Sugar and you

Sugar and you

Dietary sugar has long been a controversial subject, fraught with misunderstanding, misinformation and frank disinformation designed either to rationalise our addictions or to serve special economic interests. The sad fact is, no one substance has likely lead to more diseases or disease complications and no one substance has more persons addicted to it on earth.

Dietary sugar has long been a controversial subject, fraught with misunderstanding, misinformation and frank disinformation designed either to rationalise our addictions or to serve special economic interests. The sad fact […]

We are even led to think we aren’t living life to its fullest if we avoid eating desserts, ice cream cones or birthday cake (all I have to say is that someone really needs to better define what it means to truly feel alive), and we are even led to think we might be “depriving” our children of some revered childhood tradition or worse yet, are even being abusive somehow if we fail to give them candy, cakes, milkshakes, ice cream, soda or other sugar-laden confections. Again, someone out there needs to re-think his or her priorities in life. And children don’t start craving sugar in life until adults start feeding it to them.

One of the first things The Paleo Way 10-week program asks its members to give up is sugar, and for good reason. Just look at the trends in sugar consumption over the last 300 years!

  • In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!

In 1890, the obesity rate in the US was only about 3.4%. By 1975 was already up to 15%. Today that number has more than doubled. And now more than 80% of all processed foods contain added sugar. We are HOOKED. And the more we eat (or taste sweet tastes) the more of it we want and crave. Are you seeing a correlating trend here? And obesity is only the beginning when it comes to sugar’s associated problems. Sugar consumption is a known underlying cause behind essentially all metabolic diseases, from obesity to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer.

But there is a tremendous amount of money involved in the sugar industry (also backed by big oil, big agribusiness and the food industry as a whole, just for starters). The size of USA corn subsidies, alone means anyone who opposes the corn refiners is up against a billion dollar industry.[1] Human health and suffering are often among the last considerations taken into account when it comes to official policymaking. All too often, the nature of politics and the government’s bottom line seems to be “the bottom line” of more capitalistic/lobbyist concerns. When it comes to real health or suffering and hope for meaningful policy intervention, we are all truly on our own. If we are going to achieve any measure of real health, we must take personal responsibility, make our own researched and informed choices and be consistently disciplined in our efforts. No one will ever care more about your health or the health of your family than YOU.

This article was written to help you better understand what sugar is, what forms it comes in, how the body uses it and how it is disguised (or falsely and dangerously mimicked) in our food supply.

Sugar: The Basics

Sugar comes in two basic forms, simple and compound, and the primary forms these come in are called monosaccharides and disaccharides. There are three primary monosaccharides:

  • Glucose, which is also known as dextrose, is also frequently found in fruits (it is particularly high in grape sugar) along with some vegetables and is the form of sugar utilized in the human body (most efficiently) for anaerobic energy.
  • Fructose, also known as fruit sugar. It is the sweetest tasting form of sugar. This simple sugar occurs naturally in all fruits, agave syrup, and is a large component of some root vegetables, high in honey, table sugar, and (of course) industrial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Fructose has a very low glycemic value, but is actually more damaging to the body in many respects than glucose.
  • Galactose is typically only found in conjunction with glucose, which forms the disaccharide molecule, lactose (in milk).

The primary compound or disaccharide sugars are identified as:

  • Sucrose, which is made up of a combination of glucose and fructose and is a primary constituent of table sugar and honey. It is typically derived from either (usually GMO) sugar beets or cane sugar. Carrots actually have significant sucrose content, as well as many fruits and a few other root vegetables.
  • Lactose (found in milk and is made up of a combination of glucose and galactose). It is believed to be particularly helpful for the establishment of Lactobacillus bacteria in the infant gut.
  • Maltose is typically derived from grains, more specifically barley. Usually GMO. It is made up of two molecules of glucose bonded together. Because it is glucose based is less sweet than those sugars containing fructose. Due to its barley content it also contains small amounts of gluten and must be avoided by those that happen to be gluten sensitive.

