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Coffee may decrease levothyroxine absorption

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

It seems like everyone has heard of hypothyroidism. But do we really know what it is and why it is important? The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ responsible for maintaining our metabolism. It sits at the base of the neck, just below the laryngeal prominence, or Adam’s apple. The prefix “hypo,” derived from Greek, means “under” (1). Therefore, hypothyroidism indicates an underactive thyroid and results in slowing of the metabolism.

Many people get hypo- and hyperthyroidism confused, but they are really complete opposites. Blood tests determine if a person has hypothyroidism. Items that are tested include thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is usually increased, thyroxine (free T4) and triiodothyronine (free T3 or T3 uptake). Both of these last two may be suppressed (2).

The thyroid sits at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple and is responsible for maintaining metabolism.

There are two types of primary hypothyroidism: subclinical and overt. In the overt (more obvious) type, classic symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, cold intolerance, dry skin and depression, as well as the changes in all three thyroid hormones on blood tests mentioned above. In the subclinical, there may be less obvious or vague symptoms and only changes in the TSH. The subclinical can progress to the overt stage rapidly in some cases (3). Subclinical is substantially more common than overt; its prevalence may be as high as 10 percent of the U.S. population (4).

What are potential causes or risk factors for hypothyroidism? There are numerous factors, such as medications, including lithium; autoimmune diseases, whether personal or in the family history; pregnancy, though it tends to be transient; and treatments for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), including surgery and radiation.

The most common type of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (5). This is where antibodies attack thyroid gland tissues. Several blood tests are useful to determine if a patient has Hashimoto’s: thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and antithyroglobulin antibodies.

Myths versus realities

I would like to separate the myths from the realities with hypothyroidism. Does treating hypothyroidism help with weight loss? Not necessarily. Is soy potentially bad for the thyroid? Yes. Does coffee affect thyroid medication? Maybe. And finally, do vegetables, specifically cruciferous vegetables, negatively impact the thyroid? Probably not. Let’s look at the evidence.

Treatments: medications and supplements

When it comes to hypothyroidism, there are two main medications: levothyroxine and Armour Thyroid. The difference is that Armour Thyroid converts T4 into T3, while levothyroxine does not. Therefore, one medication may be more appropriate than the other, depending on the circumstance. However, T3 can be given with levothyroxine, which is similar to using Armour Thyroid.

What about supplements?

A recent study tested 10 different thyroid support supplements; the results were downright disappointing, if not a bit scary (6). Of the supplements tested, 90 percent contained actual medication, some to levels higher than what are found in prescription medications. This means that the supplements could cause toxic effects on the thyroid, called thyrotoxicosis. Supplements are not FDA-regulated, therefore, they are not held to the same standards as medications. There is a narrow therapeutic window when it comes to the appropriate medication dosage for treating hypothyroidism, and it is sensitive. Therefore, if you are going to consider using supplements, check with your doctor and tread very lightly.

Soy impact

What role does soy play with the thyroid? In a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of studies, the treatment group that received higher amounts of soy supplementation had a threefold greater risk of conversion from subclinical hypothyroidism to overt hypothyroidism than those who received considerably less supplementation (7). Thus, it seems that in this small, yet well-designed, study, soy has a negative impact on the thyroid. Therefore, those with hypothyroidism may want to minimize or avoid soy. Interestingly, those who received more soy supplementation did see improvements in blood pressure and inflammation and a reduction in insulin resistance, but, ultimately, a negative impact on the thyroid.

The reason that soy may have this negative impact was illustrated in a study involving rat thyrocytes (thyroid cells) (8). Researchers found that soy isoflavones, especially genistein, which are usually beneficial, may contribute to autoimmune thyroid disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. They also found that soy may inhibit the absorption of iodide in the thyroid.

Weight loss

Since being overweight and obese is a growing epidemic, wouldn’t it be nice if the silver lining of hypothyroidism is that, with medication to treat the disease, we were guaranteed to lose weight? In a recent retrospective (looking in the past) study, results showed that only about half of those treated with medication for hypothyroidism lost weight (9). This has to be disappointing to patients. However, this was a small study, and we need a large randomized controlled trial to test it further.

WARNING: The FDA has a black box warning on thyroid medications — they should never be used as weight loss drugs (10). They could put a patient in a hyperthyroid state or worse, having potentially catastrophic results.

Coffee

I am not allowed to take away my wife’s coffee; she draws the line here with lifestyle modifications. So I don’t even attempt to with my patients, since coffee may have some beneficial effects. But when it comes to hypothyroidism, taking levothyroxine and coffee together may decrease the absorption of levothyroxine significantly, according to one study (11). It did not seem to matter whether they were taken together or an hour apart. This was a very small study involving only eight patients. Still, I recommend avoiding coffee for several hours after taking the medication. This should be okay, since the medication must be taken on an empty stomach.

