The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples

The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples
4.83 (96.55%) 58 votes

Açai berries are touted for their antioxidant power, but does that translate into increased antioxidant capacity of your bloodstream when you eat them?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There are so many açai products on the market now, from frozen pulp in smoothie packs to freeze-dried powder and supplements. How is it eaten traditionally? Amazonian tribes cut down the tree, eat its heart, and then pee on the stump to attract a certain type of beetle that lays these monster maggots. And so, a few weeks later, you’ve got three or four pounds of these suckers; so, you can make some grub-kabobs. I think I’ll just stick with my smoothie pack.

“Despite being used for a long time as food” in the Amazon, only since the beginning of this century have “açaí berries…been the object of scientific research.” Four years ago, I reviewed that research, starting with in vitro studies that showed that açai could kill leukemia cells in a petri dish at levels one might expect in one’s bloodstream eating a cup or two of açai pulp, or cutting the growth of colon cancer cells in half.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies published since then failed to find such benefit for that type of colon cancer, a different type of colon cancer, or an estrogen receptor negative form of breast cancer. An açai extract did appear to kill off a line of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, but to achieve that level of açai nutrients in your breast, you’d have to sit down to like 400 cups of açai pulp.

That’s the problem with many of these petri dish studies: they use concentrations that you could never realistically achieve in your bloodstream. For example, açai berries may exert a neuroprotective effect, blocking the buildup of amyloid fibers implicated in Alzheimer’s—but only at a dose reached drinking maybe 2,000 cups at a time. Or, have an anti-allergy effect, or decrease bone loss—at a mere thousand cups a day.

But, I also talked about a clinical study in which folks were asked to drink less than a cup a day of açai in a smoothie, and appeared to get significant improvements in blood sugar, and insulin levels, and cholesterol. Now, there was no control group, and it was a small study, but there’d never been a bigger study to try to replicate it—until now.

Same amount of açai, for the same duration, but no significant improvements in blood sugars, insulin, or cholesterol. Huh? Why did this study fail to show the benefits seen in the first study? Well, this study was publicly funded—”no conflicts of interest”—whereas the first study was funded by an açai company, which always makes you suspect that maybe the study was somehow designed to get the desired result. And, indeed, the study participants were not just given açai smoothies, but explicitly told to avoid processed meat (like “bacon and hot dogs”). No wonder their numbers looked better at the end of the month.

Now, the new study did find a decrease in markers of oxidative stress in the participants’ bloodstream—a sign of how antioxidant-rich açai berries can be. Those that hock supplements love to talk about how açai consumption can “triple antioxidant capacity;” “triple the antioxidant capacity of [your] blood.”

And, if you look at the study they cite, yes, there was a tripling in antioxidant capacity of the blood after eating açai. But there was the same, or even better, tripling after just plain applesauce, which was used as a control, and is significantly cheaper than açai berries or supplements.

There was a new study showing significant improvements in artery function after eating açai berries, but any more than commoner fruits and vegetables? We’ll find out, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Egorova Valentina and Mint Shirt from The Noun Project

Images Rhynchophorus_palmarum and Suri_Iquitos_Peru thanks to Wikimedia, and maggot1, maggot2 and maggot3 from Reinaldo Aguilar via Flickr. 

Thumbnail image credit: Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There are so many açai products on the market now, from frozen pulp in smoothie packs to freeze-dried powder and supplements. How is it eaten traditionally? Amazonian tribes cut down the tree, eat its heart, and then pee on the stump to attract a certain type of beetle that lays these monster maggots. And so, a few weeks later, you’ve got three or four pounds of these suckers; so, you can make some grub-kabobs. I think I’ll just stick with my smoothie pack.

