Detox Dilemma: How To Make A Detox Plan That Delivers In 2020
After a 2020 that nobody could have predicted, you might be ready to get back in the driver’s seat for 2021! We dug into the archives and updated this favorite to help you take on the new year’s challenges with science and strategy.
Don’t think about “what the best detox diet plan is” before you ask yourself, “how to do a detox diet that actually works?” Make your new year’s resolutions work for you with these top tips for a detox strategy that actually works!
Detox Diet Craze
Is your detox plan breaking down built-up toxins or breaking down your will to go on? Are you ringing in the new year with the motto “new year, new everything” or “old habits die hard”? Short-term 3-day detox diets that claim to cure everything come a dime a dozen, but what does the science say about detoxing?
In a health-and-wellness universe full of supplements, diet fads, and unrealistic expectations, the Resync Team is here to provide some clarity on what separates a real detox strategy from just another bogus get-thin-quick scheme. Here’s what we cover in this blog:
- What is “detoxing”, actually?
- How does your body detox?
- Detox Diets and Weight Loss
- What is Targeted Detoxification?
- How to detoxify heavy metals, mold, chemicals, oxidation, antinutrients, and waste products?
What is “Detoxing”, actually?
The fact that humans have made it this far is a testament to our ability to adapt to whatever comes our way.
When our bodies are working well, we’re able to manage the amount of foreign substances that stick around. This process of managing foreign substances is known as “detoxification” or more broadly, “metabolism”.
The word detox is thrown around a lot, but it’s pretty unclear what a “detox diet” is, let alone what is the “best detox diet”.
- Is it a short-term weight loss diet based on lemon juice pretty much guarantees weight rebound or yo-yo dieting?
- Is it just clearing out the processed foods from your diet, like a sugar-detox diet?
- Is it adding supplements for a natural liver detox and brain detox?
- Or is the diet actually supposed to clear out built up chemicals?
I just want to get it straight now: our organs are already able to detoxify most of what comes at them. Inflammatory triggers are managed by an immune protocol; most foreign chemicals are processed and cleared; heavy metals are chelated and excreted; your body even has a systematic way to get rid of infectious pathogens, mold, and parasites.
If your body has such a specific, coordinated, and universal detoxification system, why then would you just pick any random detox plan that claims to melt the weight and beat fatigue?
Health issues arise when harmful, foreign substances come in faster than your body can get rid of them. They stress the organ that they accumulate in. That stress in one overwhelmed system spills out into other body functions. Over the long run, you’re left with pernicious inflammation and difficult-to-track-down symptoms.
The detoxification strategies we cover here are targeted towards getting rid of what specifically is triggering your symptoms. We’ll start broad and get more detailed, helping you find science-backed strategies to help you live the life you want to!
How Does Your Body Detox?
Let’s start with a brief intro to how your body processes things.
This process is fascinating because it applies to chemicalsー natural and syntheticーin your food, supplements, drugs, and anything else your body recognizes as coming from the outside. Let’s take a tour of the detoxification system.
Imagine taking a pill, almost any pill will do. First, it’s broken down in your stomach and transported through your gut to your liver. The way your intestine cells absorb or ignore the contents is the first step of clearing a foreign substance.
Once it gets to the liver, here’s where classical detoxification occurs.
Some of the drug evades the liver’s catch and ends up circulating in the blood ー that’s what you want for a supplement, prescribed drug, or other bioactive. What remains (and what keeps on coming in from your blood) gets processed in three phases:
- The substance is chemically altered to make it easier to handle
- It is attached to a glutathione molecule (your body’s master antioxidant, see here for more on glutathione) or a number of other carriers to make it easier and safer to move
- The substance is finally transported through the blood to be filtered out by the kidney.
Although this process holds true for most substances, you can imagine that the body is a bit more nuanced than that. Some drugs are converted to their active form via that first phase of detoxification, which completely negates the idea that increasing the activity of detox enzymes will effectively detox your body. It’s much more complex than that.
Certain natural plant chemicals from plants can even deactivate or ramp up the function of certain detoxification steps. This is one of the basics for evidence-based, natural detox regimens.
Over the past year, we even wrote the book on these plant chemicals (aka. polyphenols or phytonutrients). In my new book, my team and I distilled the results from hundreds of research studies into 40 recipes and a ton of information on optimizing recovery from your skin to your bones, check it out!
