Regardless of age, there are many ways of training your brain to improve cognitive function, mental clarity and memory. But, we’re going to leave popular methods like rest, physical exercise, solving puzzles and meditation for another blog segment. This post is tailored towards brain food—in particular spices—which are loaded with potent phytonutrients destined to arise brain health by combating stress, inflammation and degeneration.
Brain—the Master Controller
Cognition, Memory, Mood and Movement—It’s All in The Message
Oxidative Stress—the Common Culprit
Spices Fight Inflammation
Arise the Brain Power
Top 7 Spice to Enhance Brain Function
- Black Tea promotes blood flow to brain
- Cinnamon is a cognition booster
- Ginger improve focus, memory and quicker response time
- Cardamom reduces anxiety and other mood related disorders
- Cloves reduce inflammation, improve memory and learning capacity
- Fennel Seeds lead to better memory and cognition
Black Pepper increases happy hormones serotonin and dopamine
Coriander Seeds calm the brain and remedy against headaches
DUPIsCHAI—The Smart Fuel
We often associate cognitive development with infants and children as their brains grow in size, neural tissue and capacity. As we grow up, the brain reaches maximum size and develops a set of beliefs and ways which impacts our physical and mental health. Many believe that the brain (as with rest of the body) reaches its potential ability by adulthood; but does it?
It turns out that adult brain is not hard wired as some areas are continuously working, developing and adapting by growing new cells (neurons) and connections (synapses). Scientists call this on-going brain adaptation as plasticity or neuroplacticity linking it to learning, memory and recovering from brain injury.[2-3] This means that every time we learn new things, create memories or think new concepts, the brain is stimulated and begins to rewire itself.
These exciting facts about cognitive development enhance quality of life and expectancy by strengthening brain tissue for greater performance and faster recovery from damage [3,4] and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
Regardless of age, there are many ways of training your brain to improve cognitive function, mental clarity and memory. But, we’re going to leave popular methods like rest, physical exercise, solving puzzles and meditation for another blog segment.[6-11] This post is tailored towards brain food—in particular spices—which are loaded with potent phytonutrients destined to arise cognitive health by combating stress, inflammation and degeneration.
Brain—the Master Controller
The study of the brain and function dates back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt. Discovered in 1862, Edwin Smith Papyrus is the oldest known surgical text in the history of civilization which describes processes of identifying symptoms and diagnosing numerous conditions. This includes brain examination and linking related injuries to the loss of body functions. Since those days brain continues to fascinate us with its abilities and prowess.
The brain acts as a primary controller of our nervous system and along with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system (CNS) that regulates most of body functions. It’s made up of two halves (or hemispheres) each one separated into four parts (or lobes) including the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital. The brain weighs on average 1.5 kg (around 4 lbs) but consumes about 20% of total body’s energy (60-70% of total glucose). All those calories are necessary to fuel around 86 billion neurons (nerve cells) plus another 86 billon or so non-neuronal cells (glial cells). Furthermore, these cells are not some dormant structures, but active neural forests that continuously communicate transmissions and generate electrical impulses between themselves and to the rest of the body.
To nourish the brain and all CNS activity an interconnected system of blood vessels spiderwebs surround the brain, bringing in oxygen and nutrients while taking away byproducts. These blood vessels are different from rest of circulatory system in terms of their selectivity of which compounds are allowed to pass through into the CNS. Such high selectivity creates a physical barrier called the blood-brain barrier (BBB) which limits toxins and pathogens from coming through blood inside CNS.[39,40]
Blood-brain barrier consists of overlapped cells along with specialized transporters and enzymes imbedded within allowing access to handful of molecules (like oxygen, glucose, amino acids, caffeine, certain B-vitamins, creatine and nucleotides [DNA bases] and few others).[40,41,73-74] The BBB works well but, can malfunction during inflammation or illness. Designed to keep things out BBB also presents a challenge for many brain drug therapies and treatments.[39-41]
Cognition, Memory, Mood and Movement—It’s All in The Message
Our nervous system is the control hub for the body. It uses nerve cells to receive information through senses, send it to the brain and create an appropriate body response. This communication is non-stop, as we sense our surroundings and react to them. Take riding a bicycle as an example. Our eyes take in light and carry that information through sensory neurons to the brain, which interprets what you see. Other sensors activate body muscles to maintain balance, power the pedals while looking out for danger.
