5 days gluten-free, 16 to go

I cannot believe it is already March 6th and I am officially gluten-free, at least for now. So far, it has been way easier than I had imagined, which is great because I often feel a pang of guilt when I recommend trying this style of eating to some of my patients. I always suggest deleting gluten from the diet of patients with Hashimoto’s(an autoimmune version of hypothyroidism) , insulin resistance and diabetes, arthritis, IBS(Irritable Bowel Syndrome), diverticulitis, fatigue, weight issues and even mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Those who have followed this advice often report a significant reduction in their symptoms, so much so that they are happy to stay off gluten indefinitely.

For breakfast, I have had either gluten-free toast with peanut butter and homemade jam, rice cakes with hummus,  Greek yoghurt with fruit and nuts, eggs with lots of sautéed veggies  or quinoa with cheese. I have not felt deprived at all.

Lunch is usually a salad loaded up with veggies, a source of protein or two and some nuts thrown in for crunch(I am definitely drawn to crunchy, salty and spicy foods over others). Snacks include sliced up apples or pears, a handful of grapes or a small portion of nuts(10 almonds/walnuts, or 40 pistachios is just the right amount).

Dinner has consisted of roasted veggies and goat cheese, tomato sauce over steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese(here is where my Italian roots come out: I just love a hearty tomato sauce and have found it to be quite wonderful served over veggies instead of pasta: another way to lower sugar and gluten consumption), chicken + yams + a salad, seafood and quinoa and veggies: really the possibilities are endless. I went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants last weekend and chose the polenta with sausage: YUM! I avoided the warm crusty Italian bread with olive oil: ouch…but I survived and happily so. I honestly believe this is a good change for me as I am one of those who often fills up on bread if it is there.

I have noticed that 1. I feel great: lots of energy. 2. I am not as hungry between meals( I am quite the grazer usually) 3. My clothes around the waistline feel a little looser.  So these are subtle changes but it has only been 5 days. I will keep you posted throughout the next 2+ weeks.

Bon appétit, sans gluten.

Another fun birthday celebration(they just keep coming, thankfully): this time gluten-free for me

Another fun birthday celebration, Melinda’s(they just keep coming for all of us, thankfully): this time gluten-free for me

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Hormone Hijack! Women and Weight Loss – Free Webinar – Tomorrow morning – Sign up right now – below…

Weight Loss Winners

If you’ve spent another January battling with your new diet regime only to find your resolve, rather than your weight, deflated you may be experiencing a hormone hijack.In tomorrow morning’s webinar, Dr. Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD, will help you identify your trouble spots. She will share practical advice about how you can override your hormone saboteurs for an immediate sense of success that can aid weight loss as well as long term weight management – for men and women alike. You will learn:

  • How your willpower can be so easily challenged
  • How your mood can be changed by what you eat
  • How going to the gym might be making things worse
  • How stress and lack of sleep can sabotage your best intentions
  • Why your metabolism may have slowed, making weight loss an almost impossible dream

Date: February 27, 2014 at 11am PT
Presented by: Dr. Alyssa Burns-Hill

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Dr. Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD, MSc, FRSPH, MIHPE has clinics in London and the Channel Islands, as well as an international virtual clinic where she helps people overcome imbalance problems naturally. Alyssa’s patients find that stubborn weight, and weight that has changed their shape, effortlessly falls away as a result of learning some key facts about their hormone health.

Mark the time! Tomorrow at 11am free webinar presented by an expert on the subject who lives in Britain and just wrote a book on the very subject …you will love learning tomorrow, not to mention listening to Dr. Alyssa Burns- Hill’s lovely as can be British accent! Here is the link to register now: http://www.zrtlab.com/weight-loss-winners

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Going gluten-free: what you need to know

In my last post, I talked about some of the issues surrounding the consumption of gluten and wheat and why someone might consider going without for awhile. As you may remember, I am going to go gluten-free myself for 21 days starting on March 1st ,which is a mere 5 days away. Gluten tends to be rather ubiquitous, hiding in not only foods(like black and red licorice, I just discovered) but also in makeup, toothpaste, personal health care items and prescriptions.

