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13 Potential Fenugreek Benefits (Seeds, Leaves, Tea)

Written by Jasmine Foster, BS (Biology), BEd | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Jasmine Foster, BS (Biology), BEd | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Fenugreek

For millennia, people have used fenugreek as an important part of diet and medicine, but it has only recently been introduced to the West. Plants like fenugreek are not only nutritious: many studies suggest that they may provide numerous health benefits. Read more to learn about fenugreek’s effect on your health.

What Is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek is a leafy green legume native to Eurasia and Africa that is widely used for its nutritional and aromatic value [1].

For almost six thousand years, traditional healers in Africa and Asia have claimed that it eases labor, alleviates digestive problems, and improves skin conditions such as boils, eczema, and inflammation [1, 2, 3].

Fenugreek goes by many names around the world. It is methi in Hindi, hulba in Arabic, moshoseitaro in Greek, uluva in Malayalam, shoot in Hebrew, and dari in Persian. Fenugreek is a common ingredient in spice powders in Indian cuisine. It is used fresh in salads and cooked or dried in other dishes [1].

Today, it is most often taken by athletes, diabetics, and people who struggle to maintain normal levels of fat in their blood [4].

Nutrition Facts

Fenugreek oil contains a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats (approximately 84%). According to some studies, people who eat a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats (compared to saturated and monounsaturated fats) may have healthier hearts and better blood vessel repair after injury [3].

Fenugreek is also rich in dietary fiber, which accounts for between 45 and 50% of the seeds by weight. Diets high in fiber support good overall health, aid digestion, and reduce blood fat and sugar [5].

Each tablespoon of fenugreek seed contains approximately 7 g of fiber, 3.6 g of protein, and 1.1 g of fats. It also contains many nutrients, including [1]:

It may not sound like much, but those are significant amounts in terms of daily recommended intakes.

Consider, for example, that the National Institutes of Health recommends that adults should get between 8 mg (for a man) and 18 mg (for a woman) of iron in their diets per day. A single tablespoon of fenugreek seeds contains 20 – 45% of the daily recommended intake of iron [6, 7].

Fenugreek seeds also contain other nutrients (like carotenes, folate, and magnesium), but not enough to make a dent in recommended intakes [6, 1].

Snapshot

Proponents Say:

  • May increase free testosterone
  • Improves sexual function in men and women
  • Supports brain function
  • Protects the heart, kidneys, and stomach
  • May prevent obesity
  • Reduces blood sugar
  • Improves skin health
  • May fight cancer
  • May increase milk supply in breastfeeding women
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Easy to grow in a pot or a garden
  • Delicious addition to many dishes

Skeptics Say:

  • Some people may be allergic
  • Should not be taken during pregnancy
  • Potential for harmful drug interactions
  • There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the use of fenugreek for any health condition

Active Components

Saponins

According to some researchers, a number of the health benefits of fenugreek could be due to its saponins. Many plants produce different saponins; plants use these soap-like compounds as weapons against disease and plant-eating animals. However, some herbivorous animals may learn that some saponins are healthy (or, at least, not dangerous) and will deliberately consume the plants that make them [8].

Some research suggests that certain saponins may help protect against cancer. People who eat a lot of safe dietary saponins tend to have lower cholesterol, sugar, and fat in the blood and a lower incidence of blood clotting and kidney stones. And what’s more, fenugreek contains steroid-like saponins that some researchers believe might form the basis for a testosterone boost [9, 10, 11].

Trigonelline

Trigonelline, another compound of fenugreek, is an alkaloid with a structure very similar to vitamin B3. According to some studies, trigonelline could potentially have antibacterial, antiviral, fat-lowering, sugar-lowering, anti-tumor, and brain-protective effects [12].

Antioxidants

Fenugreek is abundant in compounds with antioxidant activity. These include apigenin, luteolin, caffeic acid, and coumaric acid [13].

Mechanisms

Testosterone

Some commercially available “testosterone boosters” with fenugreek claim to increase testosterone by blocking aromatase, 5-alpha-reductase, or sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). But what does this mean?

Aromatase and 5-alpha-reductase enzymes convert testosterone into estrogen and DHT. Thus, a substance that blocks these enzymes should increase the ratio of testosterone to estrogen and testosterone to DHT. According to one study, college-age men taking fenugreek saponins had lower aromatase and 5-alpha-reductase activity after a resistance training program [14].

