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March 31st, 2010
01:15 PM ET

Can your multivitamin give you cancer?

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Somewhere in your house right now, you probably have a bottle of multivitamins. Millions of Americans take a daily multivitamin in hopes of thwarting future illnesses. But a new study with an alarming headline has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that may have some Americans thinking twice before popping their daily vitamin.

The study looked at data from 35,000 Swedish women, ages 49 to 83, who were cancer-free at the beginning of a 10-year period. A decade later, they found that older women who took a multivitamin were 19 percent more likely to develop breast cancer compared with women who didn't take a vitamin. That finding was true regardless of whether the women smoked or took postmenopausal homones over that 10-year period.

But before you throw out those vitamins, there are important caveats to this study that need to be mentioned. First, the study found only an association between multivitamins and breast cancer, not a cause and effect relationship. That means that of the women who eventually developed cancer, one common denominator was that most of them took a daily vitamin, not that their daily vitamin caused the disease. Plus, the study lumped all the women who take multivitamins into one entity and did not look at the women's data individually. That means it's impossible to pinpoint how one specific woman's cancer risk might be increased if she takes a multivitamin.

The National Institutes of Health have said that "some of the roughly 75 million Americans who buy [multivitamins and supplements] may not need them." But that's not to say there isn't any value in taking one. In fact, the NIH recommends multivitamins be taken by senior citizens, pregnant women or women who wish to become pregnant, people with nutrient depleting conditions or gastrointestinal disorders, and people on restricted diets. And within the medical community, many doctors advocate that all their patients to take a multivitamin, even if they don't meet the NIH's criteria.

"At the end of the day, it's always better to see someone taking a vitamin than not. The benefits outweigh the risks," advises Dr. Kent Holtorf, medical director of The Holtorf Medical Group, who was not affiliated with the study. "But the question is what do you want to accomplish by taking it."

Holtorf says patients need to speak with their doctor about what symptoms they're trying to treat by taking a multivitamin. That's especially true for patients who take a multivitamin but also eat fortified foods and beverages to bolster their health. Too much fortification can have major consequences. Depending on the vitamin you’re taking, side effects can range from diarrhea to liver damage.

"The bottom line is a patient is not a population," says Holtorf. "It's better to take a vitamin than nothing but your best bet is to find out if you're deficient in anything and then treat those deficiencies in an individualized way."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 30th, 2010
05:41 PM ET

Can morality be changed magnetically?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Do you judge the ethics of a situation based on a person's intention or the outcome of the situation? It turns out that magnetic stimulation can actually change the way you decide, according to a new study.

Researchers led by Liane Young at Massachusetts Institute of Technology started with previous studies showing that there's a relationship between moral judgment and a part of the brain called the right temporoparietal junction. This region is located between the temporal and parietal lobes on the brain's right side. People with high activity in this region have been shown to be more likely to use intention in deciding morality, rather than just looking at the outcomes of a situation.

In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers temporarily interrupted brain activity in participants with a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation. This basically induces an electric current in the brain, Young said. This allowed researchers to see if disrupted activity in the right temporoparietal junction had any effect on moral judgment, she said. This was a small study involving 20 undergraduates.

The researchers found that this actually made participants more likely to decide morality based on outcomes, rather than intentions. Participants tended to find it morally permissible in cases when the agent in the example has a bad intention but causes a neutral outcome, Young said.

Researchers used the example of a person, Grace, who puts a powder in her friend's coffee. In one variant, Grace thinks the powder is toxic, and her friend dies - this is a negative intention with a negative outcome. In another, she thinks the powder is toxic, but her friend is fine - a negative intention with a neutral outcome.

"It seems to be the case that if certain parts of the brain are damaged, moral judgments will look different," Young said.

The downside of the study is that it shows a somewhat modest effect, said Dr. Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University. Also, scenarios such as the poison powder example are complicated and not entirely realistic. "People will answer these questions often times in a way that is socially expected of them," he said. "The only way to sort that out is when you’re in the situation."

Still, this is interesting research, although it is difficult to pin down which part of the brain is really responsible for morality at present, Berns said.

