of kicking it up a level,” he says. It’s now the company’s best-selling line.

The hype: Healthy glowing skin, better breath, improved digestion and hangover help. “Just basically drawing toxins out of your body for improved organ function,” says Helms. “I think that there’s benefits and I think a lot of people feel the benefits,” Helms says.

The research: Activated charcoal has been used for centuries in the form of biscuits and supplements for digestive issues. So we know it’s probably not going to hurt you, says Dr. Kent Olson, medical director of the San Francisco Poison Control System and clinical professor of medicine and pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. He often uses activated charcoal to treat poisonings and even wrote a paper about the stuff—“Activated Charcoal for Acute Poisoning: One Toxicologist’s Journey”—in the Journal of Medical Toxicology. “Generally we think of charcoal as being inert and not having any chemicals in it,” he says, so it shouldn’t cause poisoning.

But there’s very little research to back up its use in average people and over a long period of time. Juice Generation declined to cite any research backing up the health benefits of charcoal. (“If you have questions that skew in that direction, please consult medical professionals,” their PR representative told me.) But based on the research out there, there’s no way to know what charcoal binds to and what it leaves alone—making it difficult to know whether drinking charcoal juice might flush out the nutrients you are drinking it for in the first place. The experts TIME spoke with said there’s little if any evidence for the health benefits of drinking activated charcoal unless you’ve been poisoned.

A lack of research doesn’t necessarily mean the claims aren’t true, of course. The gastroenterologist Rizk points out that there’s not a lot of pharmacological incentive to fund a study about natural carbon. “People anecdotally swear by it for a lot of these different things,” Rizk says. “But the studies haven’t been done.”

Charcoal’s powerful binding abilities may have an unwanted side effect: “The problem with charcoal is that it’s non-specific. It’ll bind to anything it finds adsorbable,” Olson says. “That could include toxins as well as nutrients.” In fact, you don’t actually want to get rid of all your body’s impurities, he says. “Remember that might include vitamins and amino acids and other things you actually need in your diet,” he says. If you eat charcoal with your kale, you might be unwittingly depriving yourself of its nutrients.

And that hangover cure claim? It’s unlikely, since charcoal doesn’t bind to alcohol all that impressively, Olson says. You’d have to drink about twice the amount Olson gives during poisonings to bind to the amount of alcohol in one beer, he says. And while he can’t say for sure, he does say this: “My intuition is there’s nothing here other than the possibility of taking good things out of your system at the same time.”

The taste: Eric Helms knows how to make green juice taste good. Charcoal, he says, was a different story. “That was actually a bigger hurdle for us: trying to have a drink with activated charcoal that people wouldn’t gag on.” He acknowledges that it looks a bit off-putting, but we’ve got to hand it to him: the juices really do taste delicious. The black one tastes like a not-too-sweet lemonade; the grey one reminds us of a slightly nutty milkshake; the green one tasted just like a really good green juice.

The bottom line: Despite the clear lack of health evidence, this won’t be the last you see of charcoal-infused foods. Helms says Juice Generation’s activated drinks outsell all of their other products. Competing juice companies have their own charcoal lines, too, and a restaurant in Los Angeles is even adding activated charcoal to its cocktail list.

Getting rid of toxins, it turns out, isn’t always evidence-based—but it sure is proving to be popular.

TIME Sex

Women With Disabilities Are Three Times More Likely to Face Abuse: Report

Violence against women with disabilities is often ignored in several countries

Women with disabilities are three times as likely to be raped, physically abused or sexually assaulted, according to Human Rights Watch.

A resource on gender-based violence designed for people with disabilities, released by HRW ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, states that women and girls with disabilities are increasingly susceptible to violence but are often ignored when it comes to prevention programs.

The organization documented several cases across Zambia, India, Uganda and Turkey, finding a host of problems related to discrimination, vulnerability, accessibility and awareness.

“Women and girls with disabilities are too often the victims of violence, yet get too little information on where to go for help,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, HRW’s disability-rights director.

TIME medicine

Chain of Kidney Transplants Begins at San Francisco Hospital

Kidney donor Zully Broussard speaks at California Pacific Medical Center on March 4, 2015 in San Francisco
Leah Millis—AP Kidney donor Zully Broussard speaks at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco on March 4, 2015

This is the largest kidney-donation chain in the transplant center's history

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Zully Broussard thought she was going to help one person by donating a kidney.