Note that only one study has identified this mechanism, and it has not been investigated in cell studies. Much more research will be required to confirm any effect of fenugreek on testosterone.

Meanwhile, sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG, binds to testosterone in the blood and decreases free testosterone. Only one study has investigated the effect of fenugreek on SHBG so far. This study found no significant change in SHBG after two months of supplementation [15].

According to limited early studies, men taking fenugreek extracts may have lower aromatase and 5-alpha reductase activity, which has the potential to increase testosterone.

Insulin & Blood Sugar

According to proponents of medicinal fenugreek, an amino acid found in fenugreek (4-hydroxyisoleucine) increases insulin production in the pancreas; increased insulin generally causes blood sugar to decline, though chronically high insulin promotes insulin resistance [16, 17].

Cancer

To understand fenugreek’s anticancer potential, we’re going to zoom into its effects on cancer on a cellular level.

Saponins in fenugreek may de-activate key cancer-promoting pathways. Specifically, in one study, tumors exposed to a saponin called diosgenin grew much more slowly. The treated cells produced less tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and two more proteins (IKK and p65). The authors concluded that diosgenin blocked the inflammatory hub NF-κB and increased the rate at which cancer cells died [18].

Another similar saponin, protodioscin, was similarly associated with cell death in human leukemia cells [18, 19]. But remember, these were cell studies and not clinical trials.

Potential Health Benefits of Fenugreek

1) For Men

Testosterone and Libido

Testofen is a commercial fenugreek extract that contains 50% “fenuside,” a proprietary blend of saponins. Gencor, the company that produces Testofen, claims that fenuside increases testosterone, sexual desire, and muscle mass.

Some clinical research may support these claims. In a study of 60 healthy men, those who took two Testofen tablets daily reported an increase in sexual arousal, orgasm, energy, and strength [20].

One study found that free testosterone and total testosterone was higher in men taking Testofen, but other studies found no clinically significant change. Note that the study finding increased testosterone was funded by Gencor, the manufacturer of Testofen. This is a significant conflict of interest [20, 21].

One other study has found that a different fenugreek extract called Furosap was associated with increased free testosterone, but not increased total testosterone. This distinction may account for the apparent conflict in the research on Testofen [22].

One in five men with type 1 diabetes suffer from erectile dysfunction, and the condition worsens with age. In diabetic rats, fenugreek seed extract was associated with improved sexual function. This result suggests a potential role for fenugreek in improving erectile dysfunction, but no human research has yet been conducted [23].

There is currently insufficient evidence that fenugreek either increases testosterone or improves sexual function. Talk to your doctor about your options before you add fenugreek as a supplement.

2) For Women

According to its proponents, the reproductive health benefits of fenugreek are not limited to men. Some claim that it soothes PCOS and menstrual complaints in women and boosts their sexual function. It is also traditionally used to promote milk production by breastfeeding mothers.

Breastfeeding

Newborns get everything they need from their mother’s breast milk, which is full of nutrients, immune-boosters, and growth hormones. Not being able to produce breast milk can be a very frustrating experience for new mothers. The exact cause of low milk production is often hard to pinpoint, and conventional treatments are limited [24].

Some believe that herbal galactogogues can help: substances purported to promote the production of breast milk in women. Traditional practitioners consider fenugreek to be one such galactagogue.

In a single study, women who drank fenugreek tea experienced double the milk production and infant weight gain of those who didn’t. However, a meta-analysis of galactagogues produced mixed and contradictory results. Although promising, much more research is required to confirm this benefit [25, 26].

If you are struggling with milk production, discuss your symptoms and concerns with a doctor before taking any remedies, especially since the efficacy and safety data of most herbal galactogogues is limited [26].

Painful Menstruation & PCOS

In one clinical study, researchers gave 101 young women either fenugreek seed or a placebo and tested the severity of their pain during two consecutive menstrual cycles. All of the women had similar pain levels before the study, but those who took fenugreek seed reported much less pain at the end of treatment [27].

Saponins from fenugreek seeds may also improve the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. In a study of women of reproductive age with PCOS, those who received a standardized fenugreek extract called Furocyst had increased luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone and smaller ovarian cysts [28].