Young's group's subsequent research will look at the role of this particular brain region in assessing cultural taboos such as forbidden foods, incest, and purity.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 30th, 2010
11:31 AM ET

Group tells Ronald McDonald to take a hike

By Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

A corporate watchdog group that got rid of Joe Camel is after another icon - this time, its target is tall, red and happy.

Corporate Accountability International plans to host a retirement party for Ronald McDonald as it releases a report Wednesday that basically says,  "We’re not loving it. " The report calls for McDonald’s to stop using the iconic clown.

“For nearly 50 years, Ronald McDonald has hooked kids on unhealthy foods spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related diseases,” said Deborah Lapidus, the senior organizer at Corporate Accountability International. “Ultimately the report makes the case that it’s time that McDonald’s stop directing fast food to kids.  Really, Ronald deserves a break and so do we.”

The group plans to hold events outside of McDonald's throughout the country and wants the fast food chain to stop using its corporate mascot.  The mascot makes children “vulnerable to manipulations to marketing” and turns them on to junk food at an age when childhood obesity rates  have soared, Lapidus said.

The group is employing the same strategy as it did to target the cigarette mascot in its “Send Joe Camel packing” campaign in the 1990s.

“A lot of our thinking is modeled on that campaign and success,” Lapidus said.  “We think of Ronald McDonald as a deep-fried Joe Camel for 21st century.”

McDonald’s does not appear to have plans to ditch the clown.  The company released a statement to CNN.com calling Ronald McDonald “a beloved brand ambassador for McDonald's” and described him as crucial to its charity efforts to help families of hospitalized children.

“Ronald also helps deliver messages to families on many important subjects such as safety, literacy, and the importance of physical activity and making balanced food choices. That's what Ronald McDonald is all about, which our customers know and appreciate,” according to the statement.

Lapidus said the fast food giant's message has  some “fundamental ironies.”

“McDonald’s charity does a lot of good and they do work to be commended,” she said.  “But there are serious question about the face of the charity that’s about kids getting better that also promotes unhealthy food to kids.  Could it not serve the same children without the cross promotion of burgers and fries which are affecting kids' health?”

Other McDonald’s characters, such as Hamburglar or Grimace (the purple triangular fellow) can rest easy.  Health advocates are not targeting them.


March 29th, 2010
07:00 PM ET

Even a little activity helps fibromyalgia pain

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Short bursts of activity can help ease the discomfort of fibromyalgia, a condition associated with long-term pain and tender joints, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from the condition, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. The condition has been linked to chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, and constant headaches.

The study looked at 84 minimally active adults with fibromyalgia. The patients were randomly put into two groups; either the “Lifestyle Physical Activity'” (LPA) group or the Fibromyalgia Education (FME) group. LPA involves moderate-intensity physical activity based around everyday life such as taking the stairs instead of using an elevator, gardening and walking. In this study, participants were taught to perform LPA intense enough to cause heavy breathing, but not so vigorous that they could not hold a conversation. In the FME group, participants only received information and support about their fibromyalgia, but no activity plan.

Seventy-three of the 84 participants completed the 12-week trial. The LPA group increased average daily steps by 54 percent compared with the FME group. The LPA group also reported significantly less movement problems and less pain than those in the non-active group. However, when both groups were given a six-minute walk test, there were no differences between the groups when it came to decreasing fatigue, depression, body mass index, or tenderness.

Kevin Fontaine, lead author of the study and a professor with the division of Rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said even a little movement helps. "The nature of fibromyalgia's symptoms, the body pain and fatigue, make it hard for people with this malady to participate in traditional exercise," explains Fontaine. "We've shown that LPA can help them to get at least a little more physically active, and that this seems to help improve their symptoms."

The study appears in the recent open access journal of Arthritis Research and Therapy.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 29th, 2010
05:05 PM ET

Passover health: Matzoh, soup and family

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

For Jews, Passover is somewhat like Thanksgiving: Families and friends gather to eat a lot of food. This holiday, commemorating the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, began Monday and lasts for eight days, during which observers do not eat any leavened bread or various grains. Some traditionally also avoid beans, corn, and other starches.

The Passover meal - called a "seder," meaning "order," - traditionally happens on the first night, during which participants go through a series of symbolic foods representing elements of the Passover story. Some families have a seder on the second night also.

Some seder foods carry health benefits. And  one, perhaps the best known of the seder elements, may cause some digestive issues.