“Despite being used for a long time as food” in the Amazon, only since the beginning of this century have “açaí berries…been the object of scientific research.” Four years ago, I reviewed that research, starting with in vitro studies that showed that açai could kill leukemia cells in a petri dish at levels one might expect in one’s bloodstream eating a cup or two of açai pulp, or cutting the growth of colon cancer cells in half.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies published since then failed to find such benefit for that type of colon cancer, a different type of colon cancer, or an estrogen receptor negative form of breast cancer. An açai extract did appear to kill off a line of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, but to achieve that level of açai nutrients in your breast, you’d have to sit down to like 400 cups of açai pulp.

That’s the problem with many of these petri dish studies: they use concentrations that you could never realistically achieve in your bloodstream. For example, açai berries may exert a neuroprotective effect, blocking the buildup of amyloid fibers implicated in Alzheimer’s—but only at a dose reached drinking maybe 2,000 cups at a time. Or, have an anti-allergy effect, or decrease bone loss—at a mere thousand cups a day.

But, I also talked about a clinical study in which folks were asked to drink less than a cup a day of açai in a smoothie, and appeared to get significant improvements in blood sugar, and insulin levels, and cholesterol. Now, there was no control group, and it was a small study, but there’d never been a bigger study to try to replicate it—until now.

Same amount of açai, for the same duration, but no significant improvements in blood sugars, insulin, or cholesterol. Huh? Why did this study fail to show the benefits seen in the first study? Well, this study was publicly funded—”no conflicts of interest”—whereas the first study was funded by an açai company, which always makes you suspect that maybe the study was somehow designed to get the desired result. And, indeed, the study participants were not just given açai smoothies, but explicitly told to avoid processed meat (like “bacon and hot dogs”). No wonder their numbers looked better at the end of the month.

Now, the new study did find a decrease in markers of oxidative stress in the participants’ bloodstream—a sign of how antioxidant-rich açai berries can be. Those that hock supplements love to talk about how açai consumption can “triple antioxidant capacity;” “triple the antioxidant capacity of [your] blood.”

And, if you look at the study they cite, yes, there was a tripling in antioxidant capacity of the blood after eating açai. But there was the same, or even better, tripling after just plain applesauce, which was used as a control, and is significantly cheaper than açai berries or supplements.

There was a new study showing significant improvements in artery function after eating açai berries, but any more than commoner fruits and vegetables? We’ll find out, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Egorova Valentina and Mint Shirt from The Noun Project

Images Rhynchophorus_palmarum and Suri_Iquitos_Peru thanks to Wikimedia, and maggot1, maggot2 and maggot3 from Reinaldo Aguilar via Flickr. 

Thumbnail image credit: Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário via Flickr. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

What’s so great about antioxidants? Check out:

Where else can you get them? See Antioxidants in a Pinch and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods vs. Animal Foods.

What are the nutritional aspects of those grubkabobs? See:

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in The Benefits of Açai vs. Blueberries for Artery Function.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

53 responses to “The Antioxidant Effects of Açai vs. Apples

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  1. No comment about this video, but I really miss the sidebar that allowed me to see the previous one. I don’t always get to watch the videos as the are posted. Thanks!




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    1. I have a huge bar under the video with an arrow pointing to the previous video. Check your browser settings or maybe your eyes :-)




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  2. ACAI berries have THEOBROMINE in them, the same stimulant that is in chocolate. Please keep
    this in mind if you need to avoid stimulants and/or caffeine as far as anxiousness, stress, insomnia, etc.

    Not everyone reacts well to Acai berries, and likely for this mostly unknown reason.




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    1. I would thing that apples should have better antioxidant benefits than that from applesauce given that most of the antioxidant rich polyphenols reside in the apple skin and applesauce is usually made from peeled apples.

      “Recently, a cell surface receptor was identified for a nutrient concentrated in apple peels…” https://nutritionfacts.org/video/1-specific-receptors-specific-fruits-vegetables/

      Scientists discover anti-inflammatory polyphenols in apple peels, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111130100455.htm




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      1. Makes sense considering the apple starts to brown and oxidize as soon as you peel it. Well gee than, I’m sure that new GMO apple will fix everything. NOT!




