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Once upon a time there was tea. It was black – for the most part. It was a time, here in the West, when tea and black tea were nearly synonymous. But in the last decade or so it’s green tea that’s grabbed the overwhelming share of attention.

With the popularity of green tea there’s also been a search for the next big thing in tea – a search that has turned up the likes of white tea, oolong, and even puerh. The latter is a type of tea that’s not known to most people and isn’t even known to many tea drinkers.

Pu-erhs to consider, with flavored versions becoming more popular. (ETS Image)

Pu-erhs to consider, with flavored versions becoming more popular. (ETS Image)

The super-condensed version of what puerh is: a type of tea that’s produced in Yunnan, China, and that’s notable for being fermented after the processing stages. If you do even a cursory scan of the web, you could be forgiven for believing that puerh is something of a magic elixir brimming over with health benefits.

What you’ll also notice is that a lot of those making claims for puerh seem to have a horse in the race, as the saying goes. Which is to say a lot of the claims for puerh’s benefits come from merchants who are keen to sell you…puerh tea. Which is an easy enough claim to make about a type of tea that’s considered to be rather exotic.

But is there any truth to the health claims made for puerh tea? This is no place for an in-depth study, but we’ll look at a few of them. Though it’s also worth considering whether any benefits said to arise from puerh have to do with puerh specifically or tea in general.

As the popular Dr. Andrew Weil notes at his web site, some of the claims made for puerh are “promotion of weight loss, reduction of serum cholesterol, and cardiovascular protection.” However, he goes on to claim, “not many scientific studies exist on pu-erh tea, so we don’t know how valid these health claims are. Some research suggests that pu-erh may help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk, but this hasn’t been confirmed in humans.” An article at one major city paper echoes some of these claims and references a 2009 Chinese study that indicates that puerh lowers cholesterol. It also points to a 2011 study that suggests that puerh can inhibit tumor growth.

As for those claims regarding puerh and weight loss, there are actually several studies that have looked at this topic. All were carried out by Chinese researchers, not surprisingly. This one used rats as subjects and suggested that puerh might have some benefits with regard to weight loss and cholesterol reduction.

This study used puerh extract and human subjects and claimed a slight reduction in weight over a three-month period, but no significant reduction in cholesterol. Here’s a study that summarizes “current progress on understanding the mechanisms and bioactive components of Pu-erh’s weight-cutting effects as well as highlighting current weaknesses in the field.” Last up, a study that compares antioxidant content of puerh and various other teas and finds that it compares favorably.

Which is just a brief look at a topic that probably merits a closer look. It also merits at least a tiny bit of healthy skepticism. But that’s probably true any time health claims are being made for foods or beverages.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

C Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mouthwash? Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Mouthwash? Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

The next time you reach for that bottle of mouthwash maybe you should reach for a cup of tea instead. Or should you?

I’ve written about tea and oral health a few times in the pages so far. Here’s a more recent article on the topic and here’s one from several years back that looks at the benefits tea might have for your teeth. Several of the studies in those articles referred to the ability of tea to reduce the bacteria in the mouth that can contribute to bad breath.

One of the facts that I skimmed over when discussing one of those studies is the fact that researchers had their subjects rinse their mouths with black tea. The results, “In one trial, those who rinsed with black tea for one minute 10 times a day had less plaque accumulation. In another, a single 30-second rinse had no effect, but multiple rinsings prevented bacteria from growing further, as well as lowered acid production.”

An article from Best Health looks at green tea and is titled 5 Ways Green Tea is Good for Your Oral Health. The five benefits they list are cavity prevention, gum health, reduced tooth loss, cancer control and better breath. The article cites a study by the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Dentistry that found that the green tea powder given to research subjects “outperformed mints, chewing gum and even parsley-seed oil in this study.” A study by researchers in Thailand, titled Effect of Green Tea Mouthwash on Oral Malodor, found that “green tea mouthwash could significantly reduce VSC [volatile sulfur compounds] level in gingivitis subjects after rinsing for 4 weeks.”