Vegetables

There is a theory that vegetables, specifically cruciferous ones such as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, may exacerbate hypothyroidism. In one animal study, results suggested that very high intake of these vegetables reduces thyroid functioning (12). This study was done over 30 years ago, and it has not been replicated.

Importantly, this may not be the case in humans. In the recently published Adventist Health Study-2, results showed that those who had a vegan-based diet were less likely to develop hypothyroidism than those who ate an omnivore diet (13). And those who added lactose and eggs to the vegan diet also had a small increased risk of developing hypothyroidism. However, this trial did not focus on raw cruciferous vegetables, where additional study is much needed.

There are two take-home points, if you have hypothyroid issues: Try to avoid soy products, and don’t think supplements that claim to be thyroid support and good for you are harmless because they are over the counter and “natural.” In my clinical experience, an anti-inflammatory, vegetable-rich diet helps improve quality of life issues, especially fatigue and weight gain, for those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

References: (1) dictionary.com. (2) nlm.nih.gov. (3) Endocr Pract. 2005;11:115-119. (4) Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:526-534. (5) mayoclinic.org. (6) Thyroid. 2013;23:1233-1237. (7) J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 May;96:1442-1449. (8) Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2013;238:623-630. (9) American Thyroid Association. 2013;Abstract 185. (10) FDA.gov. (11) Thyroid. 2008;18:293-301. (12) Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1983;18:123-201. (13) Nutrients. 2013 Nov. 20;5:4642-4652.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

In recent studies, whole fruit was shown to actually reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Some surprising results about lifestyle

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Most of us know that type 2 diabetes is an epidemic in America and continues to grow. Type 2 diabetes was thought to be an adult-onset disease, but more and more children and adolescents are affected as well. The most recent statistics show that 50 percent of teens with diabetes between the ages of 15 and 19 have type 2 (1). Thus, this disease is pervasive throughout the population.

Let’s test our diabetes IQ. See if you can determine whether the following items are true or false.

•Whole fruit should be limited or avoided.

•Soy has detrimental effects with diabetes.

•Plant fiber provides too many carbohydrates.

•Coffee consumption contributes to diabetes.

•Bariatric surgery is an alternative to lifestyle changes.

My goal is to help debunk type 2 diabetes myths. All of these statements are false. Let’s look at the evidence.

Fruit

Fruit, whether whole fruit or fruit juice, has always been thought of as taboo for those with diabetes. This is only partially true. Yes, fruit juice should be avoided because it does raise or spike glucose (sugar) levels. The same does not hold true for whole fruit. Studies have demonstrated that patients with diabetes don’t experience a spike in sugar levels whether they limit the number of fruits consumed or have an abundance of fruit (2). In another study, whole fruit actually was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (3).

In yet another study, researchers looked at different whole fruits to determine their impacts on glucose levels. They found that berries reduced glucose levels the most, but even bananas and grapes reduced these levels (4) — that’s right, bananas and grapes, two fruits people associate with spiking sugar levels and increasing carbohydrate load. The only fruit that seemed to have a mildly negative impact on sugars was cantaloupe. Fruit is not synonymous with sugar. One of the reasons for the beneficial effect is the flavonoids, or plant micronutrients, but another is the fiber.

Fiber

We know fiber is important in a host of diseases, and it is not any different in diabetes. In the Nurses’ Health Study and NHS II, two very large prospective (forward-looking) observational studies, plant fiber was shown to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (5). Researchers looked at lignans, a type of plant fiber, specifically examining the metabolites enterodiol and enterolactone. They found that patients with type 2 diabetes have substantially lower levels of these metabolites in their urine, compared to the control group without diabetes. There was a linear, or direct, relationship between the amount of metabolites and the reduction in risk for diabetes. The authors therefore encourage patients to eat more of a plant-based diet to get this benefit.

Foods with lignans include: flaxseed; sesame seeds; cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower; and an assortment of fruits and grains (6). The researchers could not determine which plants contributed the most benefit. They believe the effect is from antioxidant activity.

Soy and kidney function

Soy sometimes has a negative association. However, in diabetes patients with nephropathy (kidney damage or disease), soy consumption showed improvements in kidney function (7). There were significant reductions in urinary creatinine levels and reductions of proteinuria (protein in the urine), both signs that the kidneys are beginning to function better.