In November, I attended an all-day seminar on gluten-related disorders put on by Nadine Grzeskowiak, a nurse who discovered that she herself had serious health consequences from gluten consumption. Once she eliminated it from her diet, her quality of life changed so much that she started to devote herself to educating others on this topic. You can find out more about her and her programs at http://www.GlutenFreeRN.com.

Going gluten-free can feel a bit daunting if you have never really thought about it but it is also extremely manageable to do so. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Pacific Northwest are particularly lucky as we have a wide choice of health-conscious stores to choose from . During the past few weeks, I have been perusing the aisles and have amassed a nice selection of gluten-free grains(remember I love to bake and cook) and things that I can snack on. The choices are amazing!  I have ‘practiced’ going gluten-free for a few days at a time and I can honestly say that it has not been very difficult. I know that I will miss Italian focaccia bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as New York style pizza….but I will live and not only that, I will thrive: of that I am certain. Perhaps I will even discover something without gluten that I will love as much: one can only hope.

Okay, here goes: the lists of what you can and cannot eat if you are choosing to join me. These lists are gleaned from “Wheat Belly” and Nadine’s workshop and may not include everything that you CAN eat but I believe that they do list everything that you cannot eat. I always advise my patients who are adopting this lifestyle change to pick up a book on this topic AND to take a ‘gluten-free’ tour in their local Whole Foods/ New Seasons -type grocery store.

What to avoid: Wheat, Spelt, Seitan, Semolina, Couscous, Durum,  Kamut, Bulfar, Farina, Emmer, Graham, Barley, Malt, Rye and Oats(there are gluten-free oats available by the way: more about that later)

What you CAN eat: vegetables, fruits, organic meats, fish, nuts, seeds, rice, corn , potatoes, beans, dairy , ‘safe grains’: this includes nut flours(such as almond, chestnut, coconut, pecan and hazelnut), grain flours(rice, corn, millet, sorghum , teff and quinoa), legume flours(peanut, lava and chickpea), seed flours(amaranth and buckwheat: yes buckwheat is NOT a wheat), tuber flours(potato, tapioca and arrowroot).

Some of the many choices available to bake with gluten

Some of the many choices available to bake with gluten

Something else you should know is that according to Dr. Davis(author of ‘Wheat Belly’),the tuber flours in particular can raise your blood sugar. This is particularly important if you already know that you have insulin resistance or are hoping to lose some weight by adopting a gluten-free diet. Before buying something, read the label and decide if this product is right for you.

If you are a baker, you can make your own gluten-free baked goods and know exactly what is in each item.  I am excited to try some new recipes in the gluten-free world as there are some delicious substitutes already out there. Here in Lake Oswego we have one of the best GF bakeries around: Kyra’s. The owner actually won a baking contest against bakers that cooked the traditional way. I have tasted her cinnamon rolls and cupcakes, which were simply amazing. Again, switching out sweets that are gluten-free for those that contain it will not be part of a weight-loss plan, but living without any treats forever is not a realistic goal for most of us and it is lovely to know that there are suitable choices for a gluten-free lifestyle.

There are some excellent mail-order sources for gluten-free products(like oats). Two that immediately come to mind are Bob’s Red Mill,located in Portland, and Lingonberries Market, which is located in Vancouver, WA. If you happen to live in the Portland metro area, take a trip to both of these stores to see the incredible selection of delicious gluten-free choices that are available. Otherwise, go to their websites and do your shopping online. Once you gain awareness of how many great choices you still have,  I promise that you will not feel deprived in any way.

Some of my new favorite snacks

Some of my new favorite snacks

So if you are joining me, take inventory of the things you have in your fridge and cupboards and make room for the new foods that you will be eating. I will be sharing some of my observations and recipes with you and I hope that you will do the same.  A toast(gluten-free of course) to healthy eating and living!

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Gluten: what is all the fuss about anyway????