So it’s settled, then. Or is it? There is that issue of black tea staining teeth, after all. Web MD places tea second on its list of top staining foods and beverages, after wine. But the good news is that it notes that teas with fewer tannins, such as green and white are less likely to stain. So it is settled now. If you use tea as a mouthwash, it’s probably wise to use black tea sparingly.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Izu Matcha (ETS image)

Izu Matcha (ETS image)

Here’s my oft-repeated opinion on the health benefits of tea, condensed to one sentence: I don’t deny that there’s evidence that tea can be healthy, but there’s no shortage of people who are eager to stretch those claims in the interest of selling tea.

While many claims for tea’s benefits center on green tea, there have also been efforts to call attention to the alleged health-giving properties of white tea and puerh, in particular. Then there’s matcha, which often seems to be the focus of health claims nowadays.

Which is another of the many varieties of green tea, mind you. It’s a powdered tea, often of high quality, that comes from Japan. Once upon a time, at least in the West, matcha was an obscure tea that was used mostly by those few people who took part in the Japanese tea ceremony. But in the last few years matcha has rallied to become something of a phenomenon, with a number of tea merchants who sell nothing else.

I decided to do a quick and completely unscientific survey of some matcha offerings from a few well-known tea companies and a few of these specialists. One simply mentions health benefits, while another zeros in on the vitamins, minerals and fiber therein. One claims that matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than steeped green tea, while another makes the lofty claim that matcha has an “intense cleansing effect on the body” and “helps to pull the toxins into the blood stream and then filters them out of the body.”

It’s these last two claims or some variation of that I’ve noticed being put forth quite often for matcha. The theory, as I understand it, is that because matcha is made from the entire tea leaf (which is usually just steeped in hot water and thrown away), it contains more antioxidants than other teas. But is that true or just a nice way to sell more tea?

As it turns out, it seems that there’s some evidence to support these claims. In 2003, researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs published a paper they titled Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Which sounds like pretty daunting stuff, but what it boils down to is this, “results indicate that the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.”

In a more recent study, researchers from Croatia tested the antioxidant content of nine varieties of tea that ran the gamut and included matcha. At the top of the heap, along with a variety simply described as Twinings, was matcha. Gyokuro, which is also a type of Japanese green tea, also took a top spot in the rankings. To see the results in PDF format, click here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

People have different reasons for drinking tea. Some do so because they grew up in a tea drinking household and that’s just the way things were done. Some people drink it for the taste – a group that I’d put myself in. Some like the contemplative aspects of the tea experience and the ritual of preparing and drinking tea. And of course there are those that drink it for the boost they get from the caffeine that tea contains.

PG Tips satisfies both those who and don't want caffeine (ETS images)

PG Tips satisfies both those who and don’t want caffeine (ETS images)

Tea is interesting in this latter respect. As a general rule it’s considered to contain less caffeine than coffee. However, the caffeine that tea does contain is offset, in a manner of speaking, by a compound called theanine, which has been found to produce a calming effect.

Which to my way of thinking makes tea a less than optimum choice if you’re just looking for a caffeine kick. But maybe I’m looking at things the wrong way. As it turns out, there are a few tea companies I’ve run across lately who are banking on the fact that there are tea drinkers who want tea with extra caffeine. Yes, that’s right. Tea with a caffeine content that’s over and above what it contains in its natural state.

I wrote about a few of these teas a while back in an article called Industrial Strength Tea. But recently I ran across yet another tea merchant, a rather well known one, who is introducing a line of high caffeine teas. As they put it, these teas are “boosted with green tea extract and pure caffeine from premium tea leaves for an invigorated calm alertness.”

I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. First off, I drink tea in spite of the caffeine and if it were possible to find truly good decaffeinated tea I might consider going that route. I’m definitely not the target audience for this sort of thing and I’ve actually passed on an offer to sample this line.