This was a small but randomized controlled trial, considered the gold standard of studies, over a four-year period with 41 participants. The control group’s diet consisted of 70 percent animal protein and 30 percent vegetable protein, while the treatment group’s consisted of 35 percent animal protein, 35 percent textured soy protein and 30 percent vegetable protein.

This is very important since diabetes patient are 20 to 40 times more likely to develop nephropathy than those without diabetes (8). It appears that soy protein may put substantially less stress on the kidneys than animal protein. This negative effect with animal protein may be due to higher levels of phosphorus. However, those who have hypothyroidism should be cautious or avoid soy since it may suppress thyroid functioning.

Coffee

Coffee is a staple in America and in my household. It is one thing my wife would never let me consider taking away. Well, she and the rest of the coffee-drinking portion of the country can breathe a big sigh of relief when it comes to diabetes.

There is a meta-analysis (involving 28 prospective studies) that shows coffee decreases the risk of developing diabetes (9). It was a dose-dependent effect; two cups decreased the risk more than one cup. Interestingly, it did not matter whether it contained caffeine or was decaffeinated. This suggests that caffeine is not necessarily the driving force behind the effect of coffee on diabetes.

The authors surmise that other compounds, including lignans, which have antioxidant effects, may play an important role. The duration of the studies ranged from 10 months to 20 years, and the database was searched from 1966 to 2013, with over one million participants.

Bariatric surgery

In recent years, bariatric surgery has grown in prevalence for treating severely obese (BMI>35 kg/m²) and obese (BMI >30 kg/m²) diabetes patients. In a meta-analysis of bariatric surgery (involving 16 RCTs and observational studies), the procedure illustrated better results than conventional medicines over a 17-month follow-up period in treating HbA1C (three-month blood glucose measure), fasting blood glucose and weight loss (10). During this time period, 72 percent of those patients treated with bariatric surgery went into diabetes remission and had significant weight loss.

However, after 10 years without proper management involving lifestyle changes, only 36 percent remained in remission with diabetes, and a significant number regained weight. Thus, whether one chooses bariatric surgery or not, altering diet and exercise are critical to maintain long-term benefits.

There is still a lot to be learned with diabetes, but our understanding of how to manage lifestyle modifications, specifically diet, is becoming clearer. The take-home messages are: Don’t avoid whole fruit; soy is potentially valuable; fiber from plants may play a very powerful role in preventing and treating diabetes; and coffee may help prevent diabetes.

Thus, the overarching theme is that you can’t necessarily go wrong with a plant-based diet focused on fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. And if you choose a medical approach, bariatric surgery is a viable option, but don’t forget that you need to make significant lifestyle changes to increase the likely durability over 10 or more years.

References: (1) JAMA. 2007;297:2716-2724. (2) Nutr J. 2013 Mar. 5;12:29. (3) Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr.;95:925-933. (4) BMJ online 2013 Aug. 29. (5) Diabetes Care. online 2014 Feb. 18. (6) Br J Nutr. 2005;93:393–402. (7) Diabetes Care. 2008;31:648-654. (8) N Engl J Med. 1993;328:1676–1685. (9) Diabetes Care. 2014;37:569-586. (10) Obes Surg. 2014;24:437-455.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

By Dr. David Dunaief

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, after skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2016, there will be almost 190,000 new prostate cancer diagnoses in the United States and just over 26,000 deaths (1). What better time to discuss prostate cancer prevention than in “Movember,” a month dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues?

The best way to avoid prostate cancer is through lifestyle modifications, which means garnering knowledge about both detrimental and beneficial approaches. There are a host of things that may increase your risk and others that may decrease your likelihood of prostate cancer. Your genetics or family history do not mean you can’t alter gene expression with the choices you make.

What may increase the risk of prostate cancer? Contributing factors include obesity, animal fat and supplements, such as vitamin E and selenium. Equally as important, factors that may reduce risk include vegetables, especially cruciferous, tomato sauce or cooked tomatoes, soy and even coffee.

Vitamin E and selenium

In the SELECT trial, a randomized clinical trial (RCT), a dose of 400 mg of vitamin E actually increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent (2). Though significant, this is not a tremendous clinical effect. It does show that vitamin E should not be used for prevention of prostate cancer. Interestingly, in this study, selenium may have helped to reduce the mortality risk in the selenium plus vitamin E arm, but selenium trended toward a slight increased risk when taken alone. Therefore, I would not recommend that men take selenium or vitamin E for prevention.

Obesity

Obesity showed conflicting results, prompting the study authors to analyze the results further. According to a review of the literature, obesity may slightly decrease the risk of nonaggressive prostate cancer, however increase risk of aggressive disease (3). Don’t think this means that obesity has protective effects. It’s quite the contrary. The authors attribute the lower incidence of nonaggressive prostate cancer to the possibility that it is more difficult to detect the disease in obese men, since larger prostates make biopsies less effective. What the results tell us is that those who are obese have a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer when it is diagnosed.