Your body uses the same processes to take care of the toxic buildup that can result from byproducts of normal metabolism. Exercise too hard? That leftover uric acid, broken proteins, and hydrogen ions are all taken care of via detoxification pathways.
More specialized cases of toxin buildup require more targeted approaches. How your body manages inflammation and oxidation, deals with heavy metals, or how you clear parasites all fall into this category.
In the case of a detox from alcohol, an addictive substance, or something that your body develops a resistance to, it’s important to understand how your body’s natural tolerance affects the function of other symptoms. In some cases, activating detoxification enzymes that you have developed a tolerance or resistance to may make withdrawal symptoms worse. Interestingly, if you’re losing weight, chemicals stored in your fat can cause nasty side-effects [Lee et al 2020]. Make sure to seek the help of a healthcare practitioner before altering your metabolism in any significant way!
Detox Diets And Weight Loss
Many chemicals build up in fat stores, making weight loss a good detox strategy.
Unfortunately though, most joint detox/weight-loss diet plans are really dressed up versions of a short-term crash diet. They draw you in with empty promises and cherry picked reviews, but leave you hanging on to your sanity during the cleanse and hanging on to your weight once it’s all over.
If your goal is weight loss, and the associated detoxification and the well-being that can come with it, you should focus in on sustainable strategies for long-term weight loss, not on rapidly losing water weight.
“How long to do a detox diet”, you might ask? It’s not a 30-day cleanse, it’s not until you can’t go any further. Unfortunately, if there’s a hard and fast number you need to get to in order to detox, then that’s a sure sign that someone’s trying to dupe you into buying their cookie-cutter detox diet plan. You should safely detox as long as it takes for those symptoms to start fading and for those habits to become part of your regular lifestyle.
How to detox
Here are the top tips to lose weight and clear built-up toxins over the long haul. Follow these strategies and you’ll keep losing weight long after your new year’s resolution has lost its lustre.
- Generally speaking, eating too much is the main cause of weight gain. Regardless of the type of calories, if you eat too much of it, your body will store it as fat. If you eat fewer calories, you will lose fat.
This is not a law carved into stone, but a generalization that applies to most people. There is ample evidence that “calories in, calories out” is not the whole story, but it takes up a big part of it.
But that’s not why you’re here. Obviously, something’s not working for you and it goes beyond the number of calories you eat. Not all macronutrients are created equal. Calories from fat, carbohydrates, and protein affect inflammation, insulin, and your metabolism differently. Importantly, different calories affect how full you feel afterwards and how your body processes those calories.
Take a slice of cake, for example. Refined grains and nutrient-free sugar. Loads of saturated fats cooked at burning temperatures. Enough salt to keep you going for a 5K in the heat. All these combined tell your brain that this meal tastes good. Really good.
So good that it’s TOO good, in fact. All those poor-quality nutrients combine to overwhelm your brain’s hunger and fullness signals, making you want more and more. Ever wonder why you crave more sugar after you’ve already downed dessert? Blame a brain stuck in the paleolithic ages that craves fattening foods to bulk up for a lean winter.
Beyond that, the research shows that low-carb and low-fat diets are about as equally effective in weight loss. What’s more important than where the calories are coming from is how the diet feels for you.
- I’ll keep saying it until the big food industry actually hears it: “The diet that works is the diet you can stick to.”
With the idea that all macronutrients are created equal, we’ve put together a basic guide to eating well for sustained weight loss. First, though, let's talk about energy levels and what you need to keep up the stoke for a better body in 2021!
Food And Supplements for Energy During Your Detox Cleanse
We’ve talked about effective energy supplements in a past blog. If you’re curious what supplements support mitochondrial health and what else you can do to harness your body’s full energy potential, check these science-based articles out - they are the best you can find on the internet!
One major takeaway is that you really have to pay attention to your heart health and your physical health for optimal energy levels. This is even more important if you decide to hop on a weight loss detox diet plan. Your body’s metabolism is going to decrease in proportion to your weight loss, which means you’ll have less and less energy available to do the things you want to do with that new body of yours!