Fenugreek has also been linked to improved sexual function and desire in women. In one study of 80 healthy women of reproductive age, those who received fenugreek seed extract had increased free testosterone, estradiol, and sexual desire compared to the placebo [15].

According to limited research, fenugreek has been associated with increased milk production in breastfeeding mothers, reduced menstrual pain, improvements in PCOS, and increased sexual function. However, much more research is required to confirm these benefits.

2) The Brain

Fenugreek seed into has been negatively associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in rat studies [29, 30].

Rats that received fenugreek in their feed had lower activity of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine supports cognitive function, memory, and learning. In the same study, rats that ate fenugreek had less amyloid beta buildup in their brains, implying a slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, the authors concluded that fenugreek might help delay Alzheimer’s, but much more research is needed [29].

Fenugreek seed powder was also linked to reduced oxidative stress, inflammation, memory impairments, and plaques in rats with Alzheimer’s disease [30]. Remember, these are animal studies and no clinical studies have corroborated these findings.

3) Heart Health

In a clinical trial, type I diabetics who consumed fenugreek seeds in their diets had lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol than those who did not [31].

In another study, rabbits that ate fenugreek seeds had 50% lower cholesterol levels than those that did not. Fenugreek leaves were also linked to reduced total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides and increased HDL (good) cholesterol in the same rabbit study[19].

After a heart attack, the heart and blood are full of reactive oxygen species, causing oxidative stress and tissue death. As a result, researchers are considering complementary antioxidant therapies to protect the heart. In rats, fenugreek seed was associated with increased antioxidants in the heart and improved heart tissue health [32, 33].

Prevents Excessive Blood Clots

Doctors frequently prescribe anticoagulants like warfarin to people at high risk for heart attack and stroke. These medications help prevent the formation of blood clots that may cut off supply to vital organs [34].

Fenugreek seed increased the time required for normal human blood samples to clot, prompting the authors to suggest that supplements might act in a similar way to warfarin. Note that this effect was only tested in cells, while animal and clinical studies are lacking [35].

However, warfarin can interact with many drugs and supplements. Always consult your doctor before adding a supplement to your regimen.

Early studies suggest that fenugreek may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and protect the heart once disease has already developed. However, much more research is required.

4) Obesity Prevention

According to one study, women who drank boiled fenugreek seed tea were less hungry and felt more full after a meal. If these properties are borne out in future research, they could make fenugreek a useful tool for people who are trying to lose weight [36].

In a rat study, animals fed fenugreek seed gained less weight and had lower BMI. Their blood also had lower fat and sugar levels than the control. A similar study on mice found no change in body weight but significant improvements in cholesterol levels [37, 38].

5) Blood Sugar

Fenugreek may be of interest to people with diabetes or those at risk. In multiple clinical studies, people who consumed fenugreek seeds had lower blood sugar levels compared to the control [39, 31].

In both humans and rats, fenugreek seed has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the body’s tool for lowering blood sugar, and this mechanism is damaged in people with type 2 diabetes [40, 37].

6) Digestive Health

According to multiple rat studies, fenugreek seed extract and oil are associated with a reduced overall incidence of ulcers and acid reflux [19].

In India, fenugreek is a popular digestive remedy. The seeds are traditionally used to reduce flatulence and diarrhea. Although many traditional Ayurvedic texts support these benefits, scientific research is lacking. On the upside, adding fenugreek to your diet is safe and does provide beneficial nutrients, mucilage, and fiber [41].

7) Kidney Function

In one study, rats that received fenugreek seeds in their feed had higher red blood cell count and hemoglobin and lower calcium salts in the kidneys. These markers are in turn linked to improvements in kidney health and a lower risk of kidney stones [42].

Aluminum hydroxide is sometimes used to bind phosphates and reduce their blood levels in people with kidney failure. However, when aluminum builds up in the brain and bone, it can cause serious health problems [43].

In one study, rats receiving fenugreek seed powder had improved kidney function and reduced damage to the brain and bones after aluminum treatment. Fenugreek was also linked to increased antioxidant levels, decreased oxidative stress, improved overall quality of kidney tissue, and normalized kidney weight [44].

Early results suggest that fenugreek may help the kidneys recover from treatment with aluminum phosphate binders. However, this potential benefit has not yet been studied in humans. Talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek for this purpose.

