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Tags aspartame , migraine

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Old 10th July 2008, 02:10 AM   #1
Kuko 4000
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Aspartame <-> migraine, what's the story?

I had my third ever migraine attack yesterday.

But it was the first time I realised it was a migraine attack.

My vision went fuzzy (strange illuminous lines in vision) and quite soon after that suffered from bad headache and nausea. I had to go to bed and sleep.

Just a few months ago I had bumped into this site:

www.migraines.org/myth/mythreal.htm

Went there and found this:

Quote:
A Migraine is induced by various controllable and uncontrollable triggers. Uncontrollable triggers include weather patterns and menstrual cycles, and controllable triggers include bright light, aspartame, and alcohol. The severity and frequency of Migraines for one person depends upon how many triggers an individual must experience before a Migraine is induced. The combination of triggers is different for each person.

Next stop was Finnish Wikipedia where I read that bright lights, loud noise and strong smells could help trigger migraine attacks, I also read that a sweetener called aspartame could help trigger migraine attacks as well and that this is used in some juice concentrates. The first three described my working conditions pretty accurately, especially the strong smells and bright lights, but I had no idea of aspartame.

I had moved to a new apartment in December of last year and to save some money I had started to mix my drinks from juice concentrate, checked the etiquette and found that it indeed included aspartame. All three of my vision blur + nausea + headache attacks have happened during the last 6 months. And at least the previous attack is connected with heavy use of the juice, I can't remember whether the other ones were too, since during the first and second attack I just couldn't connect them to migraine at all and just slept them off wishing I didn't get a flu or something.

Next I briefly scanned the net for aspartame + migraine: google, pubmed, efsa, Finnish Food Safety Authority, etc. and found lots of connecting hits. I also found some conflicting studies, but have had no time to look into them.

Does anyone know better? Any info appreciated.

Last edited by Cuddles; 10th July 2008 at 05:24 AM. Reason: Linkified.
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Old 10th July 2008, 03:44 AM   #2
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You'll find a lot of material relating to harmful effects of aspartame on the web, but little if any of it is reliable.
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Old 10th July 2008, 05:24 AM   #3
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I seem to recal there was a similar thread about this a while ago. I'm no expert on migraines, but the concensuss seems to be that there is a huge variety in the triggers that affect different people, and pretty much anything can be a trigger, from food to light or sound. The fact that aspartame can be a trigger for some people means nothing more than tomatoes being a trigger for others.

As noted on the website you link, aspartame, or indeed any food, is a controllable trigger. If you suspect that it may be causing problems for you, simply try to avoid it as much as possible. As far as I am aware, there is no good evidence that aspartame is actually harmful in any way other than this, but at the same time it's not at all necessary in your diet, so avoiding it won't cause any problems other than the trouble of finding out if it's in your food.
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Old 10th July 2008, 07:19 AM   #4
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"Classic Migraines" are usually triggered by relaxing after stress. I got most of mine at lunch, seems calming down let my blood pressure relax. I remember relaxing, almost getting euphoria, then seeing the lightning bolts...

So, what else happened six months ago to change your stress levels? Do the migraines happen when you return home from that new job that necessitated the move? Perhaps start a log, recording the activities that precede the migraines? What you'd eaten? Sex? Anything stressful, or relaxing?
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Old 10th July 2008, 07:57 AM   #5
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Kuku, I can't guess if you are female or not from your user name, but hormonal fluctuations can also be a migraine trigger, at least in females. Getting birth control or HRT adjusted to the proper dosage or a slow release version might be useful to some females.
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Old 10th July 2008, 01:02 PM   #6
blutoski
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Originally Posted by Kuko 4000 View Post
I had my third ever migraine attack yesterday.

But it was the first time I realised it was a migraine attack.

My vision went fuzzy (strange illuminous lines in vision) and quite soon after that suffered from bad headache and nausea. I had to go to bed and sleep.

Just a few months ago I had bumped into this site:

www.migraines.org/myth/mythreal.htm

Went there and found this:




Next stop was Finnish Wikipedia where I read that bright lights, loud noise and strong smells could help trigger migraine attacks, I also read that a sweetener called aspartame could help trigger migraine attacks as well and that this is used in some juice concentrates. The first three described my working conditions pretty accurately, especially the strong smells and bright lights, but I had no idea of aspartame.