When neurons are stimulated by senses (like touch, smell, taste, temperature, or feeling) they produce a small electrical impulse called action potential which travels from cell to cell. The nerves are physically separated from one another with spaces called synapses where electric messages passed along from one neuron to the next through neurotransmitters. Released from one neuron, neurotransmitters float through synapses and connect to the next neuron’s specific receptors. Think of a track running relay, where one runner is racing while others are waiting for a baton to be passed on. Only in the electrical impulse version, the baton (neurotransmitter) is quickly and precisely thrown forward into next runner’s hand (rather than handed over). This also happens at great speed. Information travels at different rates (due to various neurons) and can move up to 120 meters per second. That may not be lightning fast, but fast nonetheless. And, nerve cells can transmit up to 1,000 impulses per second.
Neurotransmitters are the molecules that float from one neuron to the next across synapses transmitting brain messages. There are different types of neurotransmitters made up of amino acids (glutamate, aspartate, d-serine, GABA), peptides (beta-endorphin, oxytocin), monamines (dopamine, histamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine), gases (nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide), purines (ATP) and other versions (like acetylcholine). All these compounds play roles in vast body responses. After passing action potential baton, the floating (unconnected) neurotransmitters are cleared away from synapses by specific protein transporters and enzymes. Some of these removal compounds (like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) have been the focus on antidepressant medications.
Neuron messaging is complex, often releasing two or more neurotransmitters into synaptic spaces at the same time. This is called cotransmission which bolsters the signal using the same molecules in communicating different things. Take acetylcholine (ACh) for example— the first identified neurotransmitter. ACh is a major player in muscle contraction and basic body functions, including muscle control, involuntary actions and fight-or-flight response. However, ACh also messages inside CNS and has important role in alertness, arousal, attention, learning and reward motivated memories. And, since the brain behaves similar during some parts of rest (like rapid eye movement (REM)) and wakefulness, ACh also promotes communications during REM sleep phase. To ensure so many different body responses get effectively relayed, ACh targets different receptors (neuromuscular and CNS)  and is released by various neurons along with other neurotransmitters (including glycine, glutamate and several other peptides).
When transmitter machinery performs well, the body functions based on the brain’s interpretations of what we see, taste, hear, smell, touch and feel. However, any default within this intricate system leads to diverse physical and mental disorders. In keeping with ACh example, disruption of this neurotransmitter’s production, receptors or inadequate levels have been linked with neuromuscular disease, impaired learning, amnesia [30,46] and Alzheimer’s disease.[47,48]
Oxidative Stress—the Common Culprit
The circulatory system is an expansive web of highways that nourish the body and remove unwanted byproducts. Energy compounds (glucose, fatty acids), building materials (bases, amino acids, cholesterol, vitamins), gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide), messengers (hormones), minerals (sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc), and many other unique molecules and peptides all move through blood plasma to their destination cells. Extensive biochemical pathways within cells create functional products and fuel, along with waste and byproducts which become toxic to the body at high levels.
