Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Nov

Flatulence: Foes and Fixes

whoopeeFarting is universally hilarious. Across every culture, every religion, every language, the issuance of gas from a person’s posterior will – once the wrinkled noses have smoothed out – evoke laughter from just about everyone in earshot. I won’t try to explain why it’s so dang funny, especially when we can turn to Louis C.K. for his masterful thesis on the matter. C.K arrives at three factors: it comes out of your butt, it smells like poop, and it makes a trumpet noise. Taken separately, these things range from gross to inconsequential. After all, plenty of things sound like trumpets. Trumpets, for one. But together, they form a symphony of comedy that’s greater than the constituent parts.

But when they’re issuing out of your body uncontrollably on a regular basis, farts can be a touchy subject. I won’t name any names, but more than a few readers have written in over the past few months with questions about farting spouses, children, and even pets. These readers often admit that flatulence has comedic merit, but just as incessant quoting of Borat after the movie came out quickly got old, farting all the time is annoying. And it might even be the sign of something wrong with your diet.

So, while the pet angle may be beyond the scope of today’s post, I’m going to offer some insight into human flatulence. I’ll deal with both the causes and the potential solutions, mostly at once (because the problems and solutions are intertwined).

First, what is it?

Flatulence is the expunging of intestinal gas, which is either endogenous or exogenous. Exogenous intestinal gas comes from the outside; it is literally swallowed, usually when a person eats too fast, drinks too fast (or drinks bubbly drinks like sodas or sparkling water), or chews gum too vociferously. Exogenous flatulence isn’t too much of a problem, because it usually doesn’t smell and it isn’t caused by eating the wrong foods. It’s actually normal to have exogenous flatulence. If it’s excessive and causing you problems, simple behavior modification can fix this one pretty quickly. Chew and drink more slowly and carefully, avoid smoking, and try to avoid excessive gasping. Stressful situations can exacerbate this, too – think breathing in deeply and rubbing your temples because something just went wrong, and then do it fifty times a day and you get a picture of how you might be swallowing more air than you intend. You want to breathe your air, not ingest it.

Endogenous intestinal gas is a different beast, and it’s the one we’re going to focus on today. It comes from bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates. More specifically, it comes from fermentation of carbohydrates that we improperly or incompletely digest in the small intestine. These leftover bits make it to the colon/large intestine, and that’s where the magic happens.

To address this, first things first, pay attention to FODMAPs, or fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that some people can’t totally digest in the small intestine. If that’s the case, when they hit the colon, the flora there break it down and ferment it, thus producing large amounts of endogenous intestinal gases like methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, bloating, and other complications. FODMAPs can include healthy, totally Primal foods, but they also include decidedly unPrimal stuff, too. If you’re farting a lot, your first step should be to understand FODMAPs, because they are likely suspects. Let’s go through the various categories, highlighted in Jamie’s excellent piece from last year:

  • Oligosaccharides include things like fructans (fructose with a single glucose molecule attached) and galactans (fructose with a molecule of galactose attached). Sources of fructans are wheat, onions, artichokes, jicama, jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, onions, garlic, and leeks. Inulin, a prebiotic fiber I’ve written about before and which can have numerous health benefits, is a fructan. Galactans are found in legumes (beans, lentils, etc), Brussels sprouts, and broccoli (hence the lovely term “broccoli fart” and the product called “Beano,” which I always found to be a disgusting name).
  • The most common disaccharide is lactose, or milk sugar. Anyone who’s tried GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) while being lactose intolerant (or been within a mile of someone who fits that description) understands what foul gases improperly digested lactose can produce. If there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s that Mark Rippetoe endogenously produces lactase. Better choices include hard, long-fermented cheeses and raw dairy, proponents of which claim it contains lactase for easier digestion. I’m not sure about that one myself, as a lactose-intolerant buddy of mine once sampled some raw milk at a Santa Monica’s farmers’ market at the vendor’s urging and suffered (we both did, albeit I did so indirectly) familiar side effects. Your mileage may vary, though. Sucrose is another disaccharide, so avoid it (which you probably already were).
  • Monosaccharides refer primarily to fructose. That means avoiding HFCS, obviously, but even “healthier” choices like honey, and dried fruit like dates and raisins. Eat low fructose fruits like berries.
  • Polyols are sugar alcohols. Xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, pretty much any -ol. Naturally occuring polyols can also be found in certain fruits, like blackberries, stone fruits, pears, and watermelon.

