Oxalate – Kind of a Big Deal

Since my post of November 22, Calcium Chart Updated – Calcium Absorption Modified, I have had some correspondence with an oxalate researcher at the University of Wyoming, Dr. Michael Liebman. He told me that the numbers I was using from the USDA were not accurate and that new methodologies are providing more accurate numbers.

So I replaced the USDA numbers with those from a table put out by Harvard School of Public Health, Oxalate Content of Foods.xls. These updates resulted in no changes regarding which greens are good sources of absorbable calcium.

And with that housekeeping out of the way, the moment I have been pursuing since mid-October is finally upon us – my article on oxalate is finished! I do not suspect that it is, by any means, the final word on oxalate and the vegan diet, but it’s a good start.

Why do I care so much about a silly little molecule like oxalate? Well, at the time I started the article, oxalate was, by far, the most popular topic people were writing me about.

In the past, I had been aware of the issue with calcium absorption from high-oxalate greens, of course, and that oxalate plays a role in kidney stones. But what I was not aware of was that there is an entire community that considers oxalate to be the source of their health problems.

This is not an entirely unusual phenomenon – there are many foods, or components of foods, that communities have sprung up around in order to help each other avoid as the underlying mechanism for their health problems. But oxalate is kind of a big deal because it is hard to eat a low-oxalate vegan diet, and in my search for things that might be causing some vegans failure to thrive, after looking into oxalate, I think there might be something to this one.

I read about 70 papers relating to oxalate and the VeganHealth.org article, Oxalate, summarizes that research in more detail than most of my readers probably care to know. I have put the main points in the Summary, which I have reproduced below.

If you read the summary, you will see that I suggest that vegans, and especially vegans who might have oxalate issues, eat high-calcium foods or take calcium supplements with meals. There is some evidence that this can hamper iron absorption. So if you are someone prone to iron deficiency, this would be something to monitor and I will probably have more to say about iron absorption on low-oxalate vegan diets in future posts.

I also hope to put together some low-oxalate vegan menu plans in the near future.

I’d like to thank Mimi Clark of Mimi Clark’s Vegan Cooking Classes for her help with my oxalate research. She may soon be adding low- to moderate-oxalate recipes to her site and says vegans can write her for ideas for eating low-oxalate as a vegan.

And here is the Summary from the VeganHealth.org article, Oxalate:


Oxalate is a molecule many in the vegan community are familiar with for preventing the absorption of calcium. This article does not address that subject – info can be found in the article Calcium and Vitamin D.

Oxalate is also known for the part it plays in calcium-oxalate kidney stones, which is the most common form of kidney stone.

In many cases, getting a kidney stone is a one time thing and does not occur again. Increasing fluid intake can cut the incidence of getting another stone in half. Cutting down on the amount of oxalate in the diet is another strategy for reducing stone recurrence. Some calcium-oxalate stone formers are prescribed potassium-citrate tablets which are also effective at reducing stones.

Oxalate is generally not found in animal products while many plant foods are moderate or high, and some are extremely high (such as spinach, beets, beet greens, sweet potatoes, peanuts, rhubarb, and swiss chard). Despite this, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people following a plant-based eating pattern had a lower occurrence of kidney stones (1).

There is no research on kidney stone frequency in vegans, though anecdotally I know of some who have gotten stones. Of course, I also know of meat-eaters who have gotten kidney stones. But is the average vegan at a higher or lower risk? Vegan diets are higher in some elements that increase the risk of stones, lower in some, and higher in some things that prevent stones, so it is hard to say.

But the story regarding oxalate does not end with kidney stones.

There is currently an entire community built around the idea that absorbing too much oxalate, known as enteric hyperoxaluria, either causes or exacerbates many diseases such as fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, depression, arthritis, autism, and a variety of digestive disorders (which, in turn, exacerbate hyperoxaluria by allowing even more oxalate to be absorbed).

According to LowOxalate.info, leaky gut syndrome, in which molecules are absorbed from the digestive tract at a higher than normal rate, can cause hyperoxaluria. They also say that you cannot rely on getting a kidney stone as a warning sign before oxalate accumulates in other tissues.