Isn’t it amazing how hard it is to make sustainable changes in your diet and/or exercise program between all of the holidays and celebrations that just seem to keep coming? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE holidays, birthdays, parties for no apparent reason, book club meetings, happy hour, after-work get-togethers, lunches with friends: my point is that there never seems to be a ‘perfect time’ to try to create some new habits. I have been thinking about this long and hard as 2014 has started and is now well under way(almost 1/6 th over, how did that happen???). Lately I have been immersing myself into reading about gluten/wheat/inflammation/belly fat. I am just about done reading the excellent book “Wheat Belly” by cardiologist William Davis, MD. In addition, I recently attended a terrific conference on gluten and I am getting more and more convinced that for some of us, gluten can cause some significant health problems.

My beautiful birthday group: yet another celebration!

My beautiful birthday group: yet another celebration!

Candace and I are both fascinated by the links between diet, hormone balance and weight issues. This has become quite a hot topic in the last few decades.  There is so much information that it can be overwhelming for most of us to sort through: which diet is best?:  low-fat, low carb, high protein, no grains, no sugar, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo: the list is endless and the media is constantly profiling contradictory studies about each of these programs, therefore adding more confusion to the mix.

Obviously, there is not one diet type that fits everyone on this planet. Each of us is born with a certain ‘genotype’, or genetic code, that determines about 30% of who we are and how healthy we will be. The great news, however, is that our ‘phenotype'(how we look and who we are, in terms of personality, health and everything else you can think of) is shaped by our environment and the choices we make. In other words, we have a great deal of say in who we become and what level of health we can reach and maintain. 

Making the right choices when you eat is pivotal to how healthy you look and feel

Making the right choices when you eat is pivotal to how healthy you look and feel

Getting back to gluten and wheat: what we now know is that the wheat that we consume now compared to what we consumed 50 years ago is very different. There has been a push to make the grains that we eat grow faster(leading to greater yields of crops, i.e. more profit for the farmers and all involved in the food supply chain). The wheat we now consume has between 50 and 500% greater gluten content than what was available a mere half century ago. Why is this important? Studies have shown that an individual consuming present-day wheat has a jump in blood glucose(sugar) higher than when then that same person eats white sugar. This is very alarming indeed.

Here is a quick overview of what happens when your blood sugar goes up after eating: Your body can do only 3 things with an elevated blood sugar: use it as energy, store it as glycogen in the liver or store it as fat. Well, guess what? If you are consuming more calories than what you are burning, you don’t need the glucose for energy. In addition, your body can only store so much as glycogen, so the majority gets stored as fat. Insulin is the hormone that is released by the pancreas in response to an elevated blood glucose and allows your body to use the glucose(and store it as fat). Over time, if your body is continually bombarded by a rise in blood sugar, your insulin becomes resistant and you need more of it to utilize the glucose, leading to more fat storage: this becomes quite a vicious cycle! Once your body becomes insulin resistant, it is harder to lose weight, something we hear all the time: “I just don’t eat that much and I cannot seem to lose weight, especially around my middle”. Eventually insulin resistance leads to Type II Diabetes, a road that you would rather not go down if you can avoid it.  And you can: that is the excellent news. By changing your diet and your exercise routine, you can return to the path towards optimal weight and hormone balance.

You can look and feel wonderful when your hormones and diet is balanced

You can look and feel wonderful when your hormones and diet is balanced

So is going gluten-free for you? Honestly, I cannot answer that and I don’t know if it has a huge impact on me. What I DO know is that many of the women that I see as patients have given up gluten, either by my or someone else’s recommendation, and the effect for many has been profound. I am going to ask several of them to write some comments about what happened to them individually, as I think that will be more powerful than hearing it from me. Briefly, they have noticed weight loss, clearer skin and thinking, increased energy, loss of belly fat and an overall sense of well-being. If it sounds too good to be true, it is not. For the millions of people who are gluten intolerant, giving it up can be a game changer. My goal is to go off of gluten completely starting March 1st and stay off for 21 days.  Please feel free to join me, as so many of you have in the past with our ‘consciousness cleanses’. It is nice to have company when embarking on a new way of eating and it will be fun to see what we notice individually and as a group.