        2
    2. Joe is correct – there are many benefits from eating the skin of apples. Dr. Greger has a great video about the difference in our perceptions of fullness versus hunger in his series on smoothies (Green Drinks) which I recommend for a reminder of the beneficial effects of eating the whole fruit, including the skin. I also recommend Dr. Greger’s video on apples and cancer, where he discusses the beneficial effects of eating apple skins, not just the inside of the apple.
      Thanks for being part of our community!

      Lisa Schmidt, MS, CN
      Mindful Benefits
      plantbaseddocs.com




      11
      1. What about the wax on apples? Even organic apples are waxed. (pouring warm water over an apple will show you whether or not it was).




        1
        1. I have no idea what studies were done to approve the waxes used, but do know that they wash right off with whatever soap you have handy, or with alcohol, or water and baking soda. You’ll not a marked increase in aroma once you wash it off.

          Who has the lowdown on apple wax?




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    3. Its likely just metabolism of fructose to uric acid that’s responsible for the elevation of blood antioxidant capacity. Similar effects would be seen drinking acai juice, water with fructose (as in the following study), or probably HFCS laden soda..

      Lotito & Frei, 2004. The increase in human plasma antioxidant capacity after apple consumption is due to the metabolic effect of fructose on urate, not apple-derived antioxidant flavonoids. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 37(2), pp.251-258.

      Personally, I’m less interested in increasing blood uric acid (not that I’m at high risk for gout), but in how foods affect our cells’ endogenous antioxidant defenses. I think the gold standard to determine this are ex-vivo studies, where a food is consumed for a few weeks, blood is drawn, DNA damage in white blood cells is assessed and/or cells subjected to some chemical insult, but relatively few have been done. Examples would include this 50:50 blueberry/apple juice study (1), this 80:20 red grape/bilberries juice study (2), these two blueberry studies (3, 4) and these two strawberry studies (5, 6). They all worked, and the general lesson is that scientists are looking at dark colored berries (with lots of anthocyanins) and strawberries (with fisetin) as the most promising fruits.




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          1. Is it too much to ask…to think about synergistic effects? Have there been any studies on this? I think I remember some mention.

            Think I’ll print that second link out and take it in and show it to my local vegetable/fruit guy….maybe he’ll know what to do.

            “Therefore, we propose that these microbial catabolites could
            be responsible for a significant proportion of the biological
            activity derived from consumption of fruits, vegetables and
            other plant derived products such as fruit drinks, wine,
            coffee and tea.

            The biological activity of these microbial catabolites would
            be in addition to the biological activity of any absorbed parent
            compound and its mammalian metabolites, and the potential
            for synergy between microbial catabolites and the parent compound
            and its mammalian metabolites could be important but
            has not been studied. Because of the potential importance of
            the microbial catabolites, we need to understand better the
            factors controlling (i) their production and whether this can
            be modulated advantageously, (ii) their absorption and
            mammalian metabolism and (iii) their biological activities
            both in vitro and in vivo.”




            2
          2. Thanks Darryl.

            The list doesn’t contain aronia / chokeberry which afaik has a flavonoid content of about 1750mg per 100g. I take some powered aronia berries every day for a boost.




            0
      1. I understand that fructose is something to be avoided, but I am a bit dubious about the claim that fructose is metabolized to uric acid. Considering the difference in the structures, it seems unlikely. Do you have references?




        0
    1. Hello Nicky,

      It is always interesting to me how fascinated people are with my eating habits!!
      Yes, I am 100% vegan. I do try, however, to not be disordered with my scientifically based eating habits. As Dr. Greger would say, I eat an evidence based diet. Has a trace animal product entered my lips? Probably, although it would be unintentional consumption. If I am eating at a friend or family member’s home, and the only things they made had animal products in them (rarely happens, but it has happened), I will eat small amounts anyway since I know it won’t kill me and my unkindness might kill them. I do work extensively with individuals who are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders, rigid, extreme eating patterns that impair their quality of life and functioning. I am not like that. I have been vegan for many years, and vegetarian for many years before that. If I was to do the math, I have been a vegetarian/vegan for the past 25 years. Kind of a long time!