Instead, she helped six.

The Sacramento woman’s donation to a Benicia man set off an organ swap that resulted in five more sick people getting new kidneys at a San Francisco hospital. Three transplants were completed Thursday, and the remaining three will be done Friday.

“I thought I was going to help this one person who I don’t know. But the fact that so many people can have a life extension, that’s pretty big,” Broussard said.

Domino-like kidney swaps are still relatively new, but they are becoming increasingly common.

With a total of a dozen patients and donors, this week’s surgeries at the California Pacific Medical Center represent the largest kidney donation chain in its transplant center’s 44-year history, hospital spokesman Dean Fryer said. The patients at are between 24 to 70 years old, and most of them are from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Transplant chains are an option when donors are incompatible with relatives or friends who need kidneys.

In this case, six donors are instead giving kidneys to strangers found through a software matching program developed by 59-year-old David Jacobs, a kidney recipient whose brother died of kidney failure. Its algorithmic program finds potential matches using a person’s genetic profile.

Jacobs, of San Francisco, said he understands firsthand the despair of waiting for a deceased donor.

“Some of these people might have waited forever and never got the kidney,” he said. “But because of the magic of this technology and the one altruistic donor, she was able to save six lives in 24 hours.”

Fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants are performed in the U.S. each year, and between 5,000 and 6,000 are from living donors, considered the optimal kind.

Kidney swaps are considered one of the best bets at increasing live-donor transplants, and they are becoming more common as transplant centers form alliances to share willing patient-donor pairs. The United Network for Organ Sharing has a national pilot program underway.

In 2001, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, performed a transplant chain that started as a two-way kidney exchange and grew to 30 pairs.

Jacobs’ kidneys failed in early 2000 from a genetic disease. In late 2003, a living unrelated donor provided an organ for a transplant.

A new chance at life got him thinking.

“I talked to my doctor about kidney-paired donation. He was excited about the idea but didn’t know how to do it,” he recalled. “I was a tech person. I’ve been in technology my whole professional career. I thought of it as an enterprise software problem I could solve.”

He said the two months he imagined it would take to take to develop the software stretched into six years.

The National Kidney Foundation reports more than 100,000 people in the United States are awaiting kidneys, and 12 people die a day while waiting.

Broussard said her son died of cancer 13 years ago and her husband passed away 14 months ago, also from cancer.

Asked why she volunteered to donate a kidney to a stranger, the 55-year-old said: “I know what it feels like to want an extra day.”

TIME Research

Suicide Rate for Young Women Rises in U.S.

But young men are still three times more likely to commit suicide than women

The suicide rate among young women has risen in the U.S., leading to an overall uptick in cases, despite a falling number for young men taking their own lives.

A weekly report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from 1994 to 2012 and found the suicide rate of women ages 10 to 24 years old rose from 2.7 to 3.2 cases per 100,000. Additionally, the report says there has been a significant climb of suicides since 2007 when measured across all genders.

However, young men are still three times more likely to commit suicide than women. The rate fell from 15.7 to 11.9 per 100,000 in 1994. Furthermore, since 2007 the suicide rate also increased after a significant decrease between 1994 and 2007.

The CDC reported that 17% of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 8% have attempted to kill themselves more than once.

TIME psychology

Why Men Are More Narcissistic Than Women

You dreamboat, you: More women will be joining you at that mirror
Alija; Getty Images/Vetta You dreamboat, you: More women will be joining you at that mirror

Narcissism has long afflicted more men than women—but that could be changing

If there’s one thing you can say for craziness, it’s that it’s not sexist. Across entire populations, males and females face a pretty equal lifetime risk of coming unhinged. Within conditions, however, there may be differences. Women are twice as likely as men, for example, to develop depression. Anxiety disorders such as OCD and phobias also hit women a bit harder.

Narcissism, however, goes the other way. Research has long suggested that if you’re looking for someone who’s preening, strutting, self-absorbed, arrogant, exhibitionistic, conceited, insensitive and entitled, you’ll find more of them in the boys’ camp than you will in the girls’. So it comes as, well, almost no news at all that a new study—hold your applause till the end, please—found exactly that!