Stay tuned: more info to come on what you can and cannot eat. But don’t worry: there is still an amazing selection of food out there that is without gluten. We will eat well and hopefully we will notice some significant differences in how we look and feel.

That's me inside of a 1000 year old plus tree: now that's sustainable living!

That’s me inside of a 1000 year old plus tree: now that’s sustainable living!

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Thyroid Games Part II: Protecting Your Thyroid

In Part 1 of Thyroid Games, I zeroed in on the enemies of healthy thyroid function.  In Part 2 we target the best ways to arm ourselves against the worst offenders (listed below) to boost and protect thyroid health.

Keep Estrogen dominance at bay– this imbalance of high estrogen/low progesterone can suppress the active thyroid hormones that drive metabolism. Your best defense: if testing reveals a problem, consider supplementing with natural progesterone to rebalance and keep estrogens in check. Also key is avoiding xenoestrogens, the environmental toxins found in everything from soup cans to shampoos (see below) that increase the body’s estrogen burden. 

Boost low androgen levels (testosterone and DHEA) – deficiencies of the anabolic hormones that build bone and muscle can cause the metabolic rate to implode. Your best defense:  Exercise, particularly strength training to increase lean muscle mass and boost natural androgen production. Also supplementing DHEA at physiologic levels (e.g. the amount naturally produced in the body) or androgen therapy (with physician guidance) can boost levels.

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Normalize stress hormones – high cortisol levels run interference on active thyroid conversion leading to weight gain and other common symptoms of thyroid deficiency. Your best defense: Turn down the volume. Are you overworked, overbooked, over caffeinated?  Obviously we can’t avoid all stress, but we can develop strategies to limit the damage.  Deep rest is the opposite of the stress response so taking up meditation, yoga, T’ai Chi, deep breathing walking, and/or creative pursuits, can lower stress hormones on overdrive and free up thyroid. Cutting out the junk foods and caffeine that spike cortisol levels is another key to easing the stress response.

When in China you see women and men doing Tai Chi everywhere in the public parks and along the rivers...these are time tested paths to finding balance

When in China you see women and men doing Tai Chi everywhere in the public parks and along the rivers…these are time tested paths to finding balance


Correct Iodine deficiency
– Enzyme conversion of thyroid hormone depends on adequate mineral levels, particularly of iodine and selenium. Iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, and when levels drop, the thyroid gland is unable to make enough hormone to drive metabolic processes. Dietary shifts away from iodine-rich foods, and vegan diets, have resulted in lower iodine consumption over time. Your best defense: If testing shows a deficiency, consider thyroid hormone and/or iodine therapy. Good food sources are sea vegetables (e.g. kelp, kombu), yogurt, cranberries, strawberries, navy beans, potato (with skin), and Himalayan (gray) salt.

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Maintain Selenium levels – though found in minute amounts in the body, a deficiency of this essential mineral (due to denatured soil, poor absorption, and heavy metal exposure), disrupts thyroid hormone synthesis and action. Your best defense:  Test for arsenic and mercury exposure (www.zrtlab.com) that can reduce selenium’s bioavailability in the body. To minimize the bad effects of these heavy metals, consider supplementing adequate selenium (200-400mcg) for anti-oxidant defense and thyroid hormone conversion. Good food sources are found in organ meats, brewers yeast, fish, grains, cereals, and dairy products.

Essential vitamins – Deficiencies of C, D, A, E and B12 vitamins have been shown to be lower in individuals suffering from thyroid disorders. Your best defense: Take your vitamins. Correcting a deficiency through optimal nutrition and supplementing as needed, can go a long way to improving thyroid function. 

Eat whole pieces of fruit every day, loaded with nutrients and full of fiber

Eat whole pieces of fruit every day, loaded with nutrients and full of fiber

Rule out heavy metal toxicity –the environmental pollutants arsenic and mercury, when present at high levels deplete iodine and selenium – key players in thyroid hormone activation.  Your Best defense: Adequate dietary or supplemental selenium which binds tightly to mercury, will help prevent the harmful effects of prolonged mercury exposure. Consider the removal of dental amalgam surfaces strongly associated with mercury toxicity. If you drink well water, have it tested for contamination.