When most of us think of dietary “sugar” we imagine the refined, white-looking granulated stuff. Many people attempt to make the distinction between “good sugars” (such as from fruit, fruit juice and “natural” sweeteners) and bad sugars (such as those that are more refined, like table sugar, or more industrial sugars such as high fructose corn syrup/HFCS). But to your body and brain there is not the same “good” and “bad” distinction. It is ALL sugar. There is the incredibly minute amount your body can readily makes on its own for what is essential, and then there is the stuff which we attempt to feed it, whose effects are either bad or worse. But no human has any biological dietary requirement for dietary sugar or starch of any kind. Under all but the most extenuating or rare of circumstances we are fully capable of manufacturing every molecule of glucose we need from a combination of protein and fat. And most of us have plenty stored in our liver and muscles for the real emergencies.

But to the human body, dietary sugar—and the varied impacts it imparts comes in many forms. And once it hits your bloodstream it’s all simply sugar. And sugar is always damaging to at least some degree.

Although our distant prehistoric ancestors undoubtedly relished wild fruit when they could find it (which also helped fatten them up for colder seasons), and were willing to risk certain consequences when it came to raiding the occasional bee hive for honey, it is clear that the human body was not really particularly designed with sugar in mind as its primary fuel source.   Less than 1% of the human pancreas is even devoted to producing insulin, which by default is the only hormone we have to help us rid ourselves of serum excesses. Only in modern times have we needed to avail ourselves of so much insulin for this purpose!

The impact of blood sugar on the mental and physical health and well being of virtually everyone seen by any health care practitioner or nutritional therapist is an enormous, if not a rather central issue. Blood sugar dysregulation is literally epidemic and wreaks havoc on every facet of endocrine, neurotransmitter, digestive, immune, cognitive and affective functioning and yet most often what gets addressed instead is the fallout: thyroid and adrenal issues, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, depression, anxiety, attentional disorders, Candida yeast problems, dysbiosis, immune compromise and more. Although many of these issues have other influencing factors the foundational nature of blood sugar dysregulation is often overlooked or marginalized. Too often, if even properly identified the issue gets addressed by attempts at blood sugar “management” when the better option could be elimination of blood sugar issues altogether from the landscape of foundational health by instead adopting a more fat-based, very low carbohydrate diet.

The fact is, for anyone suffering from a chronic condition of any kind—even a supposedly non-metabolic one, blood sugar instability is going to be a foundational issue that has the potential and even likelihood to interfere with the treatment of any illness or issue. No one can successfully address mental illness, cognitive dysfunction, cancers, chronic infections or inflammatory processes without effectively getting blood sugar dysregulation out of the way. And all sugar–natural or otherwise–contributes in some manner, shape or form to that dysregulation.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders is the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine (one of the best medical schools in the US). He has gone so far as to call all refined forms of sugar “toxic”…and for good reason. On May 26, 2009, Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted in YouTube the following July. Anyone who hasn’t watched it, should. Sugar is not just an empty calorie, he says; its effect on us is much more insidious. “It’s not about the calories,” he says. “It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s a poison by itself.”

Lustig also believes that our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that. If he is right (and he is), it would mean that sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles — heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.

The fructose component of sugar and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is at least capable of being metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming table sugar or honey (fructose and glucose together) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (pure glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit your liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in a whole apple. Rapid blood sugar rises adds to the problem, triggering chaos, inflammation and subsequent chronic sympathetic over-arousal (i.e., anxiety, agitation or “fight or flight”).

