Table of Contents  
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2011  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 119-125  

Moringa : The herbal gold to combat malnutrition


1 Department of Pharmacy, IEC-CET, KP-I, G. Noida, India
2 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, MLS University, Udaipur, India
3 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, HIMT College of Pharmacy, Greater Noida, India

Date of Web Publication16-Dec-2011

Correspondence Address:
Ram Chand Dhakar
Department of Pharmacy, IEC Group of Institution, KP-I, Greater Noida - 201 308
India
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DOI: 10.4103/2229-5186.90887

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   Abstract 

This document is aimed to describing the potential benefits of the Moringa tree as a nutrient. Moringa tree can be utilized in treating the malnutrition in a local and cost-effective manner. Malnutrition causes a great deal of human suffering and is associated with more than half of all deaths of children worldwide. Malnutrition severely affects the socio-economic development of a nation because a work force that is stunted both mentally and physically may have a reduced work capacity. Thus nutrition plays an important role in the reproduction of poverty from one generation to the next. Not only is the Moringa oleifera tree extraordinary in that all parts of the tree are edible, but the most amazing aspect of the tree is its exceptionally high nutritional value. The leaves of the Moringa tree are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B vitamin C and other minerals. The leaves are also an outstanding source of calcium, protein, potassium and iron. The content of amino acids such as methionine and cystine is also high. Carbohydrates, fats and phosphorous content are low making this one of the finest plant foods to be found. Present review focuses on the potential benefits of Moringa oleifera in treatment of malnutrition.

Keywords: Deaths of children, high nutritional value, malnutrition, plant foods


How to cite this article:
Dhakar RC, Maurya SD, Pooniya BK, Bairwa N, Gupta M, Sanwarmal. Moringa : The herbal gold to combat malnutrition. Chron Young Sci 2011;2:119-25

How to cite this URL:
Dhakar RC, Maurya SD, Pooniya BK, Bairwa N, Gupta M, Sanwarmal. Moringa : The herbal gold to combat malnutrition. Chron Young Sci [serial online] 2011 [cited 2014 Oct 1];2:119-25. Available from: http://www.cysonline.org/text.asp?2011/2/3/119/90887


   Introduction Top


There are several herbs of nature which help in restoring the balance of body and maintaining good health. But a single moringa tree can provide leaf for nutrition, oil for cooking and healthy skin, seed cake for water purification and wood to build shelter and keep you warm. Moringa oleifera is the most widely cultivated pan-tropical species of a monogeneric family, the Moringaceae, which is native to the sub-Himalayan tracts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Moringa oleifera is known by such regional names as benzolive, drumstick tree, kelor, marango, mlonge, mulangay, nιbιday, saijhan, and sajna [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Various parts of Moringa Oleifera[1-8]

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The history of Moringa dates back to 150 B.C. Historical proofs reveal that ancient kings and queens used Moringa leaves and fruit in their diet to maintain mental alertness and healthy skin. Ancient Maurian warriors of India were fed with Moringa Leaf Extract in the warfront. The Elixir drink was believed to add them extra energy and relieve them of the stress and pain incurred during war. These brave soldiers were the ones who defeated "Alexander" the Great." [1],[9],[10] There are 13 varieties of Moringa, Moringa Oleifera is the most well known. Every part of this tree is edible, from the leaves, trunks, stems, all the way down to its root. The flowers can be eaten or used to make tea and provide good amounts of both calcium and potassium. The young pods can be cooked and reportedly have a taste reminiscent of asparagus. The green peas and surrounding white material can be removed from larger pods and cooked in various ways.


   Growing/ecology Top


Moringa tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions. [4] It will tolerate extremely high temperatures in the shade and can survive a light frost. The drought-tolerant tree grows well in areas that receive annual rainfall amounts ranging between 250 and 1500 mm. It prefers a well-drained sandy loam or loam soil, but tolerates clay. Moringa is planted either by direct seeding, transplanting, or using hard stem cuttings.