Avoid Xenoestrogens – environmental chemicals disrupt proper hormone metabolism, leading to an accumulation of estrogens that thwart thyroid action. Best defense: choose organic hormone-free meat, poultry, dairy; heat foods in glass or ceramic vs. plastic; switch to BPA-free water/baby bottles, and go “green” with household, gardening and personal care products. Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale) or their active ingredient DIM (when supplemented) help to promote proper estrogen metabolism. Note: moderate intake of crucifers (especially cooked, and judicious amounts of raw used in salads, etc.) is not known to compromise thyroid function.

Breathe deep. Get out in the fresh air. Walk. Run. Play. Paint. Cultivate stillness. Blow bubbles!

Balance is attainable.

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Thyroid Games: The 2014 month-long awareness campaign needs to include hormone balance in the big picture of thyroid health

The average person who can’t lose weight – despite eating right and exercising – is generally frustrated and frankly stumped.

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For many, diet and exercise have generally proven effective, and yet now – for some reason – they don’t. Sometimes just a little. Sometimes not at all.

Those who dig deeper often find that weight problems could be due to a sluggish thyroid. Feeling an inkling of hope, many ask their doctors to run a test, and lo’ and behold the results often come back normal.  How can this be?

These results tend to stun – especially when weight gain continues to be an issue and/or we suffer from other hypothyroidism hallmarks – feeling cold, old, stressed and depressed.

Given that so many symptoms of low thyroid overlap with other hormone imbalances, we may not get the answers needed unless we find a healthcare provider who goes beyond the standard TSH test to address thyroid disorders in the broader context of hormone imbalance.

Our bodies produce more than one thyroid hormone. The most abundant is thyroxine (T4), which converts to triiodothyroinine (T3), the most active thyroid hormone in the body. We need our bodies to make plenty of these two hormones since we rely heavily on them for an active metabolism. Image

So one clarifying answer to the original question about that so-called “normal” test result is that testing TSH alone is not going to give us the whole story because it fails to take active thyroid levels into account.

Nor can a single thyroid test identify imbalances of the steroid or adrenal hormones that serve to seriously inhibit thyroid function.

Discovering how well our thyroid is actually working requires a bigger picture assessment of all the hormone levels that matter, not just TSH, T3, and T4, but estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.

It should also include an assessment of iodine, zinc, selenium and other mineral levels that if out of balance can run interference on thyroid hormone production. That’s because when it comes to a healthy thyroid, the efficient conversion of T4 to T3 is imperative – a must occur – if we want an active vs. sluggish metabolism. So, anything that interferes with that crucial conversion process will decrease thyroid function, slow metabolism (to make weight loss even harder), and trigger a raft of low thyroid symptoms.

From hormone imbalances to mineral deficiencies and environmental pollutants, a range of factors can interfere with thyroid production and testing can help identify the worst culprits.*

At the top of the list:

Estrogen dominance – Thyroid problems are far more prevalent in women, particularly those in the menopause transition. That’s because an overstock of  estrogens has the effect of binding up active thyroid hormones on their way to the cells that need them, so it may not necessarily be a failing thyroid gland that is the issue, your thyroid may be working just fine but is encountering the estrogen roadblock! Similar barriers are raised by:

Elevated cortisol stress hormones
Iodine deficiency
Selenium and zinc deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency
Arsenic or mercury toxicity
Xenoestrogen burden
– those big bad environmental chemicals that effectively disrupt estrogen metabolism

Taking action to target and take out these hidden saboteurs of thyroid health can help us master the thyroid games. I’ll talk more about natural ways to win the battle and defeat the enemies of a healthy thyroid function in a follow-up post next week.
*ZRT Lab just recently launched a new Thyroid-Elements test profile available online at http://www.zrtlab.com or http://www.canaryclub.com

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This year is ‘the year’ that I am going to….