Once something like table sugar, fruit juice, honey, agave or HFCS hits your bloodstream, the liver automatically converts much of it to fat. In fact, significant fructose consumption is capable all by itself of generating cirrhotic changes in the liver, even if you don’t drink any alcohol! The high fructose component itself is (somewhat seemingly paradoxically) “low glycemic”—in other words it doesn’t elicit much of a glycemic/insulin response). But this is NOT the good thing it might appear to be (or as is typically advertised). Fructose sits in your bloodstream longer than glucose (which insulin at least has the ability to lower) and rapidly glycates and damages every tissue it comes into contact with throughout the body and brain. In fact, it is anywhere from 10-30 times more glycating to your tissues than glucose, although glucose is decidedly glycating/damaging, too. These sugars also automatically contribute to insulin resistance through the excessive glucose component, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in type 2 diabetes that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also well be the underlying defect in many cancers[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9], not to mention other inflammatory and metabolic diseases.[10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

Glycation is the process by which sugars– whether glucose or fructose or some combination of both, combine with any and all tissues and cause them to become increasingly sticky and dysfunctional… Which is the primary mechanism behind the adverse effects of the aging process.[22] The brain and nervous system are especially vulnerable to this process, and brain inflammation, degeneration and peripheral neuropathy are a decidedly common feature of more advanced dysglycemia.

The process of glycation is measured in routine blood chemistries through a marker known as “hemoglobin A1C (Hgb A1C).” Since the life span of your red blood cells is only about three months, this test offers an approximately three month window into the process of glycation. Most of us should want to have this number at 5.4% or below. 5.7% is already considered prediabetic. At 6.0% the implication is that you are averaging 126 mg/dL blood sugar—well within the diabetic range. Quite a bit of research has shown that lower blood sugar— even down to 70 to 85 mg/dL is far more desirable, as long as that is non-symptomatic (i.e, not eliciting hypoglycemia or reactive hypoglycemia symptoms). In fact, recent studies indicate that keeping fasting glucose levels in the range of 70-85 mg/dL and not allowing after-meal glucose levels to spike higher than 40 mg/dL over your fasting value, favorably influences the positive activation of our Sirtuin, or longevity genes.[23]

Those with glucose above 85 mg/dL have been shown to already be at an increased risk of a heart attack. This was revealed in a study of nearly 2,000 men where fasting blood glucose levels were measured over a 22-year period. The startling results showed that men with fasting glucose over 85 (mg/dL) had a 40% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease![24] In yet another study following 1,800 people, coronary disease rates were found to be the same over a 10-year period in pre-diabetics compared to those with full-blown diabetes! The authors of the study commented that impaired fasting glucose significantly increased risk in comparison with the normal glucose group and concluded:

“Early control of blood glucose is essential to prevention and control of coronary heart disease.”[25]

The researchers who conducted this study stated, “fasting blood glucose values in the upper normal range appears to be an important independent predictor of cardiovascular death in nondiabetic apparently healthy middle-aged men.”

Elevated glucose–even in the normal range is also a risk factor for early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]. It is reasonable to extrapolate from this that apparently what is classified as “normal” is still a far cry from optimal. In fact, the data showing that evenly modestly elevated “normal” glucose levels increasing overall disease risk cannot be ignored.[31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36]

Once properly implemented and physiologically adapted, a fat-based, ketogenic approach to eating is far more likely to allow for more optimized blood sugar levels ongoing in an entirely non-symptomatic way.

Fructose Isn’t the Only Problem

Although Lustig mostly focuses on the profoundly deleterious effects of fructose and sucrose, the deadly effects of even slightly elevated glucose are also fatally misunderstood. Any excess glucose generates lethal metabolic pathologies that are underlying factors behind multiple age-related diseases. As new evidence accumulates, it has become abundantly clear that maturing individuals need to take aggressive actions to ensure their fasting and after-meal glucose levels are kept in the lowest possible effective ranges. Like spilled gasoline, excess blood glucose creates a highly combustible environment from which oxidative, damaging and painful inflammatory fires may continually erupt. Excess glucose not used for energy production also readily converts to triglycerides that are either stored as unwanted body fat or accumulate in the blood where they contribute to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.[37] [38] [39] [40] [41]

Also, when after-meal glucose levels surge above 140 mg/dL, risks of virtually all degenerative diseases increase. The dangers of high glucose are so strongly evident that the International Diabetes Federation has warned that non-diabetics with postprandial glucose above 140 mg/dL (normally measured two hours after a meal) are at significant risk for many diseases including[42]:

  • Retinal damage to the eye
  • Arterial blockage
  • Oxidative stress
  • Increased inflammation
  • Endothelial dysfunction
  • Reduced coronary blood flow
  • Increased cancer risk

So which “natural sugars” do you need to watch out for?