   Harvesting Top


Leaves can be harvested after plants grow 1.5 to 2.0 m, which usually takes 3 to 6 months. They are harvested by snapping leaf stems from branches or by cutting the entire branches 20 to 40 cm above the ground. Older leaves need to be stripped from their tough and wiry stems. These leaves are more suited to making dried leaf powder, since stems can be removed during the sifting process. For fresh vegetables the leaves must be harvested early in the morning and sold the same day. Flowers and pods are produced during the second year of growth. The pods are harvested when young, tender and green. The pulp and immature seeds of older pods remain edible until shortly before the ripening process begins. [4]


   Contribution to rural and social development Top


Virtually every part of the tree is beneficial in some way and both rural and urban people depend on it for their livelihood. Depending on the purpose and quantity, Moringa is grown in nurseries, as a community project, or on a small scale at the family level. It can function as windbreaks, for land erosion control, live fences, as an ornamental, or intercropped to provide semi-shade to species requiring less direct sunlight. One theme surrounding the cultivation and use of Moringa is the risk that the species may alter the land and its living systems. However, according to a recent study, a crucial transition must take place whereby destructive farming practices must be replaced by new and improved cultivation methods which raise Moringa without destroying natural systems on which agriculture ultimately depends. In fact, the effective development and management of Moringa can indeed contribute to sustainable growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. But for this to take place, a balance must be found between the short-term needs of the people for their social and economic development and the protection of the natural resource base. [11]

Moringa as a nutrient source

In developing tropical countries, Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. [12],[13] Three non-governmental organizations in particular - Trees for Life, Church World Service and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization - advocate Moringa as " natural nutrition for the tropics." The immature pods are the most valued and widely used of all the tree parts. The pods are extremely nutritious, containing all the essential amino acids along with many vitamins and other nutrients. The immature pod can be eaten raw or prepared like green peas or green beans, while the mature pods are usually fried and possess a peanut-like flavor. The pods also yield 38 to 40% of non-drying, edible oil known as Ben Oil. This oil is clear, sweet and odorless, and never becomes rancid. Overall, its nutritional value most closely resembles olive oil. The thickened root is used as a substitute for horseradish although this is now discouraged as it contains alkaloids, especially moriginine, and a bactericide, spirochin, both of which can prove fatal following ingestion. The leaves are eaten as greens, in salads, in vegetable curries, as pickles and for seasoning. They can be pounded up and used for scrubbing utensils and for cleaning walls. Leaves and young branches are relished by livestock. The Bark can be used for tanning and also yields a coarse fiber. The flowers, which must be cooked, are eaten either mixed with other foods or fried in batter and have been shown to be rich in potassium and calcium [Table 1],[Table 2],[Table 3],[Table 4]. [14],[15],[16],[17],[18]
Table 1: Moringa nutrition content[15]

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Table 2: Vitamin and mineral content of Moringa [16,17]

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Table 3: Moringa protein content[15]

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Table 4: Percentage of the recommended daily allowance of various nutrients

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Moringa as a source of vitamins and minerals

Not only is the Moringa oleifera tree extraordinary in that all parts of the tree are edible, but the most amazing aspect of the tree is its exceptionally high nutritional value. The leaves of the Moringa tree are an excellent source of vitamin A (four times the amount in carrots), the raw leaves are rich in vitamin C (seven times the amount in oranges), and they are also a good source of vitamin B and other minerals. Vitamins and Minerals are required for everything from building our physical bodies to blood coagulation and energy production. As a source of nutrients and vitamins, Moringa leaves rank among the best of perennial tropical vegetables.

Moringa as a source of protein

Moringa trees are known to overcome protein deficiency in developing countries as the leaves and other parts of the tree contain high amount of crude proteins and amino acids compared with soy bean. Moringa is an excellent non-animal source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Moringa leaves contain all of the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. It is very rare for a vegetable to contain all of these amino acids And Moringa contains these amino acids in a good proportion, so that they are very useful to our bodies. Moringa leaves could be a great boon to people who do not get protein from meat. Moringa even contains arginine and histidine two amino acids especially important for infants. Arginine and histidine, are especially important for infants who are unable to make enough protein for their growth requirements. Experts tell us that 30% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are protein deficient. Moringa could be an extremely valuable food source. [1],[9],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24]

Moringa as a source of essential fatty acids

The other nutrients required for optimal cellular health are the essential Fatty Acids. As strange as it may sound, there are good fats that actively help create good health. These are the now-famous omeg-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Nutritional application of Moringa

A large number of reports on the nutritional qualities of Moringa now exist in both the scientific and the popular literature. Moringa has been in use since centuries for nutritional as well medicinal purposes. Moringa Leaves are full of essential disease-preventing nutrients. Moringa is a natural, whole-food source for vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants, and other important compounds that your body relies on to stay healthy. [3],[25],[26],[27],[28] Micronutrient deficiencies are now recognized as an important contributor to the global burden of disease. Moringa is an alternative to imported food supplies to treat malnutrition in poor countries. Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Three non-governmental organizations in particular-Trees for Life, Church World Service and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization-have advocated Moringa as " natural nutrition for the tropics." Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value. Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce. Leaves were also used for food fortification. [1],[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[29],[30]