As I’ve noted already, on the one hand it seems to me that tea is an odd choice for someone who wants extra caffeine, given that the market is already flooded with hyper-caffeinated energy drinks. And of course there’s coffee, in all of its many forms and varieties.

On the other hand, I’ve never been a fan of the taste or smell of coffee and the few energy drinks I’ve sampled over the years were plagued by a distinctly medicinal taste. So if I ever were to come to a point where I needed more caffeine in my day I guess I’d probably prefer to go with an enhanced version of a “premium” tea rather than any of the aforementioned.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

heart-150x150I frequently grumble about the exaggerations that various parties make for the health-giving properties of tea. But I don’t necessarily deny that there might be something to this “tea is healthy” notion, and I’ve written my fair share of articles on the topic. I thought for sure I’d covered the potentially beneficial relationship between tea and the risk of stroke, but a glance at the archives here indicates that this is not the case.

A stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, with over 800,000 people dying here every year from cardiovascular disease and strokes.

As the CDC notes, “you can greatly reduce your risk for stroke through lifestyle changes,” and one of these changes, according to recent research, is to drink three cups of tea a day. Doing so is said to reduce the risk of a stroke by about twenty percent. Rather than doing an original study, the UCLA team who did the research sifted through a number of previous studies on the topic and compiled their findings. While we may be accustomed to green tea getting the lion’s share of the attention in such cases, this time around researchers determined that green or black tea would do just as well at reducing the risk for stroke.

For a layperson’s overview of this study, refer to this recent article from the British press. For an abstract of the study and the option to purchase the full results, look here.

A previous study on tea and stroke was released earlier this year and found that four cups of green tea or one of coffee could also bring about a reduced risk of stroke in the amount of twenty percent. In this case Japanese researchers examined the records of 84,000 Japanese people going back over a 13-year period to arrive at their findings. Results of the study were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke. For more details, refer to this release from the AHA that summarizes the results of the study.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

heart-150x150If you’ve ever doubted that there’s a great deal of offbeat research going on at any given moment, then consider that there’s at least one magazine dedicated to writing about it. That’s the Annals of Improbable Research, which is published by the same organization that sponsors The Ig Nobel Prizes, which “are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”

As far as the annals of improbable tea research go, you can refer to my two previous articles on the topic, here and here. But, as the popular catchphrase goes, wait, there’s more.

Once upon a time buying tea could be something of a crapshoot, due to the fact that it was frequently adulterated for a variety of reasons and with a variety of not so pleasant substances. One of these was Prussian Blue, a dark blue dye said to be one of the first to be made synthetically. Which was something you might not want in your tea and which is why this 1914 studyDetermination of Prussian Blue in Tea – could potentially have been of some value in those dark days.

Then there’s the one about quick melting tea residue. If you have no idea what that is, it’s okay. I didn’t either until I found some research with the rather compact title, A Study on the Feeding Value of Quick Melting Tea Residue. The Test of Digestion and Metabolism by Feeding Fatting Pigs with Quick Melting Residue. Given that full-text versions of the Chinese study are not readily available and perhaps not even in English, what exactly quick melting tea residue is and what effect it has when fed to pigs will have to remain something of a mystery for now.

Also from China, another rather offbeat study is called The Use of a Tea Polyphenol Dip to Extend the Shelf Life of Silver Carp (Hypophthalmicthys Molitrix) During Storage in Ice. As the name suggests the study was undertaken to examine the usefulness of tea’s polyphenols (those compounds said to give tea it’s health-giving properties) for storing frozen fish. The good news (I guess), according to researchers, is that tea polyphenols do actually seem to help in this area.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jasmine Dragon Tears Green Tea (ETS Image)

Jasmine Dragon Tears Green Tea (ETS Image)

While many of us tend to reach for the word depression any time we feel “blue” or “down,” the truth is that real depression is a serious medical issue. The National Institutes of Health describes the problem in the following terms: “Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Each year about 6.7% of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder.”