I had moved to a new apartment in December of last year and to save some money I had started to mix my drinks from juice concentrate, checked the etiquette and found that it indeed included aspartame. All three of my vision blur + nausea + headache attacks have happened during the last 6 months. And at least the previous attack is connected with heavy use of the juice, I can't remember whether the other ones were too, since during the first and second attack I just couldn't connect them to migraine at all and just slept them off wishing I didn't get a flu or something.

Next I briefly scanned the net for aspartame + migraine: google, pubmed, efsa, Finnish Food Safety Authority, etc. and found lots of connecting hits. I also found some conflicting studies, but have had no time to look into them.

Does anyone know better? Any info appreciated.

It's unclear if the aspartame is the actual trigger in this case. Two other triggers that accidentally implicate aspartame are sugar and caffeine dependencies. Sometimes switching from a caffeinated sugared product to a decaffeinated aspartame substitute will increase the chance of migraines in those who are vulnerable.

Basically, absence of stimulants, rather than presence of aspartame.
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Last edited by blutoski; 10th July 2008 at 01:04 PM.
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Old 10th July 2008, 01:07 PM   #7
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The only way for you to really know what's going on with you is to keep track of everything you eat and drink, sleep, stress levels, etc, and correlate them with the migraines. Sometimes you will find the common thread isn't even something that you did that day, but something from the day before.

I've had migraines since I was a teenager, and have a pretty good handle on my triggers (stress and lack of sleep, bright sunlight, and certain foods), but artificial sweeteners don't seem to bother me.

And while I know that this is skeptic central when it comes to alternative health stuff I have found that the herbal supplement feverfew seems to reduce frequency/severity. Whether it's real or placebo effect, I pretty much don't care (heh)

Last edited by caffeinated; 10th July 2008 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 10th July 2008, 02:12 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by caffeinated View Post
The only way for you to really know what's going on with you is to keep track of everything you eat and drink, sleep, stress levels, etc, and correlate them with the migraines. Sometimes you will find the common thread isn't even something that you did that day, but something from the day before.

I've had migraines since I was a teenager, and have a pretty good handle on my triggers (stress and lack of sleep, bright sunlight, and certain foods), but artificial sweeteners don't seem to bother me.

And while I know that this is skeptic central when it comes to alternative health stuff I have found that the herbal supplement feverfew seems to reduce frequency/severity. Whether it's real or placebo effect, I pretty much don't care (heh)
You might care, depending on the mechanism of relief. How often do you take it? What quantity? I'd be curious to hear about the specific forumlation you find helpful. Is it a commercial product?

The reason I ask is that Dr. Grollman and I have had some discussions about one big problem in herbaceuticals: adulteration. So many products contain unreported prescription drugs or friendly-named pharmaceutical active ingredients, listed as inactive ingredients.

An example we were looking at last year was a 'pep' pill that contained a very high dose of ephedra (which is banned). They got away with it by calling the ingredient "bitter orange," and listing it in the inactive ingredients. There was also, upon testing, 10x the dose presented on the label. Yes, it worked, but it was a very dangerous product. Potentially addictive.

If the feverfew forumlation is available online or something, I might be interested in getting some and doing a GCMS/IRSpec for certain common adulterations that we find in headache remedies.

Odds are the product is perfectly safe, but it would be an interesting exercise.
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Last edited by blutoski; 10th July 2008 at 02:13 PM.
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Old 10th July 2008, 04:34 PM   #9
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Diet Coke (especially from a fountain dispenser) gives me a headache 30-40 minutes after drinking. I don't experience it with any other soft drinks.
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Old 11th July 2008, 08:13 AM   #10
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Now, this is not common advice, but here is how I have avoided migraines, which I used to have weekly for many years. Now I get about one every two years;

Long ago I had a physician who was just a little avant garde; His reaction to my migraines was not to give me more ergotamine, as the others had, but to give me injections of Magnesium Chloride and to have me take MgCl pills.

It worked.