There is not much research (on humans) regarding hyperoxaluria and diseases other than kidney stones and vulvodynia, so it is hard to say much about them with any certainty. However, many people have reported improved health on a low-oxalate diet and given the high amount of oxalate in some plant foods, it might be a good idea for vegans to be aware of this issue and not eat unusually high amounts of these foods.

Here are some other tips for minimizing problems from oxalate:

  • Boil high-oxalate leafy greens and discard the water.
  • Meet the RDA for calcium. Eat high-calcium foods or take calcium with meals; calcium citrate if you have a history of calcium-oxalate stones.
  • Drink plenty of fluid.
  • Do not include large amounts of high-oxalate vegetables in your green smoothies.
  • Do not take large amounts of vitamin C.

If you have a history of calcium-oxalate kidney stones or suspect you have hyperoxaluria, there are a few more things you can do such as limit oxalate as much as possible, add citrate to your diet (through orange or lemon juice, or calcium citrate), minimize added fructose and sodium, or try a probiotic supplement.

Please see the Contents for quick links to more details about all of these topics as well as tables of the oxalate content of foods and other helpful resources.

I highly recommend anyone with digestive disorders to check out that section of Oxalate.

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1. Taylor EN, Fung TT, Curhan GC. DASH-style diet associates with reduced risk for kidney stones. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2009 Oct;20(10):2253-9. | link

31 Responses to “Oxalate – Kind of a Big Deal”

  1. Erik Says:

    “Boil high-oxalate leafy greens and discard the water.”

    That produces a tricky trade off situation because some such leafy greens like Broccoli shed other nutrients into the water when boiling.

  2. Corrin Radd Says:

    Ugh. This is too much and too confusing for me. “Eat your greens and broccoli!” is now “Maybe don’t eat your greens and broccoli, or at least boil them.” This is the kind of thing in food science that makes me want to stop reading all together. It’s too complicated, there’s too much going on, and we’ll never figure it all out.

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Luckily, broccoli is extremely low in oxalate, as is kale. It might not be important for most vegans to worry about this, but I would be concerned for anyone eating very large amounts of the extremely high-oxalate plant foods on a daily basis.

  4. Dan Says:

    Re: broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica family (kale, cabbage, cauliflower and many others) – I am more concerned, thanks to your tip, about the goitrogen issue, now that so many vegans have had broccoli et al promoted to them as anticancer vegetables. I’ve done a fair amount of reading about this, and vegans who have marginal intake of iodine may be at particular risk of thyrotoxicity (both cancer and underfunctioning thyroid state) from high amounts of uncooked (raw) crucifers, and even in people with normal iodine intake, there may be risks (the literature does seem to support this).

    Ok, something else:

    “If you read the summary, you will see that I suggest that vegans, and especially vegans who might have oxalate issues, take calcium supplements with meals. There is some evidence that this can hamper iron absorption. So if you are someone prone to iron deficiency, this would be something to monitor and I will probably have more to say about iron absorption on low-oxalate vegan diets in future posts.”

    So vegans should take calcium supplements with meals …. but then this is going to affect iron absorption …. so then we need to add an iron supplement (and maybe the vitamin C needed to facilitate absorption of that iron supplement). We see this problem a lot in clinical pharmacology – half the drugs people are taking are to offset the side effects from the other half. For instance, one person gets an anti-inflammatory and then has to take a proton pump inhibitor to protect their stomachs from the ulcerative effects of the anti-inflammatory. But then they get calcium deficiency from the proton pump inhibitor, so they have to go on a calcium supplement (not to mention B12 now). However, they then get constipation from the calcium supplement, so they have to go on a stool softener. And on it goes….

    Seems to me that consuming a whole foods, balanced, diverse diet is the best way to protect against all these phenomena, rather than just more supplements. To quote Nissim Taleb, “don’t be a sucker”. By not putting all your eggs in one basket (sorry to use that metaphor on a vegan website, an excellent one at that!), and not overconsuming or underconsuming one form of plant-based foods, we hedge our bets and avoid toxins. Anyone juicing large amounts of raw green vegetables – beware! That’s not the way they were meant to be eaten – quantity and quality-wise. You may end up with hypothyroidism, hyperoxaluria or kidney issues or god knows what else.