Happy 2014 to all of our wonderful readers and followers. Candace and I have been blogging together for 2 years and this is the year that we are hoping to take a synopsis of our book, with several chapters written  up in the format we think will be the most readable and visually lovely, to a perspective publisher and see what happens. We realize that there are scores of books written on the top of hormone balance but we think we have a unique perspective and style that is not only accessible, but that resonates with our readers. We have punted around many ideas(you have no idea how many!!) from publishing an e-book, to self-publishing, to throwing in the towel(gasp) ….But we keep coming back to the idea of a real, hold in your hand, prop on your shelf, cuddle up in your bed, kind of book as that is what WE like and what most of our friends/family members/patients/colleagues/acquaintance turn to for the kind of content we are offering. So we would like to hear from YOU: what do you like about our blog, what have been some of your favorite topics, what haven’t we covered that you want to know more about?? Of course we value your honesty as that will help us write a better book so please give us your ‘from the heart’ feedback. We will keep you posted as to our progress, but that is MP’s overriding goal for this year.

Oh no, we admitted our goal OUT LOUD…now that should motivate us(one technique towards reaching one's goals….)

Oh no, we admitted our goal OUT LOUD…now that should motivate us(one technique towards reaching one’s goals….)

What have YOU been saying that you hope to do, to change, to re-invent, to re-consider, to move towards or perhaps away from, in this coming year?  Every newspaper and magazine that I have opened this past week had something about weight loss, exercising more, eating cleaner, etc but one thing I did notice that was different this year was the wording of the articles. Almost every one alluded to the concept that our goals should be towards making sustainable changes, not radical ones. To do that , it helps to make small changes, ones that you can stick to (like our 10 day ‘consciousness cleanses’, something anyone can do and benefit from): not saying , “I will NEVER eat potato chips and sour cream again after work(one of my personal favorite guilty pleasures…)” because that is just never going to happen. It is so much more realistic to write down what you hope to accomplish and then identify the obstacles, your strengths, a timeline and then formulate a plan. We will keep coming back to this topic in the upcoming weeks and months but I just want to leave you with a few simple thoughts as you think about the year ahead.

1. It DOES matter what you eat. This is probably the single most important thing that you do each day in terms of supporting or hurting your body. You can exercise until the cows come home, but if you are eating a diet high in processed foods, sugary beverages, calorie dense/nutrient poor foods(most of these come in a box/can/or a wrapper, by the way), you will gain weight in all the wrong places and you will not achieve optimal fitness….or fit into those favorite pair of jeans.

Eat whole pieces of fruit every day, loaded with nutrients and full of fiber

Eat whole pieces of fruit every day, loaded with nutrients and full of fiber

2.Follow the wise words of Michael Pollan: “Eat food(WHOLE food), not too much, mostly plants”. Do this and you will see results, sustainable ones.

3. Spend a few minutes each day being grateful for the wonders of your body. Focus more on how your body feels and how it does whatever you ask it to do day after day, a miracle in and of itself.  Take care of your body: feed it whole foods, clean water, take it out for a walk, a jog, a hike, expose it to natural vitamin D and the elements like the wind, the rain, the snow. Take note of how alive you feel when you have spent some time outside or just being active. Your body will thank you by continuing to do what you ask of it and by sticking around for awhile.

Hiking with my wonderful black lab Riley: sitting at the top of the world and feeling like it

Hiking with my wonderful black lab Riley: sitting at the top of the world and feeling like it

4. Take time to sleep, to rest and to restore yourself. You need this more than you know(see Candace’s last post).

5. Make time for play, for love, for friendship, for prayer and meditation, for doing the things you love to do, for visiting someone who needs you to be there. Life often goes by in a blur so paying attention each day to the moments that matter and making time for the things that matter to you is crucial for living a life that has meaning.

Our conversation will continue. We look forward to writing to you and hearing from you in the upcoming year. Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us. We so appreciate all of you.

Take time to see and smell the flowers and other small wonders

Take time to see and smell the flowers and other small wonders

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