      How about you?




      9
      1. “As Dr. Greger would say, I eat an evidence based diet.”

        I like the term. Makes it easy for me to explain how and why I eat to people.
        I,to will eat the flesh of dead animals if invited for a meal.. I will use it as a condiment to a plate piled with the available veg… Sometimes slathers with butter and animal products… Usually the next day my guts are in protest… I like how you roll…
        mitch




        3
      2. I eat mostly fruit/veggies with some wild salmon/sardines. I also indulge in a couple packages of mac and cheese on occasion…and a few other “sins” now and then. I even bought a half gallon of ice cream a few weeks ago. (forgive me Dr Greger for I have sinned).

        http://www.ergo-log.com/reduce-your-mortality-risk-factor-5-diet.html

        Results

        Daily consumption of wholegrain products, fruit, vegetables, fish, beans and nuts reduced mortality risk. Nuts are not included in the figure below, but the consumption of 28 g nuts per day reduced the chance of dying by 15 percent [RR = 0.85].

        According to this you should eat more fish than beans….go figure.




        0
  3. Thanks so much. So well said. I like what you say about the “rigid” issue, as far as diet. This is the sort of thing that
    makes me wonder if maybe it is OK sometimes to have a vegan cookie (white sugar, palm oil, processed flour – junk)
    every once in a while. You ever eat vegan junk food, just as a treat every once in awhile? A packaged cookie or vegan
    ice-cream, potato chips, things like that?




    2
    1. That’s really nice, Nicky! And yes, I sometimes eat vegan junk food, although I’m usually disappointed. Vegan junk food is designed to emulate the deliciousness of childhood home baked treats, and sadly, eggs and dairy and sugar and butter have chemical properties that make things taste good. They are not ethical, so don’t yell at me vegan police, but yes, they taste good. If I am going for a vegan treat, I have it rarely (like maybe once a month) and try to choose the best quality (fresh, homemade, or from a vegan bake source) so not packaged, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite.

      I do not eat palm oil, since it is the newest form of transfats. AND HORRIBLE for the environment. Any vegan item with Palm Oil I will avoid, because I have learned about the environmental destruction of the rain forest from greedy palm growers. Watch Cowspiracy for more on this. Nasty stuff.

      And sugar may be much worse than anything else, so I try to avoid added sugars in foods, using fruit/dates/applesauce instead for sweetening.

      No chips (don’t like them thank goodness). Over time my tastes have changed, so there is nothing like a fresh peach in season, a basket of organic blueberries from Washington, and apples in the fall. LOVE them!

      Lisa




      10
  4. Why are they pushing acai berries instead of apples? Simple. Acai berries are a tropical berry, meaning the vast majority of people reading this have no chance of growing them. The average European, American or Canadian can quite easily grow apples in their yard, so they can grow their own and not buy theirs. They want all of the profits going to them. They can’t corner the market on apples.




    4
  5. I apologize for this misplaced post but I have tried to find information on Dr. Greger’s website without luck. I have been advised to go on aspirin therapy to prevent a second TIA but unfortunately I also have GERD and worry about the possible harm to my stomach. Does anyone know if Dr. Greger has ever addressed this. If not, do any of the forum know where I can find information on what to take with baby aspirin in order to avoid harming my digestive system. I wonder if anyone on this forum has experienced this and could offer some advice. Thanks in advance.




    0
    1. Lee, I’m a little reluctant to post this as I’m not a doctor or even a herbalist… but it is my understanding that White Willow Bark is a natural aspirin and causes fewer side effects.

      I take White Willow Bark Extract on a daily basis to prevent or combat inflammation and have done so for more than a year with no problems.