Many of these byproducts are unstable molecules called free radicals. As the name suggests, free radicals can and do react suddenly with stable cellular tissues causing damage known as oxidation. Having some free radicals are not a bad thing, as immune system keeps a reservoir for our protection against foreign invaders and balances them with adequate levels of antioxidants (or anti-oxidation). The problems evolve when this balance is disrupted as more free radicals are produced than available antioxidants. This continuous state of oxidation is referred to as oxidative stress that leads to chronic inflammation, weakened immunity and greater risk for serious disease.[49-50]
As mentioned, the blood vessels of Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) are highly selective of which molecules pass through to CNS. BBB’s design effectively protects the brain against pathogens and floating toxins. But, oxidative stress and inflammation affect BBB’s permeability, making those blood vessels less restrictive. Dysfunctional BBB allows other molecules (viruses, bacteria, inflammatory proteins, and other immune cells) to enter CNS that usually would not be allowed in. This leads to nutrient deficiency, interruption of neural communication, neuro-inflammation, cellular damage, infection and brain related disorders. For instance, microbes like Group B streptococci can sneak inside the brain during leaky BBB and cause meningitis in newborns.[40,51]
Spices Fight Inflammation
Immune system uses inflammation to protect the body from injuries, infections and disease and initiates it once malfunction, trauma or foreign agents are detected. Acute inflammation begins and stops once the problem has been fixed (ie: infection has been destroyed). But, when inflammatory response doesn’t stop and keeps going, it begins to attack and damage healthy tissues. This over-reactivity is referred to as chronic inflammation and is base of autoimmune diseases (like arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus). Chronic inflammation has also been linked to most modern day diseases, from allergies, to metabolic disorders, to dementia and cancers.
Brain is no different than the rest of the body when it comes to being susceptible to damage from trauma, free radicals or chronic inflammation. To combat any health issue, we often direct our focus towards diet. Many quote Hippocrates’ (ancient Greek physician and “the father of medicine”) saying “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Such mindset is steadily becoming mainstream, as primary care providers prescribe patients healthy food choices, and hospitals in USA and United Kingdom adopting farm-to-hospital initiatives. We’ve known for long time that beyond just calories, foods possess nutrient values particularly in their antioxidant content. These phytonutrients reduce inflammation and shown to possess vast health benefits. Diets, books and authors refer to foods high in antioxidants as superfoods.
Tested foods with highest antioxidant content have been placed in charts (ORAC value) and provided to the public. If we look at the ORAC values for most potent antioxidant foods, majority of them are spices and herbs. This is no accident, as spices have a long history of being used as healing tonics by ancient medicines. At DUPIsCHAI we combine practical experiences of traditional remedies with scientific research to create blends using most powerful superfoods on earth—spices.
Arise the Brain Power
To protect neural tissue against oxidative stress damage, we need phytonutrients that not only potent in antioxidants but capable of passing through brain-blood barrier, an ability that can not be accomplished by every molecule. The spices below, can access brain tissues, packing plenty of healing power against free radicals and trigger other pathways for greater cognitive function and neural protection. Let’s take a closer look.
Top 7 Spice to Enhance Brain Function
The following potent ingredients make up our Arise Tea Blend with 3x more antioxidant rich spices.
Black tea contains caffeine (for our Arise Tea that is about 20mg per teabag; average cup of tea is about 40 mg per 235 mL cup) which has been extensively studied showing improvement in cognition. Caffeine in tea raises mental focus and concentration by promoting blood flow to the brain and interacting in several neurotransmission processes. First, caffeine competes with adenosine in the brain, binding to its receptors and increasing overall neural activity. Secondly, caffeine also promotes the release of other cognition and mood boosting neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, acetylcholine, serotonin, glutamate and GABA. Unlike drinks with higher caffeine doses (ie. coffee [90mg] and energy drinks [74 mg] per 235ml), caffeine in black tea is less likely to over-stimulate the heart and cause other unpleasant side effects.
Black tea reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels which is linked to improved memory. It contains an amino acid called L-theanine that relaxes the brain creating better focus. Brain studies shown L-thanine producing a long lasting attention during extended or difficult tasks.  Caffeine and L-theanine in tea able to cross the BBB and work together to enhance cognition, focus and attention, while increasing psychological effects of mood, calmness and contentment.[14,15,55]
Cinnamon embodies the “power of spice” definition. Loaded with flavonoids (type of polyphenols) like eugenol, quercetin, epicatechin, cinnamtannin B1, cinnamaldehyde and elements like manganese, cinnamon showcases its might with the #3 spot on the ORAC (267,536) chart. These phytonutrients produce a sweet-like aroma that fight inflammation, diabetes, cancers, bacteria and neurodegenerative diseases. When free radicals attack lipids within cellular walls causing damage, they also produce a molecule called malondialdehyde (MDA), which has become a well known marker for oxidative stress, as its levels directly relate to tissue damage. Cinnamon metabolites are capable of crossing BBB and enter the brain where they fight oxidative stress reducing MDA levels, protecting neural tissues and improving internal antioxidants (glutathione (GSH)).[17,18]
There is a lot of research linking neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s to insulin resistance. Since the brain uses about 60-70% of total consumed glucose,  insulin is an important factor in managing all of that sugar distribution. Insulin is able to cross BBB and its resistance (or effectiveness) has been substantially documented to higher risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact the Alzheimer’s disease is often referred to by another name—Type 3 Diabetes. Cinnamon has been extensively shown to reduce numerous inflammation markers, insulin resistance and diabetic symptoms. In the brain, cinnamon’s polyphenols do the same thing. They improve insulin signalling resulting in better brain cell nourishment, sharper memory and cognition. Cinnamon metabolites also increase the removal of tau plaque proteins from brain tissue—another hallmark Alzheimer’s marker.