    I’d like to thank you, Jack, for looking into this in great depth. I am going to read the full report you have composed. I just wanted to add the one philosophical difference (not a criticism) above. A lot of the philosophy I have regarding supplementation is taken from the ‘whole’ movement, though I personally believe in supplementing with what might be missing from a vegan diet — to an evidence-based extent and not to excess. My favorite example of the latter is magnesium supplements. Everyone was on them at some point for all sorts of reasons. Then a big trial was done in the UK that definitively showed increased cardiac death. We just “don’t know from mechanisms” (to paraphrase the idiom “We just don’t know from nothing”). Until we do the trials that is.

  5. Sharky Says:

    Great article. I wasn’t aware that so many of my mainstays are high-oxalate (sweet potatoes, almonds, kidney beans). I simply associated oxalates with spinach and a few other leafy greens. Fortunately, I’ve been using a calcium citrate supplement for several years (NOW Ca Citrate: includes Mg, Zn, and D2; it’s vegan).

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    This is a comment from a reader, M, who tried to post twice but it didn’t go through:

    Thank you for posting this! I have a few comments on the VeganHealth.org article on Oxalate, but I did not see a way to post comments there, so I am posting them here.

    First, in the section on Calcium Citrate, you say

    “As of December 2013, I could not find a calcium citrate supplement on the market that was both vegan and contained only ingredients I am comfortable recommending long term. ”

    First, you and your readers may be pleasantly surprised to learn such supplements are readily available. Pure calcium citrate powder, with NO additional ingredients, may be purchased from Pure Bulk (http://purebulk.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=calcium+citrate), NOW Foods (http://www.nowfoods.com/Calcium-Citrate-100-percent-Pure-Powder-8oz.htm), Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dhpc&field-keywords=calcium%20citrate%20powder&sprefix=calcium+citrate+powder%2Chpc&rh=i%3Ahpc%2Ck%3Acalcium%20citrate%20powder), and many other online retailers. You may also purchase it wholesale from Frontier Co-op, if you have a wholesale account (or are part of a buying club). Simply add the powder to a glass of water and drink BEFORE your meals. No need to take animal-derived vitamin D. In fact, doing so may actually REDUCE the effectiveness of the oxalate-binding properties of the calcium.

    Second, in the section on Oxalate and a Vegetarian Diet, you say

    “…there is still a question as to why more oxalate was excreted and the supersaturation was higher on the low-oxalate diet.”

    This phenomenon is perhaps explained by the process of “dumping,” which is when the body releases oxalate that had been stored (and bound to minerals or heavy minerals) in the tissues. Dumping appears to be triggered by a reduction in dietary oxalate, which thus reduces the amount of oxalate freely circulating in the blood, and/or by the addition of certain supplements (such as B6 and biotin). With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that the amount of oxalate excreted would be HIGHER when dietary oxalate was LOWER. For more information on this, please see this interview with Karla Wiersma and Julie Matthew, a Certified Nutrition Consultant: http://nourishinghope.com/pdfs/LowOxalateDiet_Interview.pdf.

    Last, I am grateful that you listed the Trying Low Oxalates Yahoo group in your Resources section at the end of the article. I highly recommend that group to anyone who is interested in learning more about oxalates, keeping up with the latest research, and being informed of the most current figures for oxalate content of foods. Susan Owens, a leading oxalate researcher, regularly posts recent research results to the group and also answers questions.

    More than once you mentioned the lack of adequate (human) research on oxalates. It is my hope that articles like yours will encourage both the medical and scientific communities to support and conduct further research, as interest in this topic continues to grow.

  7. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Thank you so much for the links to the calcium citrate powders, I have updated the Oxalate article.

    Second, in the section on Oxalate and a Vegetarian Diet, you say

    “…there is still a question as to why more oxalate was excreted and the supersaturation was higher on the low-oxalate diet.”

    This phenomenon is perhaps explained by the process of “dumping,” which is when the body releases oxalate that had been stored (and bound to minerals or heavy minerals) in the tissues.