      3
      1. “It turns out that aspirin not only increases the function of mitochondria, it also increases the number of mitochondria. Using a staining method called MitoTracker Green dye, the researchers discovered that aspirin increased the total concentration of mitochondria by two to three times. Since the most notable hallmark of aging is decreased numbers of mitochondria with decreased mitochondrial function, this data makes aspirin look like the best anti-aging substance that has ever come along.

        So should we all run out and start taking aspirin every day? I think there is a better way. It turns out that within a matter of less than 15 minutes, the liver converts aspirin to another substance called salicylic acid. So the researchers reasoned that the effects of aspirin might be from salicylic acid instead of from aspirin itself. So to test for that, they repeated the same experiments using salicylic acid instead of aspirin. And guess what? The results were the same! The salicylic acid did just as well as the aspirin. And salicylic acid does not have the side effect baggage that aspirin has. So how can we take advantage of this new information? It’s quite easy.

        Willow bark is an herb that contains the substance salicin. And when we eat willow bark, our livers convert the salicin to salicylic acid. So by taking willow bark, it is possible to get the same mitochondrial-stimulating effects that come from aspirin.” Dr. Frank Shallenberger

        https://selfhacked.com/blog/23-longevity-boosting-supplements-drugs-increase-lifespan/#comments

        “6 supplements significantly extended lifespan- Black cohosh, Valerian, Celery seed, Passion Flower, Gingko and White Willow bark which white willow increased the mean and maximum chronological lifespan of yeast by 475% and 369%, respectively. White Willow bark represents a much greater effect than rapamycin and metformin, the two best drugs known for their anti-aging effects.”




        3
    2. Lee,

      If you search for aspirin in the search bar at the top you will find lots of links to help you. Searching for GERD will also come up with useful information. Anyway, one detail that I always found very interesting is that folks that eat lots of leafy green vegetables (e.g. most vegans / vegetarians) typically have an aspirin concentration in their blood that is comparable to if they had been taking low dose aspirin regularly. This detail is highlighted in one of the videos on NF here.

      Perhaps you could consider taking it with or after a meal with lots of leafy greens?




      2
    3. hi Lee, I am not a health professional, but I do take a baby aspirin every day. I was on Pantaloc for severe GERD for over TEN years (!) and found myself unable to wean myself off the meds in spite of many determined tries. Then I started eating whole plant foods, no oil, sugar or added salt. I was off the Pantaloc in 7 weeks, and never took another stomach remedy since. I have no issues with taking the aspirin. You’ll be able to find more info at this link, and be sure to check the comments sections too! All the best to you in health ! https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/aspirin/




      0
      1. Susan, thank you for sharing your experience.  I have tried to search Dr. Greger’s website for the information I seek but not much comes up that is relevant to my query.  I must be doing something wrong but will keep trying and will check out the link you sent.  Again, thanks for taking the time to address my issue.




        0
  6. This video serves as a great example of why I love Dr Gregor and his work SO MUCH! He does not have a hidden agenda, not selling salad dressing or supplements, and is dedicated to excellent science. Berkley statistics professor Phillip Stark makes this comment re studies and their resulting stats: “statistics means never having to say you’re certain.” It seems like human nature to want absolutes, but good science represents what we know so far, discovery is always an ongoing process. Understanding how stats and science can be manipulated is one of the great things Dr Gregor brings to the table. Even though he is an ongoing advocate for WFPBD, he still doesn’t compromise science in favor of acai berries. He earns our trust by expecting rigor and pointing it out when it is lacking. Thank you for what you do sir.




    9
  7. Dear Lee:
    Having GED, asthma, varicose veins and recurrent chest pain, I must avoid ASA as it increased bronchospasm and can induce asthma rather quickly.
    A daily dose of fish oil with its anticoagulant effect, works very well for me. I have also tried daily garlic consumption for the same effect but find that with fish oil it is easier to take a measured dose.