Migraines, whatever their trigger, are the result of a spasm in the smooth muscles of the blood vessels in the brain. This cuts off oxygen to a part of the brain. If the spasm persists for long enough, the brain tissue downstream from the spasm swells and so even when the spasm releases the vessel is compressed and it can take quite a while for enough oxygen to perfuse to reduce the swelling and for the effected brain tissue to return to normal operation.

Some early-use migraine medicines treat the spasm. Others treat the swelling that come later and ar generally less effective.

Magnesium Chloride prevents the spasm in the first place, or makes it release quickly of it happens.

It is a very good treatment for leg cramps and other muscle spasms, and is quite safe; They give women in labor really large injections of it to smooth out contractions and you know that they would never do that were there any issues as they are very careful with pregnant women.

Now the brand name of MgCl in the US market is "Slo Mag" and it is OTC but is often prescribed for diabetics because it helps the body use insulin. You can find a cheap generic version behind the counter at most pharmacies too, you just have to ask for it, no prescription.

Now, when you have a migraine, take a dozen of them; that is 4X the minimum daily recommendation and is quite safe. But every day take 3-4 of them, err on the side of 4 as three is the FDA minimum and likely your body purges Mg fairly quickly or your would not have this issue to begin with.

Now do this every day and don't slack off or it comes right back.

Do not bother with Mg Citrate or Mg Carbonate; The bonds are too strong and your stomach acid is just not up to breaking them. Hence you will absorb very little of the Mg from them. MgCl is the right way to go as it is an ionic salt and so breaks right down as soon as it dissolves in your stomach.

-Ben
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Old 11th July 2008, 10:24 AM   #11
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Purely anecdotal, but my mam uses feverfew (picked from her herb garden) for the very occasional migraines she gets and she says it works quite well. She also used to give it to us for headaches when we had no paracetamol on the house. Seemed to work, but then you never know when a headache will get better on its own.

Here's a page I found that seems fairly balanced, but I haven't checked out the references they mention.

http://www.relieve-migraine-headache...-migraine.html
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Old 11th July 2008, 12:37 PM   #12
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Well, there are so many things that could trigger a migrane... however it probably wouldn't hurt you at all by cutting Aspartame out of your diet.

It can cause a variety of side-effects, however I'm not sure they're as common as opponents of Nutra-Sweet state as people would be sick and dropping dead left and right, but as an anecdotal story here... I remember when I was younger and I drank some diet soda (only actually happened a few times) because the vending-machine was out of the regular stuff. It tasted awful for one, but I really wanted soda -- in either case, I got this horrible rash and I was itchy as hell. Pretty much every-time I had the diet soda, that happened. (I have read that it was an occasional side-effect of Aspartame)


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Old 11th July 2008, 03:24 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Pantaz View Post
Diet Coke (especially from a fountain dispenser) gives me a headache 30-40 minutes after drinking. I don't experience it with any other soft drinks.
Do you mean you don't experience it with other diet soft drinks?

If it's strictly the aspartame, could be [PKU].
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Old 11th July 2008, 03:40 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by blutoski View Post
It's unclear if the aspartame is the actual trigger in this case. Two other triggers that accidentally implicate aspartame are sugar and caffeine dependencies. Sometimes switching from a caffeinated sugared product to a decaffeinated aspartame substitute will increase the chance of migraines in those who are vulnerable.

Basically, absence of stimulants, rather than presence of aspartame.
One of the strongest migraine triggers is simply allergies. Any substance that one is allergic to, or sensitive to, can trigger migraines. The substance sensitivities which most commonly trigger migrianes are alcohol, monosodium glutamate, and aspartame. As with allergic reactions, the likelihood of any substance triggering a migraine is dependent on the degree of sensitivity, and the dosage of the substance.
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Old 11th July 2008, 03:58 PM   #15
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As a migraine sufferer, I can tell you that the triggers are very variable for everyone. You've just discovered one.