Besides insulin benefits, cinnamon metabolites decrease numerous inflammatory proteins and protect dopamine releasing neurons. This is important in Parkinson’s disease as cinnamon shown to reduce motor symptoms (movement and balance instability) associated with this brain disorder. Just by smelling or chewing cinnamon products can boost cognitive activity and improve response of memory tasks. Smelling this sweet fragrant spice builds motivation and performance while lessening anxiety related symptoms in ADHD children.
For over 5,000 years ginger has been used by traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines as a healing agent. With over 100 active ingredients (identified thus far) this fragrant rhizome is loaded with potent inflammation fighters that effectively neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammatory pathways in numerous diseases such as respiratory illness, indigestion, diabetes, cancers, arthritis and dementia. Ginger’s 10-gingerol and 6-shogaol are two mighty antioxidants which minimize many inflammatory compounds inside the brain, decrease neuro-inflammation and lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Ginger’s polyphenols protect against brain disorders by improving organ blood flow, safeguarding nerve cells and simultaneously refine memory even after an injury or a stroke. Just by eating ginger enhances focus, learning and speeds up the response times. Another powerful antioxidant of ginger is 6-gingerol which elevates learning and memory neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). The exact mechanism is still work in progress but observation studies show ginger boosting levels of ACh and other neurotransmitters including norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin within brain areas of memory, attention and mood.
This perennial belongs to the Zingiberaceae plant family which includes ginger and turmeric. Known as the “Queen of Spices” cardamom is usually third most expensive spice (after vanilla and saffron). It comes in two varieties and is most popular in Indian cuisine and traditional medicine. Rich in powerful polyphenols like pinene (both alpha and beta), myrcene, limonene, sabinene, 1,8-cineole, linalool, terpinolene, quercetin and methyl eugenol among many others, cardamom helps reduce stress, and advance brain function and cognition.
Cardamom’s phytonutrients increase levels of several neurotransmitters like acetylcholine (ACh) and brain-defined neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is vital to numerous performance skills including learning, short and long term memory (neural plasticity) as well as the growth of new neurons and overall brain development. In Alzheimer’s model, cardamom oils raise ACh and BDNF levels while protecting brain tissue against oxidative stress. This not only improves Alzheimer’s symptoms but also cognition and anti-anxiety effects.
Cardamom also has impressive micronutrient profile including high levels of thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin C and manganese that fight oxidative stress, raise nerve communication, brain energy and cognitive ability in animals. Manganese boosts brain activity in hypothalamus and cortex regions, while speeding up recovery of affected neural pathways and reducing several Parkinson’s symptoms.
Cardamom’s anti-inflammatory properties relax the mind and lessen anxiety along other mood related disorders like PTSD. Quercetin is a flavonoid compound within cardamom believed to be responsible for such powerful effect. Research shown quercetin lowering anxiety and depression in small animals.
Cloves are nutrient superpowers that tip the ORAC scale at #1 spot (with 314,446) as the most potent antioxidant product. Cloves not only pack phytonutrient quantity but also possess well researched heavy-hitters including vitamins (A, C, E, K), manganese and flavonoids like quercetin, anthocyanin, and eugenol. Eugenol is a potent polyphenol that effectively reduces inflammation and shown to be 29 times stronger than aspirin when it comes to preventing blood clots. And cloves have highest levels of eugenol of any spice. Animal studies show cloves essential oils reducing inflammation, improving memory and learning.