The research, in fairness, was sweeping: a meta-analysis of 355 journal articles and other studies going back 31 years. In the behavioral sciences, which lack the tidy, 1+1=2 certainty of fields like chemistry and physics and math, meta-analyses are often the best way to lock down a hypothesis. The paper did that, but it did more too—not just establishing the gender disparity but explaining why it exists.

In my 2014 book, The Narcissist Next Door, I wrestled with the question of narcissism and gender, and came to the conclusion that our still-patriarchal society is far likelier to tolerate—even encourage—narcissistic swagger and aggressiveness in men than it is in women. It was hardly a theory I developed de novo, but rather is one many researchers had voiced—thought not yet proven. The researchers in the new study—led by Emily Grijalva, an assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University of Buffalo School of Management—broke down their meta-data in ways that highlighted three of the multiple categories of narcissistic behavior: grandiosity and exhibitionism; leadership and authority; and entitlement.

Men ran away with the entitlement category (we’re looking at you, John Edwards, Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen), and led by a narrower gap in the leadership and authority category. “Compared with women,” Grijalva said in a statement that accompanied the study, “men exhibit more assertiveness and desire for power.” That, too, is consistent with a culture in which men don’t merely hold more more positions in government and high finance, but seek those positions more as well.

But when it comes to exhibitionism—the basic table stakes for boys and girls dreaming of growing up to achieve their true full narcissistic potential—the sexes start off pretty much equally. As happens so often in a sexist world, however, that potential—OK, pathological potential—is squelched in girls while it’s encouraged in boys.

“Individuals tend to observe and learn gender roles from a young age, and may face backlash for deviating from society’s expectations,” Grijalva said. “In particular, women often receive harsh criticism for being aggressive or authoritative, which creates pressure for [them] to suppress displays of narcissistic behavior.”

Gender equality, of course, is a surpassing good, and the arc of history is inevitably bending its way. It will, alas, almost certainly mean narcissistic equality too. Let’s hope that the growing ranks of female narcissists conduct themselves better than the boys have.

TIME medicine

One Hour of Sleep Makes a Difference In What You’ll Eat

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Lynn Koenig—Getty Images/Flickr RF

When it comes to teens and sleep, it’s not how much sleep, but how consistently they sleep the same amount that’s important for their health

Plenty of studies have documented that teens don’t get enough sleep. They’re supposed to be in bed for eight to nine hours a night, but most get seven or less. Now the latest sleep research, presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting, shows when it comes to weight gain—which has been tied to sleep deprivation and disturbances—it’s not necessarily the amount of sleep that tips the scales but rather the consistency of that nightly rest.

Fan He, an epidemiologist at Penn State University College of Medicine, and his colleagues found a strong correlation between the variation in sleep patterns among a group of teens and the amount of calories they consumed. And for every hour difference in sleep on a night-to-night basis over a week, for example, they ate 210 more calories—most of it in fat and carbohydrates. Those with uneven sleep patterns were also more likely to snack.

Previous studies have linked poor or disrupted sleep to obesity; people not getting enough shut-eye, for example, may experience changes in the hormones that regulate appetite and how well they break down glucose in their diet. Levels of the hormone leptin, for instance, drop in those who are sleep deprived, and less leptin prompts the body to feel hungry.

MORE: The Power of Sleep

In the current study, however, all the teens got an average of seven hours a night, so it wasn’t as if some of the teens were sleeping for extremely long or short periods of time. Any metabolic changes they would have experienced due to their sleeping less than the recommended eight to nine hours would have been similar among the consistent and inconsistent sleepers.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, stresses that good quality sleep involves three things — getting enough sleep, making sure the timing of the sleep if appropriate, and avoiding sleep disorders. While the amount of sleep has gotten the lion’s share of attention in recent years, a new phenomenon called social jet lag, which the current study investigates, may deserve equal consideration. “We live in a society of yo-yo sleep in which people sleep less because of social or work demands, then try to catch up,” says Watson. “There haven’t been a lot of studies that looked at what kind of impact this has on our health, but teenagers may be particularly susceptible to social jet lag than older adults, and this study assessed that.”

MORE: This Is What’s Keeping Teens From Getting Enough Sleep

These results show that it was the variability in their sleep that was most strongly linked to their eating habits.

Why? The researchers guess that teens who aren’t sleeping consistently are more likely to get too little sleep on one night, for example, and therefore be more tired or sedentary the following day, which leads them to sit around and eat more. It may also be possible that teens with irregular sleep habits are more likely to stay up later on weekends; He found that these adolescents had a 100% higher chance of snacking on weekends compared to those who slept more regularly.