In 1997-98, Alternative Action for African Development and Church World Service tested the ability of Moringa leaf powder to prevent or cure malnutrition in pregnant or breast-feeding women and their children in southwestern Senegal. Malnutrition was a major problem in this area, with more than 600 malnourished infants treated every year. During the test, doctors, nurses, and midwives were trained in preparing and using Moringa leaf powder for treating malnutrition. Village women were also trained in the preparation and use of Moringa leaf powder in foods. Result had indicated that children maintained or increased their weight and improved overall health, pregnant women recovered from anemia and had babies with higher birth weights and breast-feeding women increased their production of milk. [1],[11] Pollution, pesticides and numerous other particles bombard us every day. These are just some of the free radicals which we now know are so destructive. The only protection against free-radical damage comes in the form of Antioxidants.

Treating malnutrition with Moringa

Ideally, good nutrition should be assured by a varied diet rich in meat, root, grain, fruit and vegetable foods. In reality, for a majority of the world's population such variety in food is unaffordable or seasonally unavailable. Within the arid countries of the African Sahel, for example, the dry seasons are marked by a heavy dependence on the staples of rice, millet and sorghum; during these months, fruits and greens can be found only in a few irrigated garden plots. And in virtually every year there is a lean period when grain stores have been exhausted one to three months prior to the new harvest. Elsewhere in the tropics, meals are generally built around one staple food rich in carbohydrates but very poor nutritionally, such as a pap or fufu made from yam, maize or manioc. Malnutrition is frequently characterized by this kind of restricted diet wherein a child consumes the same weaning pap every day. In this context, Moringa is a very simple and readily available solution to the problem of malnutrition. The edible leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree are already an occasional food source throughout West Africa and other regions of the tropics and sub-tropics.

Micronutrient deficiencies are now recognized as an important contributor to the global burden of disease. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy has long been linked to intra-uterine brain damage and possible fetal wastage. Currently, although more than two billion people live in areas that used to be iodine-deficient, it is estimated that iodine deficiency is the cause of only 0.2% of the global burden of disease. Iron deficiency also affects about two billion people. Recent estimates find that iron deficiency anemia is responsible for one fifth of early neonatal mortality and one tenth of maternal mortality. Iron deficiency also reduces cognitive development and work performance. Iron deficiency is the cause of about 800,000 deaths and 2.4% of the global burden of disease. [31],[32]

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) harms the eyes and increases childhood and maternal mortality. Globally, 21% of children have VAD and suffer increased rates of death from diarrhea, measles, and malaria. The importance of zinc deficiency is being increasingly recognized. Trials have shown that zinc supplementation results in improved growth in children, lower rates of diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia, and reduced child mortality. In total about 800,000 child deaths per year are attributable to zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is the cause of 1.9% of global burden of disease. According to WHO, 19% of the 10.8 million child deaths globally a year are attributable to iodine, iron, vitamin A, and zinc deficiencies. Recent estimates indicate that fortification or supplementation with iron, vitamin A, and zinc are among the most cost-effective interventions available, even in areas that are poor or have high HIV infection rates.

However, mild or moderate malnutrition before this terminal stage is reached is a completely different matter: the physiological abnormalities are much less severe and successful recovery can be had through a fully balanced diet containing all 40 essential nutrients in the correct proportions. Moringa, added on a daily basis to a child's food, has thoroughly demonstrated its ability to bring about rapid recoveries from moderate malnutrition. But while successfully treating malnutrition is good, preventing it is much better. Malnutrition is brought on by a multitude of causes: lack of education, poverty, famine, parasites and impure drinking water are some of them. A program which focuses on correcting micro-nutrient deficiencies alone will not fully eradicate malnutrition until these other causes are addressed. However, as the Moringa project in south-western Senegal has demonstrated, this approach can show very impressive results in reducing the incidence of malnutrition. [33] Moringa is used successfully in combating malnourishment in children and for its capacity to boost the immune system, it can be used to complement modern medicines in chronically ill people including those suffering from AIDS and HIV related illnesses. It is also used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various illnesses including recovery from liver damage. It is currently being examined as a bio-enhancer of drugs and nutrients because of its production of compounds with antibiotic activity. [11],[32]

These qualities have made the Moringa oleifera tree a candidate in the fight against malnutrition. A group of health workers from the Church World Service have been utilizing this highly nutritious and fast growing tree as a means to cure and prevent malnutrition in infants, pregnant and lactating women as an alternative to the classic and expensive condiments usually used such as whole milk powder, sugar, vegetable oil, and sometimes peanut butter. It takes around ten days to see an improvement in malnourished infants when Moringa leaves are used whereas it takes months for recovery with conventional methods. According to Dr. Lowell Fuglie, the West Africa representative of the Church World Service who used the Moringa tree as a base for a nutrition program, "for a child aged 1-3, a 100 g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 g of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs". [19],[20]