    The oxalate excretion I am was referring to in the low-oxalate veg study is excretion via the urine. I’m not sure if that is clear, but I made it explicit in the article now. I don’t think your explanation can be true in this case because if it were, the low-oxalate omnivorous diet would also have increased oxalate excretion.

    I took a look at the section of the Low Oxalate Diet PDF on dumping. One thing I have not yet seen is an explanation of what the symptoms of “dumping” actually are. Can you tell me?

    I am skeptical about the phenomena of dumping. Except in this one exception of the low-oxalate vegetarian diet, the literature has been fairly consistent in showing that a lower oxalate diet quickly results in less oxalate excreted in the urine. I see no reason to believe this would also not be the case for the feces. I asked Dr. Liebman about this and he agreed with me that it doesn’t sound metabolically plausible. I am open to the idea that it does occur, but I’m rather skeptical about it at this time.

    Don’t forget to email me a copy of your response (if you have one) so that it doesn’t get lost in cyberspace. Thanks again!

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > “So vegans should take calcium supplements with meals …. but then this is going to affect iron absorption …Seems to me that consuming a whole foods, balanced, diverse diet is the best way to protect against all these phenomena, rather than just more supplements.”

    I have long urged vegans to make sure they are getting enough calcium via fortified soymilk, low-oxalate greens, or supplements. So this really doesn’t change my recommendations other than to suggest that if you’re taking a calcium supplement, you should take it with meals. I am skeptical that calcium supplements cause iron deficiency, but I need to look into it more. I’m putting it towards the top of my list of things to research next.

  9. Dan Says:

    Thanks Jack.

    By the way, off topic completely, but I am trying something new out. Beans are very important but certain types seem to make me very flatulent, in particular one of my favourites (black kabuli chickpeas). I read a 1980 experimental article which reported that if you cook your beans with garlic or ginger, you greatly reduce the amount of gas produced by Clostridium perfingens, one of the key colonic anaerobes that produces flatulence (also responsible for gas gangrene), probably because these spices have an antibacterial effect. The effect seemed to be most marked (60% reduction in gas) at 1% of garlic. So today, I pressed two large cloves of garlic into the cooking water and ran it for 60 minutes. Maybe not enough, but if this n-of-1 experiment doesn’t work out, I will increase the garlic concentration by using 4 large cloves.

    I also understand baking soda works well for this but can’t personally vouch for it.

  10. Erik Says:

    Ok, I read too quickly and misinterpreted the table in the section “soluble vs insoluble” on http://veganhealth.org/articles/oxalate#digestive as a list of foodstuffs with the highest oxalate. That was why I posted about broccoli. For such a list I should have in the first place looked to the HSPH document “oxalate content of foods.xls” that you link to at the end of the article. The miligram units in the column with the header “Oxalate Value” confused me first. Miligrams per what? But then I saw that the amount is relative to a serving which varies in size (column E).

    For the moment I’ll eat less swiss chards and spinach and more broccoli and kale.

  11. Kathleen Keene Says:

    We were just talking about this very thing at our potluck last night, as there is a raw food fellow who says he has salivary stones from too much oxalate. So he said he’s drinking stonebuster tea. What say you?

    A friend of mine there started to worry about if she was at risk of such a thing.

  12. Dan Says:

    Jack, is there a combination multivitamin available for vegans that contains the common micronutrients typically low in vegan diets?

  13. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > Jack, is there a combination multivitamin available for vegans that contains the common micronutrients typically low in vegan diets?

    Not really. But many contain vitamin B12, iodine, zinc, and some D which helps cover a number of bases.

  14. Dan Says:

    Jack, is there enough in a standard multivitamin to cover all the typical bases?

  15. Jack Norris RD Says:


    It really depends on the vitamin, but generally (in my experience) yes for iodine, zinc, and sometimes with B12. The B12 amounts might be so small that it’s not enough for only one daily dose. In other cases, it is 25 micrograms or more which should be enough for most people.

  16. Zak Says:

    Hi Jack –

    I have a question about supplementation with calcium at meals with phytates and oxalates. Won’t the supplemented calcium get bound to these molecules and be rendered unabsorbable?