Fortunately, we’ve done the research to find out how to fight against low energy levels. What single molecule lowers blood pressure and opens up blood veins when you need it, improves blood flow and nutrient delivery, and improves the function of every organ and tissue in your body?
This is our favorite, but largely unknown, molecule: Nitric Oxide.
We’ve covered nitric oxide in depth, so we won’t take up too much space here. But there are other nutrients it works with to open up your bloodflow and let the energy- and vitality-enhancing oxygen flow in. Ready to dive deep into nitrates and their powerful benefits? Check these resources out!
And if you want to eat to support your nitric oxide, you’ll like this!
Make sure you’re getting enough proteinーyou can cut fat or carbs, but there are many reasons to NOT cut your protein.
Research shows that protein is the most filling macronutrient. More specifically, collagen is regarded as one of the most filling proteins when tested in clinical studies [Veldhorst et al. 2009].
The other major benefit of getting enough protein is that it helps you hold onto your muscle. Having enough muscle translates into better metabolism and being able to resist fatigue while losing weight.
A significant problem of all the weight-loss detox plans is that a juice-based cleanse guarantees that your body will start catabolizing (aka breaking down and eating) itself. Doesn’t sound like you could keep that up for long, does it?
Instead, stick with an evidence-based weight loss strategy that spares your precious protein reserves. Talk to a nutritionist or dietitian to see what your target protein intake should be!
Complex carbs burn slow and steady, giving you long lasting energy compared to refined, or “white” grains.
Fiber is essentially a complex carb that’s too complex for your body to handle. It stays intact until it gets to your colon, and then your gut bacteria go about processing it. The byproducts are part-calorie, part-hormone that have powerful metabolism-regulating, anti-inflammatory effects, and an added perk of helping you feel full for longer.
In the category of carbs should come the natural sugar substitutes that don’t have any calories. Stevia and monkfruit (two of the safest out there) can help initiate and sustain behavior change, but they aren’t necessarily a long-term solution for an insatiable sweet tooth. Start with this list of “51 Ways To Sugar-proof Your Health And Home” and then use these sugar-substitutes as a bridge to get you towards eating less sugar.
Want to learn more about the harmful effects of eating too much of the wrong kind of carbohydrates? Check our blog out, starting here: “Joint Pain And Sweet Tooth: What Can You Do About The Undeniable Link?”
Fat calories are the most misunderstood of the three major macros. The low-fat diet craze is on it’s way out, but not without leaving multiple generations confused and left with more diseases than when the “Great American Diet Experiment” began.
Calories from fat burn slower than any other calorie. They leave you full for hours and have marked advantages over refined carbs (better HDL, better triglycerides, lower blood sugar and insulin, etc.)
Even the much-feared saturated fat appears to be relatively healthy when you take inflammatory refined carbs and foods that trigger insulin out of the picture.
Oilsーwhich contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fatsー are renown for their anti-inflammatory effects. That’s why they’re featured in what many consider the best diet in the world, the Mediterranean diet.
Yes, even the feared, supposedly “pro-inflammatory” omega-6 fatty acids work in positive ways when eaten alongside an otherwise healthy diet. Not that you want to eat an excessive amount of one type of fat at the expense of anotherーtoo much of anything will kill you!ーbut scientists are starting to understand that many pathways paint a favorable picture for oils of all kinds.
Even so, the most important unsaturated fats for weight loss are omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll find these in fish, seafood, grass-fed and wild meat, and nuts and seeds (like walnuts, chia, and flax). Omega-3’s are critical for resolving the inflammation leftover from burning excess fat.
So, what’s better: losing 5 pounds of water in 10 days, or 5 pounds of fat in a month? Don’t fall for the weight-loss detox-cleanse liquid-diet bogus and try these simple tips to legitimately lose the weight and keep it off!
If you want all the details on fat in your diet, check out our guide to a healthy high-fat diet here:
*A quick note on short term water fasting if you’re not overweight. Theoretically, these types of cleanses can provide a powerful reset button for your metabolism, even if your goal isn’t weight loss. It is vital to practice these safely - most people are physically capable of a brief fast, but you’ll definitely want to watch out for symptoms of malnutrition like excessive fatigue or low blood pressure. Reintroduce food slowly and carefully so you don’t put your body into a state of shock. If you’re worried about too much weight loss, look for a targeted cleanse like those listed below that emphasize certain kinds of foods.