Matzoh, which Passover observers eat to symbolize the Jewish people fleeing their homes without enough time for their bread to rise, is actually quite constipating, although no one knows exactly why. There's only about 1 gram of fiber per piece of matzoh, so it's certainly not helping in that area. But dried fruit, thought to be an antidote, is also kosher for Passover, notes Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "As long as you drink enough water and eat enough fiber to move things, you’re probably OK," says Dr. Lisa Bernstein, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. There is also whole wheat matzoh available, contributing to good carbs and healthy fats, she says.

Matzoh ball soup: A 2009 study in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that chicken soup, otherwise known as "Jewish penicillin," may have medicinal properties. Researchers gave proteins from chicken legs' collagen to rats. In the rats used to model hypertension, blood pressure went down, researchers said. This line of research is credible and may explain the benefits of this "Jewish penicillin," Regenstein said.

Charoset, a paste made of apples and nuts, symbolizes the mortar used to lay bricks in Egypt (legend has it that Jewish slaves built pyramids; some historians have debunked this, and it remains controversial). Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, Bernstein notes, which have been shown to be good for your heart, vision, and even memory. If this is your first seder and you are allergic to nuts, though, make sure to steer clear.

Family, as with any major food-focused holiday, is a big part of Passover. There are always some issues with that - dealing with relatives you haven't seen a long time, making sure everyone gets along - but for most people, having the family reunited is a positive thing. A 2002 review of research on family routines and rituals, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that family rituals, including Passover and Thanksgiving, contribute to stability in stressful times. These, as well as routines such as a family mealtime, are linked with everything from academic success to children's health and strong family ties.


March 29th, 2010
09:34 AM ET

Scientists find there may be two forms of multiple sclerosis

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Scientists and doctors who study multiple sclerosis know, as of now, one of the best way to treat the condition is with beta-interferon. But over the years, the drug's effectiveness has been lukewarm in some people causing a third of all MS patients who are on the drug to suffer from uncomfortable flu-like side effects. Many can't handle it and so far, researchers have never figured out why.

Now scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine may have discovered that there are actually two kinds of multiple sclerosis and that each reacts differently to the standard treatment.

Researchers know multiple sclerosis is triggered when immune cells, called T cells, attack the myelin sheathing, which insulates neurons in the body. Healthy myelin sheathing is essential for the nervous system to function properly. When this material is attacked, it can cause serious symptoms including paralysis and blindness in those with MS.

In this study, published in the current issue of Nature Medicine, researchers established animal models of multiple sclerosis by injecting mice with myelin into their immune systems, causing it to attack the animals' own myelin nerve-cell coatings, much as MS attacks a human being’s. By looking at these animals and treating them with beta-interferon and then testing their blood the researcher found there were actually two different types of MS, caused by different patterns of T cells in the body. So what works for one, doesn't necessarily work for the other.

The researchers found that beta-interferon improved the condition of animals who had MS caused by gamma-interferon-secreting T cells, but made the symptoms worse in those mice whose MS was caused by IL-17-secreting T cells.

Intrigued, the investigators turned to humans. One of the study's authors, Dr. Brigit deJong, had previously been involved in research in Amsterdam in which multiple sclerosis patients were treated with beta-interferon and closely followed. The Stanford group obtained blood samples taken from 26 of these patients both before and about two years after the initial treatment. Without knowing which samples came from patients who had responded well or poorly to beta-interferon treatment, they went about measuring IL-17 levels in those samples. The human results were much like the animal models. Those with high amounts of IL-17 T cells had had negative reactions to beta-interferon.

"By making these distinctions in large human studies, people with multiple sclerosis might someday be able to take a simple blood test to see whether they are likely to respond to treatment with the standard multiple-sclerosis therapy." says senior study author Lawrence Steinman, M.D. of the Neurology and Neurological Sciences Department at the Stanford University School of Medicine,

If an inexpensive test can be developed to detect IL-17 in humans, MS patients and their doctors will know whether beta interferon is or isn't going to work. "For those who don't have the IL-17 T cells," notes Steinman, "those patients can receive beta-interferon and probably not in a diluted form but in a higher dose, which will help them better fight their illness."