Answer: ALL OF THEM.

  • All beet or cane sugar/table sugar/sucrose (note that the majority table sugar today is derived from genetically modified/GMO beets. But all of it is high in damaging glycemic and glycation effects).
  • Brown sugars (essentially identical to table sugar, save the addition of a little molasses for color and a stickier texture)
  • Molasses (a byproduct of the refinement of sugar beets and/or cane sugar into table sugar. It has somewhat lower sugar content than the sugarcane or beets from which it is derived and contains a smattering of nutrients but also has a fairly strong, somewhat bitter flavor.
  • Maple syrup (consists primarily of sucrose and water, with small amounts of  free-form monosaccharides, glucose and fructose).
  • Coconut sugar/nectar (the major component of coconut sugar is sucrose (70–79%) followed by glucose and fructose (3–9%) each.
  • Sucanat (sometimes called “raw sugar” is essentially identical to table sugar in composition, colored with a little molasses).
  • Brown Rice Syrup (has a higher glycemic index than table sugar and is commonly contaminated with arsenic. Yum.)
  • Date sugar (the main sugars found in dates include fructose, glucose and sucrose).
  • Sorghum (a grain-derived sweetener, sorghum is also raised primarily for forage and silage, with sorghum cultivation for cattle feed (good for fattening cattle), as well as the manufacturing of ethanol. I will leave to your imagination what sorghum can do for you. It’s glycemic value is variable depending on it’s the source, but let’s just say it’s anything but a health food).
  • Dextrose and Maltodextrin (dextrose is basically industrial glucose and maltodextrin is industrially derived from processed grains and starches, is nearly always GMO and is largely comprised of insulin/leptin-dysregulating glucose).
  • Yacón Syrup (derived from the tuberous roots of the of the yacón plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius) indigenous to the Andes mountains. Sounds exotic, eh? It is made up of roughly 50% FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), which are sugars typically beneficial to gut bacteria– which is only beneficial to you if the gut bacteria/microbiome you have are mostly healthy. If you happen to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or some other form of dysbiosis this may not be a welcome enhancement. That said, the root also contains about 35% fructose, which is anything but beneficial.

Alcohol Sugars: Potentially OK Sweeteners at times, but always with some caveats

  • Xylitol (technically a sugar alcohol– which are basically a hybrid of sugars and alcohol, xylitol is found in extremely minute amounts in some fruits and vegetables, but is mostly derived from GMO corn grown in China, the most polluted and contaminated country on earth. Organic forms sold in the US are either derived industrially from birch or other plant fiber derivatives, so are likely a bit safer to use. Xylitol has no nutritional value, fewer calories than regular sugar and some make the claim that it may help prevent cavities. OK. But it is clearly not safe for consumption in larger amounts. Other sugar alcohols include

Erythritol- (also known as erythrite, meso-erythritol, or tetrahydroxybutane. It is often sold under the names ZSweet, Wholesome Sweeteners, Organic Zero, Zerose, Now Foods, NuNaturals, and/or Swerve Natural Sweeteners. It is often derived from GMO corn. It is made by fermenting glucose with various yeasts. One possible side effect is nausea.)

Isomalt- (also known as isomaltitol or hydrohenated isomaltulose. Sold as DiabetiSweet, ClearCut and Decomalt. It is frequently made from GMO sugar beets and may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, gas and bloating).

Lactitol- (also known as lactit, lactobiosit and lactositol. Sold as LACTY.) Is GMO-based as it is derived from commercial (GMO grain-fed) milk.