MORE: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Urge Doctors

That suggests that health experts should focus not just on the amount of sleep teens are getting, but on their sleep patterns. “Instead of focusing on how much we sleep, we also need to pay attention to maintaining a regular sleep pattern,” says He. Such consistency, however, may not be so easy for teens to master.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, greek yogurt, dairy, fage, chobani
Danny Kim for TIME

Dodging dairy fat may be bad for your waistline

Skim milk or whole? Non-fat yogurt or full-fat? For decades, public health officials have treated these decisions as no-brainers. Cut the dairy fat, they’ve maintained, and you’ll sidestep calories without missing out on good stuff like calcium and protein. Win-win. But they might have been wrong, a chorus of experts now say.

A recent review published in the European Journal of Nutrition of the existing research on dairy fat came to some surprising conclusions: People who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. When it comes to weight gain, full-fat dairy may actually be better for you, the review found.

“In terms of obesity, we found no support for the notion that low-fat dairy is healthier,” says Dr. Mario Kratz, first author of the review and a nutrition scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Of the 25 studies included in his team’s review, Kratz says 18 reported lower body weights, less weight gain, or a lower risk for obesity among full-fat dairy eaters. The other seven studies were inconclusive. “None of the research suggested low-fat dairy is better,” he says.

More research supports his team’s findings. A 2013 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care tracked the dairy intake and obesity rates of more than 1,500 middle-aged and older adults. Those who frequently ate full-fat butter, milk, and cream had lower obesity rates than those who eschewed dairy fat. “Based on my own research and on the research of others, I believe high-fat dairy is less likely to contribute to obesity that low-fat dairy,” says Dr. Sara Holmberg, first author of the study.

The belief that fat isn’t a health villain has been gaining traction the last few years, especially as data has piled up showing that low-fat diets don’t work. And while national health organizations seem to be softening their stance on fat, they still recommend reaching for low- or non-fat dairy at the supermarket.

Their justification: “Research has shown consistently that nutrient-rich foods—that is, foods that pack a lot of micronutrients into every calorie—are healthier,” says Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Maples says reduced-fat dairy provides calcium, potassium, and other good things Americans need in their diet, and does so with fewer calories than full-fat dairy. She says reduced-fat dairy also contains less saturated fat.

Kratz doesn’t disagree with Maples’s comments. But he says they make assumptions about dairy that aren’t backed up by existing evidence. “Data should be weighed more heavily than assumptions,” he says. “And the data don’t support the notion that eating full-fat dairy is worse for your health than reduced-fat or non-fat dairy.”

How could something with more calories be better for your waistline? Some researchers argue that not all calories are equal—especially when it comes to weight gain. Also, focusing on calories-per-serving largely ignores a mammoth factor when it comes to obesity: fullness. Kratz says the fatty acids that are stripped out of reduced-fat dairy may help you feel full sooner and stay full longer—meaning you’ll eat less now and in the coming hours.

Dairy’s fatty acids may also play a role in gene expression and hormone regulation. In simple terms, these acids may crank up how much energy your body burns, or limit the amount of fat your body stores. “We don’t know any of these things for certain,” Kratz adds. “But they could help explain why our findings show full-fat dairy consumption is preferable to low-fat when it comes to a person’s risk for obesity.”

Holmberg, the author of the Scandinavian study, calls dairy “paradoxical,” and says it’s not possible to judge dairy’s health effects based only on its macronutrient content. “It is important to study the effect of real food and not just nutrients,” she adds.

Several more European studies have suggested similar links between full-fat dairy and lower rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. And a just-published review from the journal BMJ concludes that, back in the 1970s—when health regulators established national diet guidelines that encouraged people to avoid fat—there wasn’t evidence to support those warnings. Basically, the foundation for all your “fat is evil” beliefs may have always been weak.

At the same time, none of this means you should gorge yourself on full-fat dairy. “We shouldn’t swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and say, ‘Put butter in everything and eat as much dairy as you want,’ ” Kratz warns. (Compared to many foods—especially vegetables and fruit—dairy contains no fiber, which is critical for digestion, for how the body manages sugar, and which plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight.)

But if you’re deciding between skim milk and whole milk, the existing research argues you may be better off grabbing the full-fat stuff.

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