It might be grasping a bit to suggest that drinking a few cups of green tea are enough to resolve such a significant problem, but a group of researchers have found that green tea may be of some help in alleviating the symptoms of depression. The study was carried out by Chinese researchers at Shandong University in Shandong, China, and their results were recently published in the Nutrition Journal.

Researchers referred to previous studies that found that green tea “reduced the prevalence of depressive symptoms, as well as produced antidepressant-like effects in rodents.” However, it appears that no rodents were used in this latest study. Instead the study was conducted on 74 healthy human being types over a period of five weeks. Some lucky participants in the study were given a powdered form of Chinese green tea and the unlucky ones had to make do with a placebo.

After all of this researchers came to the conclusion that “chronic green tea increased the reward learning and prevented the depressive symptoms. These results also raised the possibility that supplementary administration of green tea might reverse the development of depression.” Researchers focused more on the polyphenols in tea, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), as the compounds that provided these benefits and did not mention theanine (except in a reference to another study). However, given that the theanine in tea has been found to produce feelings of relaxation and calm in tea drinkers, it’s not totally unreasonable to assume that it can have some benefits in fighting depression.

For the Reader’s Digest version of all of this, take a look at the abstract. If you’re made of stronger stuff you can look at more detailed results from the study, here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Digestion is probably one of these things most of us take for granted. Like breathing and a heartbeat and the like, it’s a function that doesn’t attract much of our attention until something goes wrong. Which for many people is apparently quite often, if you consider the constant barrage of advertising one sees for antacids and numerous other pills and potions intended to right digestive ills.

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate for your digestion? (ETS Image)

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate for your digestion? (ETS Image)

But what about tea? What role does it play in aiding or impairing digestion? Well, that depends on whom you ask and when you ask them. I didn’t really find much in the way of studies on the topic from recent times but it’s one that various commentators have tackled over the years, with diverging opinions.

You can see some of these conflicting opinions sometimes in the very same article, as in this 1821 piece from a health magazine of the day. In a book called On Disordered Digestion and Dyspepsia, published in 1889, the author also provides some conflicting opinions on whether tea is good for digestion or not. If I read it right, he seems to conclude that sometimes it is and sometime it isn’t.

Fast forward 15 years, to 1904, and Alexander Lockhart Gillespie tackles the topic in his book, The Natural History of Digestion. He concludes that tea is not necessarily so good for digestion and recommends that it should be taken “weak” and sparingly, and only with meals. He also offers the somewhat offbeat suggestion of adding a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to one’s cup of tea. Two years later, another researcher concluded that beer, tea, and coffee all retarded digestion, but wine did not. Yet another author took on the topic in relation to tea, coffee, and cocoa, in 1920. Read his conclusions here.

More recently, researchers have studied the effects of green tea catechins on the digestion of food allergens and the effects of milk on the absorption of green tea catechins into the system. But most important of all these studies may be a curious one from China titled Effects of Tannin Content in Residue of Tea-leaves on Digestion and Utilization of Nutrients and Metabolic Parameters of Nitrogen in Sheep.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A cuppa Sylvakandy Estate is a drug I can really like. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A cuppa Sylvakandy Estate is a drug I can really like. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

I can across an article on line recently that called caffeine an addictive drug. Well, if you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you know I’m a bit of a stickler for correct terminology (maybe a bit overly so – sigh!). So, I wanted to check out if caffeine could really be called a “drug,” addictive or not.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, chemist, pharmacist, etc., so this is just a lay opinion.

What Is Caffeine?

Definition from Webster’s Online Dictionary:

1. A bitter alkaloid found in coffee and tea that is responsible   for their stimulating effects.[Wordnet]
2. A white, bitter, crystallizable substance, obtained from coffee. It   is identical with the alkaloid theine from tea leaves, and with guaranine   from guarana.[Websters].
There are lots of other definitions, some containing the claim that caffeine acts as a diuretic. However, a number of sources, including this one, show that the diuretic effect can be mild and does not lead to an overall fluid loss. That is, you can drink a cup of tea and the amount of fluid outflow will be less or equal, but not more. Diuretics cause you to have more going out than coming in, fluid-wise.