For a complete and handy table of FODMAPs friendly and unfriendly foods, check out the bottom of this post.

So, yeah, right off the bat, avoid FODMAPs. Do this for a week or two and see if your farting subsides. If it does, try reintroducing small amounts of select FODMAPs. Pick a category and start there. Eat a few slices of jicama, some Brussels sprouts, or some onion. Be systematic about it and limit yourself to a single food from a single FODMAP category at a time.

Keep a detailed food journal for a month and keep tabs on your digestive symptoms. If you fart, mark when, where, and what you just ate. You can even note the severity of the flatulence, including odor, volume, and number of laughs received (partly kidding here). Over time, you should be able to note correlations between certain foods and the severity and incidence of your flatulence.

Eat simple meals. Instead of having crazy curries and stews all the time with dozens of ingredients, stick to meat and vegetable. Note the singular “vegetable” and don’t eat broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage in the same meal. Give your gut a chance to get its bearings and you’ll have a clearer picture of what’s causing the gas.

Add some digestive enzymes. Robb Wolf is a big proponent of NOW Foods brand digestive enzymes, and I’d definitely trust his judgment. Remember, a lot of flatulence is caused by bacterial fermentation of undigested food. If you lack the right digestive enzymes, more food bits will make it to the colon for fermentation. According to Robb, you want to take the enzymes shortly before the meal. Start with five or six capsules and stop when you start feeling warmth in your belly – that means it’s working.

Chew your food thoroughly. The more you chew, the greater the surface area of the food and the better you digest it. The better you digest your food, the less food will make it through to your colon. This will also help with exogenous gas flatulence.

Add some probiotics or fermented foods. Note, though, that you’ll want to limit FODMAPs before adding probiotics, as otherwise you’ll just be providing more fuel for the fire.

Limit prebiotic supplements for now. Until you get a handle on things, you don’t want to introduce more FODMAPs. I know that when I was doing daily extensive testing of Primal Fuel, including changing the ratios of prebiotic inulin to achieve the perfect texture, I had some mild flatulence at first (TMI?). A bit of flatulence from prebiotics is completely normal, especially early on, but if it gets worse or doesn’t improve, it’s probably worth watching.

All in all, some mild flatulence is nothing to worry about. It may hurt your social health, but it’s not a medical condition. Severe, continuous flatulence, however, accompanied by painful bloating? Yeah, you need to fix that. Try these fixes, pay attention to potentially offensive foods listed, and keep that food journal. It’s all fun and games and cups o’ cheese (NSFW) until you get bacterial overgrowth (from feeding the colonic flora) and, possibly, Crohn’s disease. So get a handle on it.

Of course, if you can’t, you might consider pursuing a career as a flatulist. Saint Augustine himself had nothing but high praise for the men who possessed such “command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” Whatever your spiritual inclination (or non-inclination), I think we can all appreciate a religious man who admires professional fart artists.

Take care, folks, and happy digesting. If you’ve had success or failure with defeating flatulence, let us know in the comment section. I’m always all ears for more input from you guys, and I know we have plenty of readers who could use assistance from someone who’s been there.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark, you’re right on.
    The things that give me gas are (raw) milk and fibrous vegetables.
    And in the old days the list included grains.

    Arty wrote on November 29th, 2011
  2. Woe to those of us in our 40s and the gas-related problems that seem to inevitably and magically appear at that stage of life. A friend of mine asked her doctor about it and his answer was, simply, “Welcome to the ‘Farty-Forties’!”

    I wasn’t satisfied with that answer though, and once I started eating primally, the bloating, pain and gas went away. Luckily for me I didn’t have to tweak at all, I just had to cut out all the grains.