Eugenol in clove oil can cross BBB into CNS. Inside the brain, ingredients like eugenol showcase their antioxidants prowess by neutralizing free radicals, protecting brain cells, elevating antioxidant enzymes and shrinking all oxidative stress markers. At the same time eugenol de-stresses the body and raises dopamine and serotonin levels (mood neurotransmitters). Higher concentrations of these transmitters link to lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Fennel seeds are filled with numerous protective ingredients like kaempferol, quercetin, anethole, vitamin C, B complex, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte that’s needed for proper electrical messaging (production of action potential) throughout the body, including the brain. Fennel reverses amnesia in animals within days and shows great promise in neurodegenerative disease research.
Acetylcholine (ACh) is an important regulator within central (CNS) and peripheral (PNS) nervous systems. As a “jack of many traits” ACh is released in neuromuscular junctions to stimulate muscle contractions, while in the brain it modulates impulses responsible for attention, memory, motivation and arousal. Deterioration of ACh (as often seen with age) and its pathways decreases cognition and places us in a greater risk for brain diseases. Phytonutrients within fennel seeds protect brain tissues against oxidative damage and increase ACh levels that improve mental alertness, memory and response.
Other fennel antioxidants such as estragole interact with neural communications (action potential) as well as enzymes which remove floating neurotransmitters inside synapses. Though the exact process is still being worked on, estragole shown elevating levels of several neurotransmitters including norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA that progress memory, cognition and mood.
Known as the “King of Spices” this small fruit from a flowering vine Piper Nigrum contains many special polyphenols like piperine, pipene, camphere, limonene, numerous terpenes, meperidine, isoquercetin, and sarmentine to name a few. These bioactive compounds produce a multitude of anti-inflammatory responses within the brain and rest of the body. Piperine is the main active ingredient responsible for black pepper’s unique spicy taste and smell. Its antioxidant capacities neutralize free radicals, protect brain tissue against oxidative stress, and have been related with better memory and learning ability in dementia animals.
Piperine also enhances the mood by raising dopamine and serotonin levels. The two neurotransmitters are popular markers and treatments for depression, Parkinson’s and epilepsy. Piperine works by inhibiting (or slowing down) enzymes (like monoamine oxidase (MAO)) that break down neurotransmitters, thus increasing availability of dopamine and serotonin for use by neural cells. This makes black pepper a strong antidepressant agent, and as effective as common prescription drugs such as Prozac (fluoxetine). Through similar methods piperine elevates other neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and BDNF[63,69] resulting in greater memory, cognition and lower risk for Alzheimer’s and depression.
Another important ability of piperine is improving nutrient bioavailability—absorption of other beneficial compounds into the blood stream. It helps uptake of nutrients including vitamins B6, B12 and C, amino acids (tryptophan [precursor of serotonin] and phenylalanine [precursor of catecholamines like dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine]), minerals and many others. Piperine also boosts bioavailability of many powerful polyphenols, like curcumin which is poorly absorbed on its own. Piperine can to increase curcumin’s bioavailability by 154% in animals and a whooping 2000% in humans.
As the seeds of a parsley plant, coriander seeds have been used by our ancestors for over 6,500 years. This metabolic booster possesses a multitude of phytonutrients including its star ingredient linalool. With linalool as a major component, coriander seeds can calm the brain and reduce anxiety in animals as effectively as common anxiolytic drugs (such as Diazepam). Coriander has also been used as an ancient remedy against migraines and insomnia. Human trials confirm this by showing coriander’s mighty anti-inflammatory properties decreasing the duration, intensity and frequency of a migraine attack.
As we discussed, neurotransmitter levels are often associated with greater cognition, better communication and lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Linalool is another polyphenol with powerful neuro-protective properties. Like piperine, linalool increases acetylcholine (ACh) levels in the brain (by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase) improving memory and neural function while lowering risk of Alzheimer’s.