My dad, for example, cannot drink tea because it gives him migraine. But he can drink coffee. For one of my co-workers, it's mint tea. For me, flashing lights of certain frequencies, such as a broken-down fluorescent light, a CRT screen watched in the dark or LCD 3D glasses will trigger very nasty crises which can last up to 3 days. Alcohol is also a very efficient trigger for me, especially in the form of wine (works 100% of times), which is one of the reasons I avoid it, apart from tachycardia and blood pressure drops (I can't get drunk; I get sick and throw up before it happens. I'm the best designated driver ).
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Old 12th July 2008, 08:32 AM   #16
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Thanks for the info and stories everyone!

I can usually keep good count of what foods I use, mainly because I live on a pretty small budget. I don't use alcohol at all. My life is almost totally stress free, so as far as I can see, the main lead and correlation to the migraine attacks I have right now is aspartame. I'm going to change from the juice concentrate (and from the aspartame including chewing gums that I started to use at the same time) to something else. My aim is to keep everything else the same and avoid any other aspartame products and see what happens in 6+ months time.

Still, I'd be interested to read a few good studies about the effects of aspartame, scanning the net briefly I see it's a pretty hot topic!

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Old 12th July 2008, 09:21 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Kuko 4000 View Post
Thanks for the info and stories everyone!

I can usually keep good count of what foods I use, mainly because I live on a pretty small budget. I don't use alcohol at all. My life is almost totally stress free, so as far as I can see, the main lead and correlation to the migraine attacks I have right now is aspartame. I'm going to change from the juice concentrate (and from the aspartame including chewing gums that I started to use at the same time) to something else. My aim is to keep everything else the same and avoid any other aspartame products and see what happens in 6+ months time.

Still, I'd be interested to read a few good studies about the effects of aspartame, scanning the net briefly I see it's a pretty hot topic!
You might search on pubmed, it's a very reliable source of good medical science litt.

This for example might interest you. Seems like a similar case, different edulcorant:

Originally Posted by Pubmed
Migraine triggered by sucralose--a case report.
Bigal ME, Krymchantowski AV.

Department of Neurology, The Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.

Sucralose is the active compound of the most commonly sold sweetener in the United States. Different than aspartame, sucralose is not considered to be a migraine trigger. Herein we report a patient with attacks of migraine consistently triggered by sucralose. She also suffers from menstrually related migraine that had been well-controlled for several months since she switched her contraceptive from fixed estrogen to triphasic contraceptive pills. Some attacks triggered by sucralose were preceded by aura, and she had never experienced migraine with aura before. Withdrawal of the compound was associated with complete resolution of the attacks. Single-blind exposure (vs. sugar) triggered the attacks, after an attack-free period.
Aspartame seems like a known dietary migraine trigger :
Quote:
Aspartame as a dietary trigger of headache.
Lipton RB, Newman LC, Cohen JS, Solomon S.

Many dietary factors have been implicated as possible precipitants of headache. There have been recent differences of opinion with regard to the effect of the artificial sweetener aspartame as a precipitant of headache. To assess the importance of aspartame as a dietary factor in headache, 190 consecutive patients of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Unit were questioned about the effect of alcohol, carbohydrates and aspartame in triggering their headaches. Of the 171 patients who fully completed the survey, 49.7 percent reported alcohol as a precipitating factor, compared to 8.2 percent reporting aspartame and 2.3 percent reporting carbohydrates. Patients with migraine were significantly more likely to report alcohol as a triggering factor and also reported aspartame as a precipitant three times more often than those having other types of headache. The conflicting results of two recent placebo-control studies of aspartame and headache are discussed. We conclude that aspartame may be an important dietary trigger of headache in some people.

This also might be worrying, if you try to use a migraine medication:

Originally Posted by Pubmed
Migraine MLT-down: an unusual presentation of migraine in patients with aspartame-triggered headaches.
Newman LC, Lipton RB.

The Headache Institute, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center, 1000 Tenth Avenue, Suite 1C10, New York, NY 10019, USA.

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener added to many foods and beverages, may trigger headaches in susceptible individuals. We report two patients with aspartame-triggered attacks in whom the use of an aspartame-containing acute medication (Maxalt-MLT) worsened an ongoing attack of migraine.
As I said, triggers vary, and the effects of known triggers also vary in different cases. An example of this is caffeine, which acts sometimes to make OTC analgesics like tylenol or advil work faster against migraine, and in some cases (like it happens to me, I'm so fortunate) worsens the attack considerably.
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Old 12th July 2008, 10:03 AM   #18
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Hi, and welcome to the forum. I think without experimenting or keeping an accurate record of what you've eaten, it's jumping to conclusions to assume that aspartame is the cause of your migraines. However, what you're planning to do would rule out aspartame if you do have a migraine while you're avoiding it. If you don't, you'd still only be sure if you then took aspartame and got a migraine.