Now if you want the strategies you can put into practice to maintain health in every layer of your body and to wake up feeling refreshed every day, you’ll have to check our new ebook. We go way beyond a typical cookbook to incorporate the science of well-being into a non-diet diet. It's part cookbook, part-research review that takes a keen look at food combinations to decrease inflammation, bolster physical and mental performance, and improve health daily by improving your sleep and recovery with what you eat. Check it out here:
And then there’s Resync RTD, the newest product in our line that puts you and your well-being at center stage, available to you and your family now! Read on for more!
What to Detox
Weight loss is a common and popular detox method, but it’s not all that specific. “Lose weight, lose toxins, feel better”, so the slogan goes. It doesn’t get more general than that! No specifics, no science, a cure-all that could apply to literally anyone… sounds like a diet scam to me!
If you want a real detox regimen though, you’re going to have to go beyond the clickbait and empty reviews to figure out how legitimate a plan is for yourself.
One marker of a bunk detox plan is if it claims to “detoxify your whole body” or “total detox” or some other generalized claim. If your symptoms are the result of a specific toxin, are you going to use a shotgun approach and risk deranging everything, or will you take a crossbow’s precision aim to get rid of that toxin?
The types of toxins that can build up and cause symptoms include:
- Metals, especially heavy metals
- Pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and parasites
- Mold and mold toxins
- Synthetic chemicals, environmental pollution, and other persistent chemicals
- Free radicals, reactive oxygen species, and inflammatory triggers
- Nutrient and anti-nutrient sensitivities.
- Byproducts of metabolism (aka “endobiotics”).
Elements Of A Targeted Detox Plan
Since detoxification should be specific to you, I’ll offer some tips that legitimate detox plans should feature. These are just the important ones to look out for; any complete detox plan will require a strategy unique to you.
How to Detoxify Heavy Metals
Metals and minerals are essential nutrients in miniscule quantities. When healthy metals and minerals are eaten in high quantities though, they build up and cause wide-reaching damage.
Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, or radioactive metals have no place in a healthy body, and exposure from the environment and human activity almost guarantees health issues. Start with eliminating your intake of heavy metals; common sources include:
- Your protein powder if you’re not taking NSF-certified supplements like Resync Collagen.
- Rice and refined grains extract and concentrate trace heavy metals from the soil
- Your water might have low levels, check with your municipal government on guidance on your local water quality. (Fun fact, many local governments change your tap water to high pH alkaline water to inhibit lead absorption.)
The common approach to metal and mineral over-exposure is what’s known as “chelation therapy”, which uses antioxidants with mineral-binding capacity to help clear tissues of dangerous levels of metals.
However, these approaches must be medically supervised, carry side effects, and there are less intense ways to get rid of metals if they haven’t built up to overtly toxic levels.
Certain minerals compete with heavy metals for absorption. If the metal exposure is through your diet, one possibility is adding in more zinc, copper, or selenium to your diet to limit how much the other metals are absorbed, for example you may be able to eat selenium-rich brazil nuts with fish known to be high in mercury, like tuna, shark, and swordfish [Spiller 2017; Ralston et al. 2016]]. Just don’t eat too much of these minerals, either!
Similarly, you can also consider eating foods high in the antinutrient phytate. Phytate or phytic acid is a chemical common in whole grains that binds metals and limits their absorption. Once again, this will only work on the metals in your dietーnot the ones that have already built up in your system.
The way these metals cause damage is by causing oxidative damage, so you’ll want to support your innate antioxidant defense system with the tips in the “oxidation and inflammation” section here or below.
How to Detoxify Pathogens
Did you know that 70% of your immune system is in your gut? A healthy diet is the cornerstone of a robust immune systemーeven a little fast food or processed junk can damage your gut’s microbiome, immune system and impair your response to infection.
One thing to consider when thinking about detoxifying infections is that the way you feel when you’re sick isn’t caused by the bacteria or virus itself; those symptoms are caused by your immune system's reaction to those invaders.
As long as the symptoms don’t start to get dangerous (uncontrollable fever, dehydration, etc.), it’s important to not just treat the symptoms: you need to support the inflammatory arc: from the inflammatory trigger to the immune system’s explosive reaction to the resolution of inflammation.