Animal fat, red meat and processed meats

It seems there is a direct effect between the amount of animal fat we consume and incidence of prostate cancer. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a large observational study, those who consumed the highest amount of animal fat had a 63 percent increased risk, compared to those who consumed the least. Here is the kicker: It was not just the percent increase that was important, but the fact that it was an increase in advanced or metastatic prostate cancer (4). Also, in this study, red meat had an even greater, approximately 2.5-fold, increased risk of advanced disease. If you are going to eat red meat, I recommend decreased frequency, like lean meat once every two weeks or once a month.

In another large, prospective (forward-looking) observational study, the authors concluded that red and processed meats increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer through heme iron, barbecuing/grilling and nitrate/nitrite content (5).

Omega-3s paradox

When we think of omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil, we think “protective” or “beneficial.” However, these may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to one epidemiological study (6). This study, called the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, involving a seven-year follow-up period, showed that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a form of omega-3 fatty acid, increased the risk of high-grade disease 2.5-fold. This finding was unexpected.

However, this does not mean that men should cut back on fish consumption; the effects of omega-3s on heart disease prevention are significant, and heart disease is far more prevalent. Also, this is only one study finding. If you choose to eat fish, salmon or sardines in water with no salt are among the best choices.

Lycopene — found in tomato sauce

Tomato sauce has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, uncooked tomatoes have not shown beneficial effects. This may be because, in order to release lycopene, the tomatoes need to be cooked (7). It is believed that lycopene, which is a type of carotenoid found in tomatoes, is central to this benefit.

In a prospective (forward-looking) study involving 47,365 men who were followed for 12 years, the risk of prostate cancer was reduced by 16 percent (8). The primary source of lycopene in this study was tomato sauce. When the authors looked at tomato sauce alone, they saw a reduction in risk of 23 percent when comparing those who consumed at least two servings a week to those who consumed less than one serving a month. The reduction in severe, or metastatic, prostate cancer risk was even greater, at 35 percent. There was a statistically significant reduction in risk with a very modest amount of tomato sauce.

In the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the results were similar, with a 21 percent reduction in the risk of prostate cancer (9). Again, tomato sauce was the predominant food responsible for this effect. This was another large observational study with 47,894 participants. Although tomato sauce may be beneficial, many brands are loaded with salt. I recommend to patients that they either make their own sauce or purchase a sauce with no salt, such as one made by Eden Organics.

Vegetable effect

Vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables, reduce the risk of prostate cancer significantly. In a case-control study (comparing those with and without disease), participants who consumed at least three servings of cruciferous vegetables per week, versus those who consumed less than one per week, saw a 41 percent reduction in prostate cancer risk (10). What’s even more impressive is the effect was twice that of tomato sauce, yet the intake was similarly modest. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale and arugula, to name a few.

Where does coffee fit in?

Surprisingly, coffee may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. It was recently shown in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, where there was a dose-response curve. In other words, the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk. Even those who consumed one to three cups a day saw a 30 percent reduction in the risk of lethal prostate cancers, whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated (11). Coffee contains bioactive compounds, such as phenolic acids, which have antioxidant effects.

There is a caveat. Although, in this study, more was better, that is not always true in many other studies. Therefore, I would not recommend drinking more than three cups per day, because of other potentially detrimental effects. I think it is apt to finish with two thoughts. Aaron Katz, M.D., from Columbia University Medical Center, had it right when he mentioned that lifestyle modification was important. He was talking about those with early-stage prostate cancer. However, the same philosophy can be applied to prevention of prostate cancer. My goal in writing this article was to arm you with the knowledge you need to start protecting yourself or your loved ones today.

References: (1) www.cancer.org. (2) JAMA. 2011; 306: 1549-1556. (3) Epidemiol Rev. 2007;29:88. (4) J Natl Cancer Inst. 1993;85(19):1571. (5) Am J Epidemiol. 2009;170(9):1165. (6) Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 15;173(12):1429-1439. (7) Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002; 227:914-919. (8) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(5):391. (9) Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002; 227:852-859; Int. J. Cancer. 2007;121: 1571–1578. (10) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000;92(1):61. (11) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011;103:876-884.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For more information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Co-partners Salvatore Mignano, Eric Finneran, and Daniel Valentino inside VAUXHALL. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Burger fans of Huntington: rejoice.

VAUXHALL, a burger bar with a late night menu and coffee cocktails, is set to open soon on Clinton Avenue in Huntington.