    Kelly wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • Welcome to the ‘Farty-Forties’ sounds a lot like “you just get fatter as you age” and “whole grains are good for you” and other CW garbage.

      Dave, RN wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • OMG, bad eye site AND farting in your forties?? I don’t think I can handle all that……

      Funny, I guess looking back, since I have been primal I really haven’t had much of a problem, even when I cheat a little and indulge in something naughty. I guess your system can handle a little…..

      Weight Loss Laboratory wrote on November 30th, 2011
    • I totally agree–eating primally has helped my digestion in so many ways. I used to feel bloated and have intestinal pain/pressure frequently, but now it is gone. I used to think that it was milk causing the problems, but I have no problem digesting raw milk/cheese. The grains were the culprit.

      CatM wrote on December 7th, 2011
  3. YES, YES, YES, YES! This is such a hugely important message that so many overlook. I have fructose malabsorption so many fructans are a problem for me. It’s much more common than most realize. Getting your gut flora in order does help, but if like approximately 30% of those of European descent you have FM it will be a lifelong issue.

    Sandy wrote on November 29th, 2011
  4. I’ve taken a food allergy test in the past and noticed a direct correlation to the items that ranked high and digestive problems. Milk, Casein, various grains, and eggs all showed elevated allergen levels, and a corresponding physical issue with me. I recommend the test as a piece of mind to anyone.

    Coach Calorie wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • I noticed the same. If I eat anything I’m allergic to the problem is severe. Otherwise FODMAPs can be a little annoying.

      Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • Did you get tested through a traditional MD or did you pay to be tested through a mail in lab or alternative med doctor? I have been thinking of getting testing done but don’t know the most efficient way to do so…

      Crunchy Pickle wrote on November 29th, 2011
      • + 1 –> How to get tested? I’ve figured out a lot by way of elimination testing, but am curious??

        Annette wrote on November 29th, 2011
        • The test for fructose malabsorption is very cheap and completely unobtrusive. You will need a doctors referral to get one done. Alternatively, you can could purchase yourself an at home kit.

          Basically, you need to stay off FODMAPS completely for 2 full days, you then fast for 6 hours before the test (if your test is first thing in the morning that’s easy!) you then breath into a device which is similar to a blood alcohol reader and record what number you scored (this is your level of hydrogen, which is a measure of your intolerance to fructose). You then take a cup full of fructose mixed with water and continue to blow into the device every 15 minutes and record your readings. A reading of 20 or over signifies an intolerance. The same test can also be carried out for lactose intolerance.

          Joey wrote on March 3rd, 2013
  5. I think many of us have discovered the wonders of sugar alcohols!

    Grokitmus Primal wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • Or maybe the not so great!

      rdzins wrote on November 29th, 2011
  6. For me it was wheat – after diagnosis as coeliac and just cutting out wheat/barley/rye/gluten my fartiness and bloating disappeared – more or less overnight.

    It’s also a good sign of having been ever so slightly glutened – if I am windy but no other symptoms of digestive ahem “discomfort”

    Ian wrote on November 29th, 2011
  7. I just let them rip it’s not healthy to hold it in

    rob wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • -Personally…I’d much rather just hold ‘em in :3/

      Jesselyn wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • You know, I’ve heard that too. In countries where it is acceptable to let it out, there are less colon polyps. No idea if this is really true, or if that’s why.

      But I’m so thankful our fam of 5 is SO much less gassy since giving up grains etc. It was really bad. Now that it’s rare, it is kind of funny.

      Heidi P. wrote on November 29th, 2011
  8. Does anyone know the time lag between eating and farting? In other words, how long does it take for food to be fermented and produce gas? And do all foods take the same amount of time?

    It would be handy to know this when trying to figure out which foods cause which farts…

    Scott wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • This is such a funny topic to bring up because I just had a horrible event after my friend gave me two pounds of beautiful garden-grown Jerusalem Artichokes, which I had never eaten before. I made a huge casserole and topped it with some lovely cheese and andouille sausage….