  17. Jack Norris RD Says:


    You will probably absorb less calcium supplementing at a meal rather than not at a meal. However, you will increase calcium absorption by supplementing at a meal compared to not supplementing at all. If all your meals are extremely high in soluble oxalate, then perhaps this isn’t enough calcium for someone, but my guess would be that supplementing with calcium at meals at about 300 – 500 mg per day should be plenty for any typical vegan diet.

  18. Mimi Says:


    Thank you for taking the time to write the most comprehenisve article on oxalates that I have come across. As a vegan for 25+ years, and vegetarian/macrobiotic before that, I was shocked to learn that I had a calcium oxalate kidney stone in August. For the past few months, I asked myself (and you) how my healthy plant-based diet could result in a kidney stone? Moreover, if a high oxalate diet caused kidney stones, why wouldn’t more vegans get stones? Your article left no stone unturned (sorry!).

    Thanks to the Trying Low Oxalates yahoo group http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Trying_Low_Oxalates/info and their fb https://www.facebook.com/groups/TryingLowOxalates/, I learned about oxalobacter formigenes, good bacteria that eat up oxalates in most people. As you noted, a study at Wake Forest Univ Dept. of Urology http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22656407 determined that ox. form. can be wiped out if one has a history of certain antibiotic overuse (specifically azithromycin, ciprofloxacin, clarithromycin, clindamycin, doxycycline, gentamicin, levofloxacin, metronidazole, and tetracycline). Finally, an explanation for my 2mm stone! As a teenager, a dermatologist prescribed tetracycline for 4 consecutive years, which resulted in my subsequent allergy to ALl antibiotics. Unfortunately, at the present time, there is no probiotic that can replace ox form. although VSL3 (sold on Amazon and http://www.vsl3.com/) is touted to do so http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00240-010-0262-9. Another manufacturer, as you pointed out, is also working on formulating one http://www.oxthera.com/pr.php?no=0.

    I eat low-moderate oxalate, organic vegan food which is challenging at best. I rotate soaking and cooking black-eyed peas, brown and red lentils (not green), and yellow split peas; I eat only arugula, green cabbage, and Romaine (spinach is out); I roast cauliflower, red potatoes, red bell pepper (not green), turnips, and buttercup/nut squash (no sweet potatoes), with rosemary, garlic, and ginger. I boil the heck out of carrots, mustard greens, broccoli and dino kale, which is the only kale that is low ox, according to the comprehensive yahoo list of 1600+ foods, much of which has been tested by Dr. Liebman’s group, and is periodically updated; I soak and cook jasmine, basmati, and wild rice (quinoa and all grains are high ox); I eat apples and Bartlett pears, and a few blueberries and strawberries (most other berries are very high ox). I only drink water or lemon water because citrate is a stone-buster. My go-to snack is pumpkin seeds because all nuts are high ox, and I make my own granola (serving size is key because if you OD on a low ox food, it’s not longer low). Sadly, dark chocolate is very high ox. My morning green drink consists of water, spirulina, chlorella, flax, probiotic, pea protein, lecithin, and organic frozen fruit. I take calcium citrate + magnesium, Natural Calm (mag), Vit D 2, B-12, Vit K-2, and taurine, and I use Life-Flo pure mag. oil transdermally.

    Do I miss my beloved leafy greens, grains, beans, nuts, and chocolate? Everyday. But I’m trying to do everything in my power to prevent another kidney stone. I know one vegan “stoner” who had a calcium oxalate stone 16 years ago and who went back to eating his normal vegan diet and only increased his water intake. So far, so good. Who knows, maybe in time, I will be more flexible and have an occasional walnut? 😉

    Please accept my donation in appreciation for your dedication to vegan health, and to reducing animal suffering. If any of your readers want more information about a vegan low ox diet, they can email me at veggourmet@aol.com.

    Mimi Clark
    Veggie Gourmet
    Vegan Cooking Instructor and Natural Foods Consultant

  19. Alessio Says:

    What about romaine lettuce and oranges? Are these good calcium sources?
    Everyday I eat, more or less, 1 pound of lettuce and 1 pound of Navel oranges.
    These are my main sources of calcium.