Native Long Islanders Eric Finneran, Daniel Valentino and Salvatore Mignano named the joint in honor of the Morrissey 1994 album “Vauxhall and I,” and they want to bring a fun vibe to a spot in the downtown area that has seen many different tenants over the last several years.

Burgers will be the central focus, but Valentino said the restaurant will also have wings and other appetizers. The kitchen is expected to stay open till 2 a.m. or later.

Their coffee cocktails will combine different brews with a variety of liquors, including Jameson and Jack Daniel’s cinnamon whiskey. The guys also expect to have 14 different beers on tap and an extensive cocktail menu — Finneran said they recently hired a mixologist who is putting together a revolving seasonal list.

Located at the end of Clinton Avenue, near the traffic circle with Gerard Street, VAUXHALL will be at a corner that has been a revolving door for businesses in recent years, but Finneran said that fact didn’t deter the local guys from setting roots.

“We love it,” Finneran said, adding that it makes them work harder to succeed in that spot.

Valentino was born in Huntington and attended St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington. Finneran and Mignano are from the South Shore.

The front entrance of VAUXHALL
The front entrance of VAUXHALL

Valentino said they had been interested in Huntington village for a while.

“It’s a great town with the best walking traffic,” Finneran said. “It’s got that vibe that sets the tone to succeed in business. You set up shop here and you put out a good product and you’re going to win.”

This is not the first business venture for the three men. They are co-partners of the Amityville Music Hall in Amityville, a music venue that has hosted national touring hardcore bands like Glassjaw and Madball.

Finneran and Mignano are also co-partners of the Leaky Lifeboat Inn in Seaford, a punk rock bar they describe as “organized chaos,” and ZA Late Night Pizza in Seaford. Leaky Lifeboat Inn was named best bar in the Bethpage Best of Long Island program in 2012.

Valentino met his two partners while working as a bartender at the Leaky Lifeboat Inn.

“We built a great friendship, trust and rapport with him,” Finneran said.

Valentino said the trio is “always looking for the next thing.”

All three partners said the vibe of their new restaurant is “come as you are,” with a rustic feel.

“We want families during the day, but at night we expect the crowd to resemble the Leaky Lifeboat,” Finneran said. They also hope to capture the people leaving shows at the Paramount late at night.

“This is a unique, hip experience that is not in town yet,” Valentino said.

VAUXALL is expected to open sometime in late November but no official date has been set.

Business employs other local disabled individuals

Pictured, Brittney (left) and Logan (right) Wohl, co-owners of Our Coffee with a Cause, with their mother Stacey Wohl (center), company founder/president. Photo from PRMG New York

The sister-and-brother team, Brittney, age 18, and Logan Wohl, age 16, of Northport, are the newly appointed co-owners of Our Coffee with a Cause Inc., a business that employs individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities and funds local charities that support them. These siblings with autism have dedicated their time to helping other special-needs teens and adults by providing gainful employment opportunities in a supportive business setting.

Our Coffee with a Cause was founded in 2012 by Stacey Wohl, mother of Brittney and Logan, in response to the growing concern for special-needs individuals on Long Island who are aging out of schools to find job opportunities and a learning environment to acquire real-life skills. The employees package coffee, apply labels to the bags and coordinate shipments. Additional opportunities are available during Our Coffee with a Cause’s sales and informational events, during which employees work with an assistant to sell coffee and products using a custom-designed iPad app and interacting with customers.

A portion of the business proceeds benefit Our Own Place, a non-profit organization that Stacey Wohl founded to provide unique opportunities to special-needs children and their single parents. The organization’s ultimate mission is to open a weekend respite home for families of children with cognitive disabilities that will provide job training and socialization skills to its residents and will feature a café at which Our Coffee products will be brewed and sold.

Stacey Wohl and her mother and business partner, Susan Schultz, bring to the company a combined 50 years of business experience, along with the knowledge of addressing the unique needs of teens and adults with disabilities.

“Our Coffee with a Cause is dedicated to employing special-needs adults and showing that there is ability in disability,” says Stacey Wohl. “I am proud to name Brittney and Logan as the owners of this business, which provides careers to people with disabilities who may not otherwise have the opportunity.”

Although 53 million adults in the United States are living with a disability, as many as 70 percent of this working-age population are currently unemployed. For many, the current systems in place to support both young adults and their families disappear once the teen “ages out” of the education system, typically when they turn 21. In 2016, nearly 500,000 autistic persons will enter this category, in addition to adults with Down Syndrome and other cognitive conditions.

For more information, visit www.ourcoffeewithacause.net.

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