According to Senegal's National Center for Nutritional Alimentation, vitamin A supplementation can reduce the incidence of childhood illness and mortality due to measles by 50%, due to diarrhea by 40% and due to malaria by 30%. [34] On average, vitamin A supplementation programs have been effective in reducing overall childhood mortality by 34%. [35] To combat VAD, UNICEF is working in collaboration with national health authorities in many countries through a program to give every under-five child one massive dose of vitamin A, in tablet form, twice annually. At the same time iron supplements are being distributed to pregnant and lactating women against anemia. Given the impressive impact on child mortality rates these vitamin A programs have had, they would appear to be a good idea. However, an opposing argument claims that this approach, focusing on specific micro-nutrient deficiencies and relying as it does on imported products and subsidies, is short-sighted and ultimately unsustainable. [36]

The advantages of using Moringa in malnutrition prevention programs

It is a drought-resistant and fast growing tree which is present in nearly all tropical and sub-tropical countries. Its edible leaves are already an occasional food source in West Africa regions and appear at the end of the dry season: a time when other greens are in short supply. As a source of good nutrition, its leaves are considered the best of tropical legumes with its high quantities of vitamin A and significant quantities of vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc and a good balance of all the essential amino acids. Also, the leaves can be easily dried into powder form for use as a nutritional supplement for sauces or as an addition to infant weaning foods. Moringa leaves can be produced intensively in a family-size small garden. The seeds can be spaced as closely as 10 cm apart. When the plants reach a height of a meter, they can be cut down to a height of 30 cm. The leaves can be stripped from the stems and used to prepared sauces or dried for long-term storage as a nutritious food additive, and the stems fed to livestock. The stumps survive the harvest and will re-sprout, allowing another harvest in as little as 50 days. Using this technique, a Moringa garden can continually produce green matter for several years with very little labor required. [19],[20]

Pregnant/breast-feeding women and Moringa

For pregnant and breast-feeding women, Moringa leaves and pods can do much to preserve the mother's health and pass on strength to the fetus or nursing child. Breastfeeding mothers in India and the Philippines have traditionally been urged by their elders to add boiled young leaves of Moringa to their diet. Although the exact mechanism for this is not yet fully understood, generations of breastfeeding mothers have sworn by its lactation-inducing effects. One 100 g portion of leaves could provide a woman with over one-third of her daily need of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur and B-vitamins. Moringa is especially useful for children and women who are anemic due to their menstrual cycles. [16],[17]

Antioxidants in Moringa

A combination of antioxidants is more effective than a single antioxidant on an equal weight basis due to antioxidant cascade mechanism. Moringa has approximately 46 antioxidants and is one of the most powerful sources of natural anti-oxidants. Daily intake of Moringa Oleifera will provide the antioxidant which in turn keeps the body healthy by preventing the adverse effect caused due to fat deposition. Anti-oxidants supply the free atoms needed by the human body and mitigate the effect of free radicals. This antioxidant property helps in preventing the formation of malignancy. Moringa leaves are rich in Flavonoids, a class of anti-oxidants. Moringa has essential micronutrients with antioxidant activity or directly linked to this process: selenium and zinc. The major anti-oxidants present are Quercetin, Kaempferol, Beta-Sitosterol, Caffeoylquinic acid and Zeatin. Antioxidant plays a major role in controlling the symptoms of aging process and improves the cardiovascular health. Additionally, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, present in Moringa, also function as anti-oxidants. Researches confirm that the anti-oxidants deliver the desired result, if only taken with the combination of other essential vitamin and minerals, which makes health enthusiast to seek after Moringa.[11],[19],[20],[37]

Moringa and diabetes

Moringa
Oleifera is a nutrient plant that can help to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Moringa Oleifera holds so much promise for those who suffer from diabetes. This is primarily because of its many amazing, natural benefits. Moringa Oleifera has been shown to boost the immune system, which usually becomes compromised in those who suffer from type 1 and 2 diabetes. Moringa Oleifera has also been shown to possess many key anti-inflammatory benefits; diabetes often causes circulatory problems which can be managed through anti-inflammatory supplements. There are no negative side effects associated with Moringa Oleifera use, meaning that it is a safe, natural way for people to manage their blood sugar and care for their diabetes symptoms. It is just one more option for the many people who have to cope with this serious condition. [38] Unexpected benefits of Moringa include an apparent cure for tapeworms and help in controlling diabetes and high blood pressure. [39] Moringa Oleifera as a rich source of ascorbic acid helps in insulin secretion. It is interesting to note that certain nutrients like vitamins B1, B2, B12, pantothenic acid, vitamin C, protein and potassium along with small frequent meals containing some carbohydrate can actually stimulate production of insulin within the body. Please consult to your doctor first before you begin to consume it. [40],[41]