That’s right, that inflammation is a sign that your immune system is working properly.
There are few evidence-based ways to treat or prevent a cold or flu with a special diet (you can just treat the symptoms, though), but there is research to show that elderberry, echinacea or bioavailable zinc at the very first sign of an infection can reduce the length and severity of your illness, making the difference between being strung out on the couch for a week and being able to function through a relatively shorter sickness.
For regular supplementation, consider garlic to dramatically reduce the symptoms of a cold, but vitamin C, echinacea, and ginseng may also provide a bit of benefit.
When it comes to parasites, the research is still in early stages. Certain supplements, diets, and cleanses are said to be effective for some people, but as it stands traditional medicinal approaches may be the most helpful here. Subscribe and we’ll let you know when we see the next evidence-based diet treatment for parasites!
We took the time to lay out the details on everything we could find to support your immune system. Here’s our work on the immune system over the past year:
- Go N-O immunity? A guide to nitric oxide and a healthy immune response.
- Stay In, Stay Healthy: What to Eat to Support Your Immune System Parts 1 & 2
- Most Valuable Antioxidant Showdown During Flu Season: Elderberry vs. Aronia (Chokeberry)
- All About Vitamin C
- And our super in-depth guide to Nitric Oxide & Inflammation: Education for Healthcare Professionals During The Pandemic
I also want you to know about Resync’s newest product, designed with your needs at its center: Resync Ready to Drink. With nitrates to boost your nitric oxide, vitamin C as a frontline antioxidant, fiber for robust gut immunity, and other natural bioactive ingredients, Resync RTD is the energy drink you’ve been waiting for to nourish your heart, your joints, your health, and your immunity. Immune health is on the go and in your hands with Resync RTD!
How to Detoxify Mold
Mold, and more importantly: mold toxins, are emerging as one of the most common sources of diffuse, difficult-to-pinpoint symptoms. Exposure to certain kinds for too long is a direct cause of cancer.
High quality clinical trials have proven that activating certain detoxification pathways in the liver can reduce the cancer-causing power of molds. It’s important that each phase of detoxification is supported, as an imbalance that can leave chemicals partially processed makes them even more dangerous.
Broccoli sprouts do just that, and have been studied extensively for their systemic anti-toxin and anti-inflammatory activity [Kensler et al 2005]. We’ll leave it at the most important and most impactful single nutrient, but if you want more let us know on social media!
How to Detoxify Harmful Chemicals
Synthetic and harmful natural chemicals are used in food processing, agriculture, manufacturing and we are exposed to more every single day in the air we breath and materials we touch. You know those prop 65 warnings that say “this product is known to the state of California to cause…”? Well, it’s not just in California!
Some of these chemicals are environmentally persistent. This means they stay in your body indefinitely and can’t be removed with any therapy. It’s the EPA’s job to monitor and regulate these chemicals but unfortunately the EPA is only able to reactーnot preventーcatastrophes caused by poor oversight.
Because your body’s detox mechanisms are generalized, they are often able to handle environmental toxins. However, since these toxins are so new to the scene it’s easy for them to overwhelm your defenses, warranting a detox regimen.
Liver detoxification strategies that boost your antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and chemical detoxification systems, similar to the ones used for mold, are recommended for getting rid of plastic molecules, pesticides, and pollution. Some of the best include:
- Isothiocyanates that come from glucosinolates in cruciferous (dark green) veggies; they’re particularly high in broccoli sprouts
- Tannins and other phytochemicals in bitter plant parts
- Polyphenols in whole foods, especially in herbs, spices, citrus, and berries
- Nitric oxide from natural nitrates. These play a unique role in the liver detoxification process by enhancing liver blood flow and regulating inflammation and cell death/growth. [Alexander 1998]
- Many others, see the publicly available article by Hodges and Minich (2015), or our own 4-part series on glutathione and selenium for a comprehensive overview.
How to Detoxify Chronic Inflammation And Free Radicals
Free radicals are tiny reactive atoms or molecules that wreak havoc on your body. They are associated with aging, chronic diseases, eating processed and fried food, and low levels of physical activity. Read up on this in our first post on antioxidant systems here.