    Sending best wishes for good health,
    Rosemary




    2
  8. Wow, this really appealed to my inner nutrition geek! Haha! I just had some acai powder in my smoothie, so I listened to this with great interest. I think I fall prey to the heath food industry and its touting of “superfoods.” For a while, I really bought a ton of them, as I was trying to heal my body. Of course, good, old-fashioned, whole foods are the best superfoods, right? :) I do really like the health benefits of some superfoods as a vegan, especially spirulina and moringa, since those are high in things I can’t always get in my diet. I do enjoy the taste of acai though, but I will keep on eating my apples more :-D




    5
  9. The problem is not whether to eat bugs or filet minion. The problem is how to convince women who cannot feed, and clothe, and educate their children, to have none, until they can take care of the children.




    2
  10. No totally related to the latest video but wondered if anyone could help!

    Influenced by documentaries such as Conspiracy and What The Health I turned Vegetarian 18 months ago and then Vegan 3 months ago, which I’m very happy about.

    Only issue is, that since being vegan I get horrible mouth ulcers all the time. I’ve read something about the balance of Lysine and Arginine in foods, so I’ve tried avoiding some of these foods higher in Arginine (although most these foods tend to be best nutrient dense foods you’re best to eat when vegan) and I’ve also started taking plant based Lysine tablets but still the ulcers appear.

    I’d be really interested to hear anyones experience in this situation.

    Best wishes

    Son




    1
    1. hi Son Osman, congratulations on making a great decision for good health in switching to a plant based diet. Many of us have had to tweak our diets to address particular health issues, at least in the beginning. It doesnt take too long though before we more adept at meal planning and preparation, and our diet improves with time. http://jacknorrisrd.com/odds-and-ends/ This is a well respected website I use often. Besides the lysine/arginine balance, you might consider if you are getting enough DHA (omega 3’s), and zinc. Each of these nutrients can be connected with mouth ulcers.

      http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=115 This is another great site I use .. here the page is for zinc, and where we can find the best sources. It could be as easy as sprinkling a few pumpkin seeds on your daily salad. Try to pack your meals with a variety of whole plant foods and avoid processed foods. https://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/12/dr-gregers-2011-optimum-nutrition-recommendations/ Dr Greger outlines his suggestions to include vegies, fruit, beans and lentils, whole grains, berries, nuts and seeds every day. I hope this helps a bit. All the best to you in health




      2
    2. Sounds like a food allergy. It is not being vegan. But it probably is something new to you. Try eliminating possible culprits one at a time. I turned out to have a bad reaction to Seiten. I was so upset. Took it out and no longer have issues.




      1
    3. Son Osman, Thanks for your question. I am one of the volunteer moderators at the website. I would also suggest having B12 supplement and also for making sure your selenium is enough have two brazil nuts per day. Also making sure you have enough zinc in your diet. Have black tea no sugar added that can have a calming on mouth. In these two references you can learn more. The letter from Lancet is page 1834 there is a letter that talks about Vegan diet. I hope these informations are useful to you.

      Letters

      Mouth ulcers and other causes of orofacial soreness and pain




      0
  11. Hi Nick, Thanks for your question. I am one of the volunteer moderators at the website. As for your question I think perhaps you have realized by being Dr Greger follower is that he recommends us to base our diet on whole food plant based with supplements of B12 and omega three.
    One has to read the content of the supplements as there might be a component in that product that is not all that healthy since the supplements are not regulated. I hope this response is useful to you.




    1
  12. First of all I just have to say THANK YOU for switching to this method of text highlighting. It is much, much better than the other “new” method of blowing the text up and out from the paragrah. Those videos are awful. Hope this feedback makes it to the video editing team.

    I also note that the baseline glucose in the second study that failed to show a difference was already really low! 79. How much lower did you expect it to get?




    0
  13. Açaí is the fruit of a palm tree, it’s NOT a berrie as is pitted like a palm date. The açaí palm tree is cut to remove its tip from where the “heart of palm” or “palmito” is produced, to remove the açaí fruit the palm tree doesn’t need to be destroyed.
    Amazon açaí pulp is consumed with tapioca and is associated with Obesity!




    0

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