  20. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Romaine lettuce is very low in oxalate, but isn’t very high in calcium. A pound of romaine lettuce is a lot and has about 150 mg of calcium: http://peacounter.com/foods_pub.php?ndb=11251. Not bad, but still only 15% of the recommended amounts.

    Oranges are fairly high in oxalate (though nothing like spinach). A pound of oranges has 180 mg of calcium and how much of that is absorbed I’m not sure. It hasn’t been tested.

  21. MacSmiley Says:

    Any word on when OxThera’s Oxabact will start being marketed? It broke my heart to be forced to introduce meat back into my diet after 20 years veg/mostly vegan. I’m hoping that probiotic will fix my issues

  22. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I haven’t heard when it might be marketed. Seemed like a ways off when I was writing the article on oxalate.

  23. Mimi Says:


    Granted, it is challenging to maintain a vegan diet with no oxalobacter formigenes in your gut to eat up oxalates, but I am determined to do it.. I have increased my fluid intake to 50-60 oz/day (I only weigh 95 lbs.), and I have branched out to more moderate oxalate vegan food to offer some variety.

    Super Shield claims to have the same enzyme that makes ox form. in its probiotic: http://www.greattastenopain.com/nl/09/04_06/062609.asp. There is also VSL #3 probiotic available on Amazon.

    Good luck!

  24. MacSmiley Says:


    Does Super Shield contain the same enzyme in OxThera’s Oxazyme®? The study summary I read for that product was not as positive as the studies for the Oxabact®. Evidently, the critters do a much better job. They eat oxalate and ONLY oxalate.

    VSL did not help and perhaps caused problems I’ve never had before. I am hesitant to add to my troubles with another product.

    Last I heard, OxThera was applying for trademark for Oxabact in Japan and Korea. Most recent news item today is an announcement for another study.

  25. Mimi Says:


    I don’t know. You might want to ask Blue Rock Holistics http://www.bluerockholistics.com/contact.asp

  26. Julie F Says:

    Thank you so much for this information. It is the best that I have found anywhere. I had never even heard about an oxalate until my 2nd round with a kidney stone over new year’s weekend, 2012. I had a stone in 1987, which was a calcium stone, and was just told to watch my calcium intake! My new urologist laughed and said, “Bad news! It’s most likely your healthy diet that has landed you here”. I’m not vegan, but pescatarian. I have ordered the “Low Oxalate Cookbook 2”, but I’m sure it is mostly meat-based recipes. The urologist told me that if I’m going to “cheat”, to chew a Tums tablet with my meal. Is that an acceptable form of calcium to use mid-meal, or should I be swallowing a tablet?

  27. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Tums is calcium carbonate which would help bind the oxalate. Calcium citrate would be ideal, but calcium carbonate is also pretty good. Taking it mid-meal should work fine.

  28. melani Says:


    Is chlorella high oxalate food? My son after 2 weeks consuming chlorella, having eye pains, and keep blinking. Eyes pain on of sign of high oxalate.

    I.stopped chlorella, and the blinking went away. His diet didn’t change at the time he started chlorella, anntil now, so i know the blinking eyes pain came from chlorella. I am sad, because before blinking, he is responder to chlorella. He don’t like vegies, and mostly eats meat.


  29. Mimi Says:

    Melani – Lab tests from the Autism Oxalate Project (2011) indicate that 1 NOW chlorella tablet is VL (very low) in oxalates, and that 6 NOW chlorella tablets are L (low) in oxalates. I would refer you to the Trying Low Oxalates yahoo group which can provide you with a current list of @3,000 foods and their oxalate levels when you join (it’s free). http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Trying_Low_Oxalates/info

  30. pat Says:

    Dan wrote that U.K. research indicated heart risk with magnesium supps . I have read that the risk is with calcium supps, as it causes calcified arteries and that magnesium supps are actually very helpful for the heart . Could you cite the study , Dan ?
    Turnips and cabbage are high in calcium and low in oxalates .
    Would sprouting decrease oxalates I wonder – I will look into that .

  31. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Calcium supplements and artery calcification: http://jacknorrisrd.com/calcium-supplements-the-final-word/

    1 C of cubed turnips has 34 mg of calcium—that’s not very much, unfortunately.

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