Too much of these small-yet-damaging agents are the most clear cause of oxidative stress which then leads to inflammation. This spectrum of damaging triggersーfrom individual free radicals to oxidative damage to oxidative stress and inflammation is unique in that many of the players are part of normal physiology in very low doses.
For now, know that vitamins, minerals, plant-based antioxidants, and other inflammation-fighting agents like the full-spectrum polyphenols in Resync Recovery all interact to take care of inflammation and oxidative stress issues.
How to Detoxify Nutrients And Antinutrients
Sometimes nutrients in what you eat can cause unwanted symptoms. This is not a classic case of detoxification though. Your body is able to get rid of trigger foods and the symptoms they cause pass when you pass your bowels.
There are many causes of nutrient sensitivities. Here are a couple:
- You might not have the right gut bacteria to process certain nutrients. A probiotic of good bacteria can be helpful here, as is continuing to eat the nutrient in small quantities for an extended period so that your gut can adapt to it. Adding digestive enzymes ー or ingredients that mimic them, like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice ー can be a helpful strategy for this.
- You might not have the right enzymes to fully absorb nutrients (think of lactose-intolerance, which is an inability to make the lactase enzyme that clears out lactose. This can be solved by eating a manageable level of foods you’re sensitive to or by using digestive enzymes and similar supplements.
- You might have a sensitivity to specific polysaccharides (a special kind of carbohydrate). This is called “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, which affects up to 20% of the U.S. population. It can be managed by finding an IBS dietitian/gastroenterologist to help you follow a low-FODMAPs diet that restricts foods you can’t tolerate. People can also be sensitive to proteins and fats, but this is covered under other functional bowel disorders.
- You might have a bona-fide immune system response to certain foods. If this is temporary, it may be an indicator of leaky gut, which has no established therapy but has been treated with collagen peptides and an ancestral diet. If it’s an intolerance, like celiac disease, your immune system attacks your own cells and can only be resolved by eliminating the trigger food (in this case, gluten in wheat products). If it’s a chronic allergy, like a peanut allergy, there is recent evidence that something called “immunotherapy”, in which small frequent exposures can allow your body to develop a resistance, may be effective [Dantzer et al. 2019]. Talk to your dietitian, GI doc, and immunologist for more options.
The common thread between these approaches is that they each restrict your diet in some way. For many, a restricted diet is the only permanent solution not involving drugs or surgery; it is not a “detox diet” per se, it’s a holistic lifestyle that eliminates toxins.
Some people have a clinical sensitivity to antinutrients in foods like oxalates, phytates, lectins, saponins, and others. An elimination diet is the only treatment for these as well.
An elimination diet starts with a period of intensive food elimination and slowly reintroduces potential trigger foods to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Since these antinutrients come part and parcel in some of the healthiest foods out there, starting an elimination diet is tricky and should only be done with the supervision of a nutritionist or dietitian with a LEAP certification.
- Remember the most important thing of any diet you try: “The more restrictive your diet, the closer you have to manage it”. Don’t risk getting a nutrient deficiency and seek a qualified healthcare provider for help with elimination diets!
How to Detoxify Metabolic Byproducts
Your body is perfectly capable of clearing unwanted toxins that are a buildup of normal metabolic processes.
For example, if you burn protein for fuel, you’ll generate ammonia. Ammonia is so toxic that your body converts it to uric acid and gets rid of it in your urine. This is a perfectly normal process most of the time, but it can get out of hand and cause kidney damage.
Because metabolic detoxification is so general (it could feasibly refer to ANY process in your body), there’s no way a cookie-cutter “detox” diet could really target your specific issues. There are established medical protocols for many metabolic disorders, so talk with your healthcare provider on this one!
Key Takeaways on Detox Diets
- Be wary of short term weight loss cleanses that leave you fatigued, don’t actually provide a unique benefit, and don’t support long-term weight loss.
- Be wary of detox strategies that aren’t targeted to specific toxins or specific detoxification pathways. Your an individual, you need an individualized plan.
- Seek a competent healthcare provider to safely follow a personalized detox strategy.
- Make sure your detox strategy is targeted to your specific needs.
- Trust your gut! People have died from following radical detox plans, so use your best judgement and talk to a supportive healthcare provider before attempting something that seems drastic.
If you liked this framework for a healthy detox diet that works for your individual body, let us know, we’d love to support your goals even further!
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