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS affects 400,000 people in the United States. Dr. Patricia A. O'Looney, vice president of biomedical research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the new research is very exciting. "Obviously this will need more testing in human subjects," explains O’Looney, "But this is a positive step in the right direction to helping to treat MS and other autoimmune conditions."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 26th, 2010
07:15 PM ET

In triathlon training, seek consistency above all

By Ian Murray
Host of Triathlon Training Series
Triathlon Coach to Rickey Williams, CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge Participant

When Rickey and I began our coach-athlete relationship, one thing radiated from him above all others: his commitment to triathlon. Here at TTS we see that desire in many triathletes and we all have to be careful not to translate that passion into going too hard too soon. An injury is the worst thing that can happen to a triathlete in training and it’s critical to measure out the duration of the workouts, the frequency of exercise and the intensity of each effort. Rickey’s greatest gains will come from consistency, and to sustain that we have to avoid all injuries. Here’s how you can join Rickey and me on our injury-free triathlon training program.

Job One: Progress slowly: Muscles can build a bit faster than the tendons that anchor them to bones. By increasing your training in a slow and progressive manner you can welcome the body to the sport with ease.  The swim distance for the race might be long but start by swimming in small pieces, even a single length of the pool, stop, rest, repeat.  Rather than a 20-minute run, make it a 20-minute “walk/jog.” 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running. 5 rounds of that will give you a safe and effective 20-minute starting run.  Cycling on flat roads or trainer/spin bike with light resistance will allow for the skill of fluid circles to begin gently rather than mashing up long or steep climbs.

Do it perfectly! Let technique in your training be the top priority.  Triathlon is an endurance sport, and efficiency is key. Good form is most efficient.

Invest in a lesson from a professional to make sure your swim/bike/run are on target.  Give every workout a technical focus point so that you are mentally present for each effort.   Watch videos of excellence, visualize and then reproduce those movements. There are some great DVDs out there and one that is specifically designed as an educational tool for new triathletes is http://triathlontrainingseries.com/

Body maintenance: The key areas to stretch are calves, quads, hamstring, and the iliotibial band (ITB).  These get used in both biking and running and deserve frequent attention.  Triathlon is all about moving forward in the same plane – that means hip stabilizers; lateral movers can be dangerously weak. Keep ‘em in balance with inner and outer thigh work.  Freestyle swim puts a lot of emphasis on the front of the body; strengthen the rear shoulder area with rear deltoid raises to maintain balance and a healthy, happy shoulder.  Core, core and more core – this isn’t just the “six pack ab” fetish that launched a thousand infomercials; this includes lower back, twisting movements and deeper core muscles. Mix it up.  Massage, and not just any massage; make calls and find a sports-minded healer who can untangle knots in their earliest stages of development.

Know you're not alone. The three steps set out above are right for any beginner but they are also common threads that carry through to triathletes at all levels. No matter the stage of your athletic career, these are the keys to success.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: 2010 Fit Nation Challenge • Exercise

March 26th, 2010
02:42 PM ET

Young kids at high risk for traumatic brain injury

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Spring is here and the nice weather means plenty of time for kids to play outside. But watch out for those falls on the playground: A new CDC report says children up to age 4 are part of the high at-risk population for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Teenagers 15 to 19 and senior citizens older than 75 also make the list.

When someone has a traumatic brain injury, normal brain function is interrupted. It can be caused by any sudden blow or jolt to the brain. TBI claims nearly a third of the injury-related deaths in the U.S. every year. In teenagers 15-19 the injury is usually caused by car accidents. Falling is the chief cause of TBIs in senior citizens and young children.

Babies and toddlers are still developing their sense of balance, which is why they often they take a tumble. But as any parent will tell you, falling is a normal part of childhood. Most falls don't cause anything nearly as serious as a traumatic brain injury but being around stairs or furniture with hard edges, or walking up an incline, could increase the chances of it happening.

So why should parents be concerned?

Speed is essential when treating traumatic brain injury. Most neurologists agree that there's a 60- to 90-minute window from the time the injury was suffered to the point where treatment must begin. But most TBIs are not obvious immediately after developing. And that makes detecting them very difficult, especially in a young child.