      To answer the question, it took about an hour and a half…. and lasted all night and almost all the next day… and had notes of spice and parmesan.

      I was proud that I made it all the way through yoga without any mishaps… though a few of the poses were extra challenging! Happy to have made it to the other side… and will heed this advice from now on! Thanks Mark!

      nikki wrote on December 2nd, 2011
  9. Wheat + raisins (+ beans, obviously).

    There may be a few more culprits… but I don’t think I have problems which veggies such as onions, broccoli, etc. (just bad breath with the onions/garlic).

    I definitely use this as one of my arguments when I explain to others the benefits of going gluten-free. (I don’t get sick anymore AND I don’t fart anymore!)

    I’m still trying to nail down the precise form of the offending wheat or other grain products. Sometimes I’m totally fine, but other times it’s awful. And it happens every time I go on vacation and people feed me grain-based products, so usually there’s a lot of different stuff being ingested at once. I’m pretty sure I’m okay when I have a slice or two of pizza or some sort of dessert, so it may be correlated with the level of refinement of the grain (which makes sense if we’re talking indigestible fiber).

    Michelle wrote on November 29th, 2011
  10. “try to avoid excessive gasping.”

    There are some situations where that just isn’t possible or desirable.

    oxide wrote on November 29th, 2011
  11. This is why I love coming here.

    Eric wrote on November 29th, 2011
  12. My non Primal husband went crazy on bread over the holiday and the farts started last night! I told him it’s the bread but he does not believe me. AND he eats Magnum bars every night and he’s Sicilian and does not handle dairy well!

    JoAnne Isgro wrote on November 29th, 2011
  13. -WOW! I had no idea that FARTING could be so complicated! lol. :3/

    Jesselyn wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • No kidding

      Erik wrote on November 29th, 2011
  14. Great post Mark!

    “Note, though, that you’ll want to limit FODMAPs before adding probiotics, as otherwise you’ll just be providing more fuel for the fire.”

    This is a great point. I absolutely cannot take probiotics or fermented food when I’m eating any FODMAPs.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • How do you eat fermented foods without FODMAPs? I have been religiously drinking coconut milk kefir, but I think it is bothering me.

      primal woman wrote on July 26th, 2012
  15. Much less farting is one of the things I use as an example of a major change I can note since going Primal. I never really thought I had a problem but now when I do have gas it’s such surprise it makes me realize I don’t have it much any more.

    Dustin Bopp wrote on November 29th, 2011
  16. Mark, I used to have gas constantly, past the point of hilarity. Since going paleo/primal, I rarely fart. Maybe 2-4 small benign one’s a day. It’s amazing! I’m much less smelly! It’s those grain eaters who stink!

    Dave wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • This made me spit out a bit of my salad [in laughter] “past the point of hilarity” I’d have found you funny…. toots are endlessly funny.

      Thrasymachus wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • This! I was vegan for three years prior to finding the Primal Blueprint, and they were the most embarrassing and windy years of my life. I read once that the average person farts 14-20 times a day… for me it was more like 40-50! I don’t know why the extra gas didn’t clue me in to how unhealthy I was eating. It took ten pounds of weight gain and a nagging desire to inhale an entire salmon to finally clue me in.

      Now that I eat mostly Primal (with the occasional non-primal cheats), I am WELL under that average. *sigh of relief*

      M. wrote on November 30th, 2011
  17. It was grains, dairy, undercooked broccoli for me. Now I only fart if I fall off the wagon and have some brownies or ice cream at a family gathering.

    My wife is eternally grateful! I used to do my best brown-cloud-blowing at bedtime, and now…nothing!

    knifegill wrote on November 29th, 2011
  18. Does any of this advice apply to excessive belching..? It seems like belching would be caused by different mechanism than farts, but might also be diet related… Thoughts?

    Samantha wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • I read somewhere that excessive belching is linked indigestion. I figure taking the digestive enzymes would help with that.