Maltitol- (also known as D-Maltitol, dried maltitol syrup, hydrogenated glucose syrup, hydrogenated high maltose-content glucose syrup, hydrogenated maltose and maltitol syrup powder. Sold as Lesys, Maltisweet and SweetPearl.) Nearly always derived from GMO corn syrup.

Mannitol- (also known as mannite or D-mannitol. Typically added to processed foods and not typically sold on its own. Usually contains GMO’s and is made from cornstarch.

Sorbitol—(also known as D-glucitol, D-glucitol syrup, sorbit, D-sorbitol and sorbol). Is nearly always made from GMO’s unless labeled as organic. Also, just because some of these sugar alcohols are found naturally does not necessarily make them good for you. Monogastric (single stomached) animals are unable to properly metabolize xylose (from which xylitol is derived). Also, people who eat foods containing xylose and other sources of sugar alcohols and to experience digestive issues like gas, bloating and diarrhea. Good times. Also, some hepatic studies have suggested that xylose may ultimately be stored in the body rather than excreted. Hm. It also has the potential to raise blood sugar levels and is certainly not safe for diabetics. Furthermore, it is manufactured through a process of hydrogenation, which is a chemical process involving the use of a potentially toxic mineral, nickel, as a catalyst. One particular study summarized it well when it said, “Pending more favorable experimental data at lower levels of intake, it is deemed inadvisable to risk the incorporation of xylose in foods at any level of intake for extended periods of time.”[43] Finally, it’s probably worth noting for pet owners that xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.

  • Tagatose (not a sugar alcohol, but a low-calorie, low-glycemic, aftertaste-free, supposedly probiotic sugar. The body supposedly metabolizes tagatose differently than it metabolizes sucrose (aka table sugar), so as to produce different effects: Interestingly, some studies suggest that tagatose actually lowers blood sugar.[44] Thus it is being studied for use in certain diabetic medications. My jury is still out on that science, but I’ve learned not to trust artificial or industrially refined sweetener, period).

Recommended Sweeteners (if you need them)

  • Raw Stevia (having zero calories and no adverse glycemic effects, along with the presence of Stevioside, a botanical compound that may even help improve insulin sensitivity, Stevia in its raw and unrefined form is my first choice for a truly beneficial sugar substitute. The brand I am partial to is in a liquid form and called ‘Stevita’. Please avoid overly processed forms and commercial brands (especially like Truvia that combine other sugars in a highly processed and anything but healthy product). Liquid Stevita is literally made from the fresh juice squeezed from the leaves and is preserved with just a touch of grapefruit seed extract. Nothing else.
  • Lo Han Syrup (Lohan Guo), also sold as Lakanto or Monk Fruit (Calorie-free, aftertaste-free and non-glycemic but supposedly about 100 times sweeter than sugar. Liquid and powdered lohan guo concentrate is derived from the antioxidant-rich, lemon-sized fruits of trees that thrive in the hot, misty mountains of southern China and northern Thailand and were allegedly first cultivated by Buddhist monks 800 years ago. The mild sweetness comes primarily from its mogrosides. My main concern would be its sourcing and potential contaminants. I would be considerably less enthusiastic about using it if it came from China.)

In any case, any use of a sweetener or sugar substitute may lead to the unintended consequence of both enhancing one’s taste for sweet things and also potentially stimulating the release of insulin simply due to the sweet stimulus. One article written by David Ludwig, MD, PhD from the Children’s Hospital in Boston in the Harvard Letter suggested that, “some research has identified sweetness receptors in fat tissue. We don’t know for sure, but that raises the possibility that [alternative] sweeteners could cause weight gain by directly stimulating the development of new fat cells.” [45]

Artificial Sweeteners: even worse than sugar itself!

Finally, a word (or actually two) on artificial sweeteners: AVOID THEM!!!!

Apart from being laced with chemicals (some actually designed originally as pesticides), artificial sweeteners are almost guaranteed to make you gain weight, in addition to serving to create extremely negative changes to the composition of your gut bacteria. Some come with about a hundred potential side effects and even a markedly increased risk for cancer. Never use them under any circumstances…ever!