"With a younger child, one who is preverbal or just learning the language, it's hard to tell what they're feeling. It's hard for them to explain, " says Dr. Lisa McGuire of the CDC's Injury Center.

Dr. McGuire says whenever a child suffers a blow to the head, regardless of its cause, parents should watch for any of the following: sudden drowsiness or inability to be alert, difficulty recognizing familiar people or places, sudden whining or irritability, loss of interest in favorite toys, numbness of one side of the body, vomiting, or neck pain.

Every second counts when someone has a traumatic brain injury. Consult a doctor immediately if you notice your child has any of these symptoms.

"The main thing to always remember is that TBI is a major health problem," says Dr. McGuire. "And those who have TBI who do not die are the ones who go to the emergency room."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 26th, 2010
12:07 PM ET

Tougher controls urged for tanning beds

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday recommended tougher controls on tanning beds and suggested that more restrictions, including a possible ban on the devices for teens under the age of 18, be implemented. The committee, which heard from numerous experts, learned that tanning beds are particularly dangerous for young people. According to doctors, the devices, unlike sunlight, concentrate ultraviolet radiation directly to the skin, so people develop skin cancers at an earlier age. Skin cancer is being diagnosed more in young people and tanning bed advertising is geared towards the young.

Along with a possible ban for teens, the panel also advised that visible warning labels should be placed either on the machines or in the tanning salons to warn tanners of the dangers. And the committee decided that tighter regulations and classifications were necessary in order to make the machines safer. The machines currently are categorized as low-risk devices. If the FDA were to change their classification to Class II, as recommended by the panel, the federal agency could limit the levels of radiation the machines emit. The agency could also make changes in their design if needed.

Although the agency does not have to follow the advice of the panel, it traditionally does. The FDA will take the next few months to go over the recommendations before releasing any changes.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and according to the American Cancer Society, and will account for about 68,720 cases of skin cancer in 2009 and most (about 8,650) of the 11,590 deaths due to skin cancer each year.

The World Health Organization recently announced that it has moved ultraviolet tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category, along with arsenic and cigarettes. Those on Capitol Hill have found the issue so important that they incorporated a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning salons into the recently passed health care bill. And although the Indoor Tanning Association, which looks to protect the freedom of those who want to tan through artificial methods, says, "The protective benefits of UV radiation are undeniable," and the warnings "exaggerated," the FDA believes changes are necessary.

Dermatologists recommend if you are desperate to get a tan before the summer months, there are plenty of products on the market that can give you a gradual tan without the dangers of being exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Lindy Royce-Bartlett, contributed to this report

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 25th, 2010
05:23 PM ET

Experts: Talking to your baby can build language skills

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

If you're the parent of an infant, chances are you're doing a lot of cooing to communicate with your child. But instead of just making sounds, child psychologists say, you may want to actually talk to your baby while you identify objects.

Researchers at Northwestern University have found that even before your little one begins to speak, words play an important role in your child's comprehension and communication.

The research, which was compiled by the psychology department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was published in the most recent issue of the journal Child Development. Participants included 46 infants, from 2 to 4 months of age. Half of the infants were assigned to a word group. The remaining infants were in the tone group. In the study, the babies were shown a series of pictures of fish that were paired with words or beeps. Infants in the word groups were told things such as "Look at the toma!" - a made up word for fish, as the babies looked at each picture. In the other group, infants heard a series of beeps instead of words as they looked at the pictures. Then both groups were shown a picture of a different fish and a dinosaur side by side as the researcher measured how long each child looked at the pictures.

The study authors said the results were striking. They found that although babies in both groups saw exactly the same picture for exactly the same amount of time, those who heard the words later identified other fish, by looking at them longer and therefore mentally categorizing them. Those who heard tones did not.

"For infants as young as 3 months of age, words exert a special influence that supports the ability to form a category," said Susan Hespos, associate professor of psychology and one of the authors of the study. “These findings offer the earliest evidence to date for a link between words and object categories."

The study investigators suspect that human speech, directed to infants actually helps them to become more aware of their surroundings and makes it easier for them to recognize and categorize objects that are brought to their attention. And while babies continue to grow and learn words, talking to them and identifying objects will help them distinguish individual words and their meanings, which makes it easier for children to learn to talk and eventually communicate.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Caregiving • Children's Health • Parenting

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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