Other health benefits of Moringa

Relieves arthritis, rheumatism and gout


The oil extracted from Moringa seeds and flowers, called Moringa oil or ben oil, has anti-inflammatory compounds [42],[43] that help relieve the pain and swelling caused by arthritis, rheumatism and gout. Just apply the oil over the affected joint, massage lightly, and leave on for 30 minutes. Making a decoction from Moringa seeds will also have a similar effect. You can also roast the seeds, pound them and apply the pulverized powder over the affected area. Pounded Moringa roots can also be used as a poultice for pain and swelling.

Relaxes the muscles and cures diarrhea

The roots and leaves of Moringa have been found to contain antispasmodic compounds that help relax the muscles. [42],[43],[44],[45] Besides helping soothe tired and painful muscles, this action also helps control the intestinal spasms characteristic of diarrhea. Studies have shown that Moringa root extract contains alkaloids, flavonoids and tannins that have anti-dysenteric and anti-diarrheal properties.

Helps with lower back pain

When mixed with milk, the juice from the root of the Moringa tree has been used traditionally to help ease lower back pain or lumbago. Studies have shown that certain extracts of the Moringa root contains analgesics called moringine and moringinine that may play a role in its efficacy against lumbago. [42],[43]

Protects the liver

The flowers and roots of the Moringa plant contain a compound called quercetin that is known to protect the liver. Decoctions from dried Moringa flowers and pounded root have been traditionally used to help with liver disease. [42],[43]

Wards off heart disease

Juice or tea made from Moringa leaves has been found to help lower high blood pressure. This has been discovered to be due to the action of compounds called glycosides that are found in the Moringa leaf. The seeds of Moringa are also rich in these compounds. The crude extract of Moringa leaves has also been found to significantly lower cholesterol levels due to the action of beta-sitosterol. The fruit of the Moringa is the most powerful when it comes to protecting the heart it has been found to lower blood cholesterol as well as reduce fat in the liver, heart and aorta. [42],[43]

As an antibiotic

The roots and flowers of the Moringa have a compound called pterygospermin, a powerful antimicrobial that kills bacteria and fungi. The leaves and roots of Moringa are also rich in a compound called benzyl isothiocyanate that have strong antifungal and antibacterial properties. The bark of Moringa has also been found to have antibacterial and antifungal effects. You can make a strong antibiotic wash to clean wounds from fresh Moringa leaves. To make a strong dressing, pound fresh leaves and mix with coconut oil, then spread over the wound. [42],[43],[46],[47]

Relieves sore throat

Because of the Maringa's excellent antibiotic properties, it is also used to kill bacteria that cause sore throat. A decoction of roots is usually used as a gargle to provide sore throat relief. [29],[30]

Eases asthma and hiccups

When mixed with milk, juice from the root of the Moringa plant can help ease asthma and hiccups. [29],[30]

Wards off cancer

Studies have shown that several compounds extracted from Moringa, namely isothiocyanates, a benzyl carbamate, niazimicin, and beta-sitosterol have anti-tumor properties against lung, breast, skin, esophagus, and pancreatic cancer. These compounds are found in high concentrations in the leaves and seeds of the plant. [29],[30]


   Conclusion Top


The Moringa Oleifera plant is the most inexpensive and credible alternative to providing good nutrition. Moringa oleifera is the most nutrient-rich plant yet discovered. Not only is the Moringa oleifera tree extraordinary in that all parts of the tree are edible, but the most amazing aspect of the tree is its exceptionally high nutritional value. Moringa provides a rich and rare combination of nutrients, amino acids, antioxidants, anti-aging and -inflammatory properties used for nutrition and healing. The leaves of the Moringa tree are an excellent source of vitamin A (four times the amount in carrots), the raw leaves are rich in vitamin C (seven times the amount in oranges), and they are also a good source of vitamin B and other minerals. The leaves are also an outstanding source of calcium (four times the amount in milk), protein (twice the amount in milk), and potassium (three time the amount in bananas). The content of iron is very good as well and the leaves have purportedly been used for treating anemia in the Philippines. The content of amino acids such as methionine and cystine is also high. Carbohydrates, fats and phosphorous content are low making this one of the finest plant foods to be found.

 
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    Figures

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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]



 

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