      Although, I’m also interested in this topic because the excessive belching I’ve seen (either from myself or from family) comes before we eat – like an obnoxious hunger cry.

      Holly J. wrote on November 29th, 2011
  19. I noticed a definite decrease in gas after cutting out processed foods and grains. I occasionally eat something that seems to put me back in the thick of it and I wonder to myself how I ever thought it was normal to be so gassy!

    Ali wrote on November 29th, 2011
  20. A decrease in ‘brown-cloud-blowing’ was my first (and immediate) Primal benefit. 30 pounds and many benefits later, I sing the praises of this lifestyle change to everyone I meet.
    St. Augustine is known for the quote “To sing is to pray twice.” Thanks for putting a new twist on that, Mark!

    Kathy wrote on November 29th, 2011
  21. Onions, every time, cooked or raw, rough chopped or finely grated and hidden way down the ingredient list but not in their pickled form strangely … the pickling must ‘do’ something to the fart-inducing chemicals!

    And I tried brussel sprouts last year, at your recommendation Mark, O M G … never, ever again, jet propulsion!

    But generally speaking since Primal smells rn’t us!

    Kelda wrote on November 29th, 2011
  22. This article, “verrry niice” …. (Sorry, somebody had to do Borat lol)

    Kevin wrote on November 29th, 2011
  23. Got to love that this post got a Borat reference in it without actually referencing Borat!

    Ed wrote on November 29th, 2011
  24. I ate three bananas one day. Unbelievable foul smelling flatulence for about 12-24 hours. Avoid too many bananas at all costs if you have a social event coming up. I think it’s due to the large amounts of insoluble fibre!

    David wrote on November 29th, 2011
  25. “If there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s that Mark Rippetoe endogenously produces lactase.”

    I’ve been reading Starting Strength and watching a bunch of Rip’s videos so the mental picture here cracked me up.
    Now I have exogenous gas. Thanks Mark.

    Brandon Foss wrote on November 29th, 2011
  26. I made primal meatloaf last week and either the 1/2 cup of coconut flour or the dried onions that I used to soak up some juices did not agree with my system. 1/2 hour after eating and I was glad that my wife was out of town.
    I have a feeling it was the dried onions as I’ve had the same reaction from onion soup mix before.

    Brandon Foss wrote on November 29th, 2011
  27. But what about all the meat that I eat rotting in my colon. Doesnt that cause me to have gas. Cause the people over at 30 bananas a day said that their poo smells good since going raw vegan

    (SARCASM)

    matthew dooley wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • LOL! A lot of people I know who actually did that (high fructose) diet said they were so bloated all the time that they looked pregnant!

      Erin wrote on November 29th, 2011
      • +1…the first thing I noticed when going low carb was the loss of belly.I looked 10 lbs lighter before any weight came off!

        Hopeless Dreamer wrote on November 29th, 2011
      • Haha, when I went to boot camp, we got really modest portions of “meat,” so to fill myself up, I often ate the steamed veggies, a big raw veggie salad, an apple, and a banana at every meal.

        I got scary thin, but my stomach was visibly bloated and my gas was awful! We were getting “intensive training” as punishment during the last week, I was doing jumping jacks in front of my rack mate, and right at the end, after an hour of punishment, I let one rip! Thank goodness it was silent-but-deadly — it was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud and getting more punishment!

        Deanna wrote on November 30th, 2011
  28. Dude that “cup ‘o cheese” video was hilarious, crude of course, but hilarious!

    I would have to try that on someone but I rarely have gas since going primal, oh well.

    BG wrote on November 29th, 2011
  29. Since doing low-carb farting is a pretty infrequent event. In the past I used to eat a great deal of muesli which produced so much methane I felt personally responsible for global warming.

    uk primate wrote on November 29th, 2011
  30. you used SO many awesome words in that post. just fabulous! (and informative as well.)

    rachel wrote on November 29th, 2011
  31. This was a darn tootin’ good article!

    I think one of my favorite things about being primal is not having the bloated gas feeling. Definitely little to no gas since going primal on most days.