What Is a Drug?

Definition from TheFreeDictionary.com:

1.
a.
A substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication.
b. Such a substance as recognized or defined by the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
2. A chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behavior and often addiction.

There are other definitions, but I presented one that seems pretty average. And since addiction seems to be part of the reason people get concerned about caffeine, It makes sense to look at that, too.

What Is Addiction?

Definition from Wikipedia (a bit long, so I present an abridged version):

…the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors. … Classic hallmarks of addiction include impaired control over substances or behavior, preoccupation with substance or behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial. … Physiological dependence occurs when the body has to adjust to the substance by incorporating the substance into its ‘normal’ functioning. … Tolerance is the process by which the body continually adapts to the substance and requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the original effects. Withdrawal refers to physical and psychological symptoms experienced when reducing or discontinuing a substance that the body has become dependent on.

I can easily see that tea can be addictive but not necessarily physiologically nor due to caffeine. It can become psychologically addictive in that you feel a strong need for a break and a cuppa. For many Brits this is almost genetic, some kind of internal clock that goes off around 4 p.m. every day.

Conclusion

Who cares? Tea tastes good and generally has a very low level of caffeine. There are decaffeinated teas and things like rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, and other herbals that can serve for those who are super-sensitive to the effects of caffeine. So whether caffeine is classified as a drug or not is immaterial. For now, also, it is not a controlled substance. Hurray!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

British Tea Favourites (ETS image)

British Tea Favourites (ETS image)

So, how much tea should you be drinking? The question is subjective, and each person will have their own answer. But are there any guidelines? It’s safe to say that you shouldn’t be drinking 150 tea bags worth of tea in a day, like the Michigan woman who did so for 17 years and ended with up with a serious bone disease.

It’s obvious that this much tea is excessive. But what if you fall far short of this amount but are still drinking a lot of tea? Well, one must start by defining what “a lot” is, and this, too, tends to be subjective. But according to a recent article in London’s Daily Mail, drinking four cups of tea a day, which some might say is a lot (not me), is better than drinking none at all.

The study cited was conducted by the Preventive and Clinical Investigations Centre in Paris. Researchers found that drinking a lot of tea – which they apparently determined was more than four cups a day – tended to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who abstained from tea. It’s thought that it’s the flavonoids in tea are what causes these beneficial effects. As the article also notes, this runs counter to other advice often given, which suggests that one should moderate one’s consumption of caffeine containing beverages.

At WebMD, the entry for black tea suggests that too much of it can lead to a variety of maladies, including “headache, nervousness, sleep problems, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, irregular heartbeat, tremor, heartburn, dizziness, ringing in the ears, convulsions, and confusion.” However, it’s not so much the tea that’s at fault in such cases but its caffeine content. WebMD offers pretty much the same cautions for green tea.

In a 2007 study titled Black Tea–Helpful or Harmful? A Review of the Evidence, British researchers used studies published between 1990 and 2004 to try to determine “whether consumption of black tea has a positive or negative impact on health.” They found that drinking three or more cups a day could contribute to reduced risk of coronary heart disease. As for quantities, they noted that “a maximum intake of eight cups per day would minimise any risk relating to excess caffeine consumption.”

When writing about Twinings tea guy Stephen Twining here, I found an article in which he claimed to drink as much as 15 cups a day and remarked that less than nine cups “is a completely unsatisfactory tea-drinking day.” Nine cups of tea a day is probably about the limit for yours truly, but the bottom line is that each of us will have a different answer as to how much tea is too much. No one will argue that 150 tea bags a day – or even a third as much as that – is a good idea, but after that it’s pretty much up to our individual needs. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a little bit of common sense thrown in for good measure.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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