The ones most popularly sold include:

Aspartame, also known as APM, or Aspartyl phenylalanine ester. Is derived from GMO’s (maltodextrin). Over 100 side effects have been associated with aspartame use; including migraines and neurological problems, as well as (according to CSPI) increasing cancer risks, particularly brain cancers. Releases methanol into the body, which has been associated with increased rates of MS. Is also excitotoxic (destroying brain cells).

Commercially sold as:
AminoSweet (but not in US)
Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester
Canderel (not in US)
Equal Classic
NatraTaste Blue

Aspartame blended with Acesulfame-K (contains GMO’s. Also sold in Australia and New Zealand. Baaad juju.). Think of it as double jeapordy.

Commercially sold as:

Cyclamate, also known as calcium cyclamate (banned in US by FDA but still available elsewhere in the world, including Australia and New Zealand)

Commercially sold as:
Calcium cyclamate
Cologran = cyclamate and saccharin; not in US

Saccharin, also known as sodium saccharine, calcium saccharine, potassium saccharin or acid saccharine

Commercially sold as:
Sweet N Low
Equal Saccharin
Necta Sweet
Sweet Twin

Sucralose, also known as 4,1′, 6′-trichlorogalactosucrose or Trichlorosucrose. It is GMO-derived.   Sucralose is an organochloride. Organochlorides are some of the most toxic substances on the earth (many pesticides are organochlorides and are toxic in small doses. It is also in part created by chlorinating sugar. The chlorinating process creates a chemical structure in sucralose that is almost the same as that in the now-banned pesticide DDT.). Commonly reported side effects include migraines, muscle aches, stomach cramps and diarrhea, bladder issues, skin irritation, dizziness and inflammation. And that’s just for starters. Cancers and thymus gland shrinkage have also been demonstrated as possible consequences of its consumption.

Commercially sold as:
Equal Sucralose
NatraTaste Gold

Acesulfame Potassium, Acesulfame-K, Ace-K or ACE

Commercially sold as:
Sweet One
Sweet & Safe

Advantame (newly approved but not yet commercially available. Avoid at all costs. Contains GMO’s and is derived from Aspartame).

Alitame: (chemically similar to Aspartame and pending approval. AVOID!!)

Neotame (not sold on its own but frequently added to processed foods in Australia and New Zealand. Contains GMO’s and is derived from Aspartame)

Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone, also known as Neohesperidin DC or NHDC. NOT sold on its own but frequently added to citrus juices, alcoholic and many other beverages, toothpaste, animal feed and processed foods of all kinds. Is also a supposed “flavor enhancer.” Used in Europe/EU but not sold/approved in the US. Known to cause nausea and migraines.

 In Conclusion:

This article has provided you with a fairly comprehensive overview of natural, semi-natural and artificial sweeteners and why most are overwhelmingly best avoided under even the best of circumstances. If you happen to have any form of dysglycemia or metabolic disease, such as hypoglycemia/reactive hypoglycemia, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart or cardiovascular disease, you should avoid virtually all of this like the plague. I would go so far as to say that most fruit should also be avoided until your dysglycemia/metabolic issues are essentially under control. Also, it’s important to point out that the higher fat diet promoted in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind and as part of The Paleo Way program is simply not compatible with added sugars or starch. The combination of sugar or starch and fat together tends to lead to weight gain and other forms of metabolic dysregulation, even when supposedly “natural” and/or “organic.” Out of all the fruits, the most nutritious by far, as well as the least glycemic and the lowest in sugar are typically berries. Once you are metabolically able to tolerate fruit, these are always your best choice.

And once you have metabolically adapted to the most natural metabolic fuel for humans–fat in the form of ketones and free fatty acids–you will readily lose interest in the sugary snacks and sweet indulgences you used to think you couldn’t live without. Not only will you easily live without them, you will likely live far longer and infinitely happier!

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