DUPIsCHAI—The Smart Fuel
The body is an amazing machine designed with extensive metabolic systems which work harmoniously with each other to understand our surroundings, produce responses and make us more efficient in the process. This includes adaptations to various stresses that may come in form of foods, environment, physical and emotional symptoms, toxins and pathogens.
The brain is at the centre of body’s regulations and along with the spinal cord makes up the CNS. Small in size but very energy hungry the brain uses its 180 billion cells (or so) to do its active, cognitive, self-sustaining and self-protecting functions. CNS designed to be self sufficient and has a collection of personal immune cells (glial cells) that can initiate inflammation and deal with any neural trauma or injury. Another unique protective feature of CNS is its blood vessels, known as blood-brain barrier which only allow access to certain molecules.
BBB is an active research topic for drug companies who study the network in order to move molecules through its 3 gateways into CNS. Getting past BBB is like getting into an exclusive club or establishment where you may: 
- Sneak in via tight junction. These molecules need to be small, inconspicuous (having no charge) and move when opportunity presents itself (concentration gradient between sides).
- Be invited in via regular carrier-mediated door (or transport). This is where 2 or more molecules can enter at same time.
- VIP access through specialized transport mechanism. These are large, specific molecules which brain is looking for and has systems in place of getting them inside the fortress.
Furthermore, the detox enzymes that break down toxins and synthetic drugs inside the liver also exist within BBB performing the same metabolizing tasks. This extra protection denatures brain-targeting drugs and many supplements. Changing chemical composition or shape of medications often alters their effectiveness and/or toxicity.
So which compounds remain intact while able to cross the BBB?
At DUPIsCHAI we seek to answer a more effective question of: which compounds (metabolized or otherwise) cross BBB while preserving their active health properties? The answer is polyphenols and their metabolized versions which maintain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.
Compound delivery into the body, and then to specific organs (like the brain) is challenging to say the least. The food we eat goes through series of gruelling biochemically changing processes. First the digestive track with strong stomach acids followed by the intestines and gut microbiome which break-down or modify almost everything including phytonutrients. Many active compounds are reshaped (or metabolized) by bacteria producing what are called polyphenol microbial metabolites (PMMs). PMMs are polyphenols that maintain original chemical back bone of their parent structure with some chemical modifications enabling them to cross both gut and brain barriers. Research shown many PMMs to be as effective and at times even more effective than original polyphenol reactants in crossing BBB, reducing inflammation and protecting neural tissue.[72-74]
The cool thing about polyphenols, is that their metabolized versions often give them an advantage of getting through BBB’s entry portals. Once inside, these phytonutrients go into action, inhibit NF-kB (main inflammation switch) pathways, reduce key inflammatory markers (TNF-alpha, IL-6) and lower oxidative stress.[72-74] Some of these polyphenol metabolites also strengthen internal immune response and nerve cell growth.
So does that mean that majority of polyphenols found in foods get restructured by the time they enter our cells and exhibit health benefits?
It looks that way, with 95% of ingested phytonutrients pass small intestine into the colon and the gut microbiome. But, regardless of their make-over, these metabolites remain bioactive and showcase even greater benefits by crossing specialized barriers like BBB to fight oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, protect tissues and lower risk of disease. These parent polyphenols are found in our Arise Blend Spices shown to enhance neural activity and immunity, improve memory, attention and response by preserving levels of important neurotransmitters.
Arise Blend is designed far more than just a brain boosting product. It’s an all natural, powerful blend that will not only increase cognitive functionality and performance, but will also support mental health and wellbeing. The selected spices possess potent phytonutrients which have evolved through numerous body systems and barriers while maintaining their effectiveness. Active ingredients of each spice within the Arise blend able to pass through the selective brain-blood barrier and improve brain health and function in a natural and sustainable manner. These phytonutrients protect brain cells against environmental factors, oxidative stress, neurodegenerative diseases and aging. Selected spices cohesively produce multitude of benefits while creating beautiful aroma and flavour that is distinctly unique to DUPIsCHAI Arise.
So what are you waiting for, let’s have a cup and begin our Arise together.
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