    Todd wrote on November 29th, 2011
  32. Great article. Here’s a bit more info On Digestive Enzymes:

    “If you lack the right digestive enzymes, more food bits will make it to the colon for fermentation. According to Robb, you want to take the enzymes shortly before the meal. Start with five or six capsules and stop when you start feeling warmth in your belly – that means it’s working.”

    There are actually two different things here:

    1) Betaine HCl (plus or minus pepsin) which is acid, and helps your stomach get used to producing enough acid to digest your food, particularly proteins. This is what causes the “feeling of warmth” in your belly. A deficit of stomach acid is very common as we age, or even more so from proton pump inhibitor use, such as Zantac or Prilosec.

    2) Digestive enzymes — you will recognize these from looking at the label and seeing “ase” at the end of the word — like lipase or cellulase. Digestive enzymes may also be in more natural form, such as papaya powder. As far as I know, none of these cause that “heat in the belly” feeling that Betaine HCl does.

    3) Another digestive aid is Ox Bile — definitely consider using it if you have had your gall bladder removed (as I did.)

    Diane wrote on November 29th, 2011
  33. Man I wish I had wrote about this topic on my blog first…It’s a great day when a man can make a difference in this world by writing about Farts (and have the science to support it).
    Great Read Mark!

    Isaac Warbrick wrote on November 29th, 2011
  34. As to the general humor involving flatulence — in my experience it is mostly a guy-thing, along the same line as the Three Stooges. What women find most amusing is men acting like little boys and laughing at them (both the Stooges and the Farts.)

    Diane wrote on November 29th, 2011
  35. Back in my pre primal days I used to enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch daily. I would go to the gym a couple hours later and would be farting up a storm at the gym. It was embarassing as can be.

    Today, I rarely fart if I am eating strictly primal foods. When I have a not so primal day I know farts are to follow. I decided to eat pizza this past Sunday night… the farting began that night and continued into Monday afternoon.

    I’ve been fart free all day today! It helps when I eat 100% primal foods!! :)

    Primal Toad wrote on November 29th, 2011
  36. Growing up in an overweight/obese extended family, I remember farting being a common topic of conversation. Everyone treated farting or “blowing up the toilet” (sorry gang) as something that was a part of life for most men. Overeating and farting were sort of branded as symbols of virility. I suppose it was somehow a defense mechanism.

    I’ll take my new life of incredibly rare farts and abs (optimism!).

    Nicholas wrote on November 29th, 2011
  37. i “found” Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) this last year, and it’s proverbial how they’re supposed to produce “foul wynd”. the first time i ate them, yeah — it was pretty bad. the second time it was hardly noticeable. i wondered if one’s body doesn’t have the right bugs for it at first, but develops them as needed. i DID taste them raw that time, as well as cooked. also, the second time i scrubbed instead of peeling the things, so probably got some soil along with my food. we all know what a good idea it is to eat a little dirt….

    tess wrote on November 29th, 2011
  38. I am starting to get lactose intolerent these days. Heavy Cream causes me to smell like a backed up sewer and blow like a hurricane. Cheese fortunately is not an issue at this point, but I am avoiding milk products as much as I can.

    Tesen wrote on November 29th, 2011
    • Not much lactose in heavy cream (~0.1g/cup)!
      Check ingredients for carragenan. Buy only carragenan-free milk products and you’re probably good to go!

      Franco wrote on November 30th, 2011
  39. My tips for a flatulence-free life:
    1. Cut the grains (and beans).
    2. Soak your nuts.

    Seriously, since going full Primal and cutting the grains (especially oats, which I’ve written about before), I literally have no gas. And, I never did like beans, and they never liked me. In addition, soaking nuts, and then dehydrating them at a low temp, has done the trick there. And, I find I have to limit dried fruit which is another offender for me – but let’s face it, we should be limiting that anyway if we’re going Primal.

    Love the Louis C.K. reference… classic!

    Dawn wrote on November 29th, 2011
  40. I just love that you referenced Louis CK in one of your articles.

    Karen wrote on November 29th, 2011

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