I started to get migraines when I was around 15, and since then I get them fairly rarely. I think the main trigger for mine is tiredness, and a bright light may sometimes be the last straw. One change I've had recently is that I've had the blurred vision (aura) and not had the headache following it (which is a relief, as sometimes I've only been able to cope with that by (literally) rolling around on the floor).
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Old 12th July 2008, 10:12 AM   #19
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Thanks Kermit, I bumped into two of those abstracts when I first searched PubMed. If anyone knows of any other studies worth reading please let me know, it saves a lot of time.

According to Finnish Food Safety Authority the ADI for aspartame is 40mg / kg. They say it's around 4 litres per day for a person that weighs 60kg if they have used the maximum amount of aspartame allowed. I would like to know what risks one could have if taking more than the ADI. It's quite normal for me to drink many litres per day, especially when exercising.

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Old 12th July 2008, 10:24 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by zooterkin View Post
Hi, and welcome to the forum. I think without experimenting or keeping an accurate record of what you've eaten, it's jumping to conclusions to assume that aspartame is the cause of your migraines. However, what you're planning to do would rule out aspartame if you do have a migraine while you're avoiding it. If you don't, you'd still only be sure if you then took aspartame and got a migraine.

I started to get migraines when I was around 15, and since then I get them fairly rarely. I think the main trigger for mine is tiredness, and a bright light may sometimes be the last straw. One change I've had recently is that I've had the blurred vision (aura) and not had the headache following it (which is a relief, as sometimes I've only been able to cope with that by (literally) rolling around on the floor).
I agree, I'm quite confident I can keep a good record since my eating habits are fairly simple. I did play with the idea that if I haven't had an attack in the next year or so without heavy aspartame use I might try including it again just for the sake of knowing.

Yeah I can almost feel your pain, I just hope mine never gets that bad, but I did have to leave work early that day and go straight to bed, it was that bad, especially when combined with the nausea.
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Old 13th July 2008, 03:36 AM   #21
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A coupla years ago, I had a mother who insisted that her kid got migraines when he was exposed to aspartame. The kid was coming in for same-day surgery for a minor procedure and would go home the same day. It's not that I didn't believe her (nice double-negative, huh). But, I wasn't 100% sure that aspartame was a trigger. Guilt by association without necessarily causation.

I gave him a pre-med in the pre-operative area, oral midazolam mixed in an elixir, and took him to surgery. I didn't realize that the "inert" elixir used aspartame as the sweetener. Sure enough, the kid woke up with a migraine.

While this isn't proof, per se, I don't think any other anesthetics I gave him necessarily would induce migraine. So, my personal n=1 study here tells me that I should probably avoid this in the future if the patient tells me that it's a trigger.

And, you know what they say about research? N=1 is a case report, N=2 is a series, and N>3 is a clinical trial.

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Old 13th July 2008, 08:11 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Kuko 4000 View Post
According to Finnish Food Safety Authority the ADI for aspartame is 40mg / kg. They say it's around 4 litres per day for a person that weighs 60kg if they have used the maximum amount of aspartame allowed. I would like to know what risks one could have if taking more than the ADI. It's quite normal for me to drink many litres per day, especially when exercising.
FDA limit is the same. According to MSDS, it's not particularly toxic.

Its oral LD50s are over 10 000 mg/kg for both mouse and rat. Compare with 3000 mg/kg for table salt, 42 mg/kg for cholecalciferol (vit. D3). (Rats do not metabolize at the same rate as humans, so most people consider a dose 10X lower in humans as the safe margin for LD50s, so count 1000 mg/kg)

Some reproductive hazards (behavior, low birth weight) are noted, but nothing comparable to what you can read in crazy emails (teratogenicity, carcinogenicity, ect.)

The main known hazard is to people with PKU.
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