8) Hair & Skin Health

For Hair

Fenugreek seeds and leaves are often used in hair care, particularly in India. The seeds or leaves can be soaked and mashed into a paste, applied to the scalp, and rinsed out. In traditional Indian hair care, this is reported to help hair growth, preserve color and silky texture, and prevent dandruff [45].

Some researchers have suggested that fenugreek saponins could block the conversion of testosterone into DHT. DHT has been implicated in progressive hair loss [14, 46].

Fenugreek seeds are also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like omega-3 and omega-6. These have been reported to reduce hair loss and improve hair density and thickness [47, 48].

Use caution when applying fenugreek to the skin for the first time. Some cases studied have identified people with serious fenugreek allergy [49].

For Skin

Fenugreek seeds contain mucilage, a gooey substance that can reportedly soothe and moisturize dry skin without irritating it [50, 51].

In a clinical study, people who used a skin cream containing fenugreek seed extract had increased skin moisture and fewer spots and bumps [52].

Cell studies support these results and suggest that fenugreek may also be associated with reduced skin damage. In one study, human cells exposed to three types of fenugreek saponins experienced less damage and inflammation after sun exposure [53].

In another study, rats experienced faster wound healing when fenugreek seed oil was applied directly to the skin. Similar to grape seed and sesame oil, fenugreek seed oil was associated with reduced inflammation and improved growth of new skin [3].

In another study of mice with allergic skin reactions, dietary fenugreek extract was associated with reduced skin inflammation [54].

As mentioned above, some people may have a skin allergy to fenugreek, so be careful the first time you try it. Ask your doctor to conduct or supervise a patch test before using it in larger quantities. Simply apply a couple of fenugreek oil drops on a small skin area (such as the inside of your elbow); wait for at least 24 hours and look for signs of irritation [49].

9) Cancer

In one study, rats who ate fenugreek seeds developed colon cancer less frequently. Fenugreek seeds were also associated with slower growth of breast cancer [19].

Multiple cell studies also imply a potential anti-cancer effect. When exposed to the saponins from fenugreek, cancer cells divided less often and became more sensitive to cell death signals [19].

When healthy T cells (a type of white blood cell) were treated with fenugreek extract and exposed to radiation, they were more sensitive to programmed cell death. As a result, the radiation-damaged cells were quickly cleared. This result implies that fenugreek’s components may help prevent cells from becoming cancerous, but much more research is required [55].

Fenugreek seed extract was also linked to reduced growth and increased rate of death of human colon, leukemia, breast, prostate, and bone cancer cells in test tubes [19].

Early animal and cell studies suggest a possible role for fenugreek in preventing cancer. However, much more research is required.

10) Inflammation & Oxidative Stress

Fenugreek has long been touted as a liver support remedy. In rats whose livers were damaged by alcohol, fenugreek seed extract was associated with reduced free radicals, increased antioxidants, and reduced enzymes used to measure liver damage [19].

In another study, arthritic rats given fenugreek seed mucilage had less fluid build-up in the joints and a more robust antioxidant defense, with increased vitamin C and glutathione. Fenugreek mucilage was also associated with higher levels of important antioxidant enzymes such as catalase and glutathione peroxidase [56].

Some researchers have suggested that fenugreek could reduce inflammation by decreasing the production of inflammatory molecules called interleukins and by preventing white blood cells from overcrowding one spot. Additional studies will be required to confirm this hypothesis [54].

11) Antimicrobial

When exposed directly to fenugreek seed extract, bacteria such as E. coli and M. furfur grow much less quickly. Some researchers say that sprouted fenugreek seeds may have promising antimicrobial activity, especially against the H. pylori bacteria that commonly cause ulcers [19].

Defensin, a protein extracted from fenugreek leaves, inhibited the spread and reproduction of two fungal species [19].

The antimicrobial effects of fenugreek could potentially help accelerate wound healing. Both the seeds and leaves of fenugreek are associated with reduced microbial growth to similar degrees [3, 19].

12) Osteoporosis

In a cell study, diosgenin from fenugreek was associated with reduced development of osteoclasts. Osteoclasts are a type of bone cell that breaks down old bone tissue. These cells are hyperactive in people with osteoporosis, and they are often the target of osteoporosis therapies [18, 57].

Fenugreek seeds might, therefore, support bone health in people with osteoporosis; however, clinical studies are needed to determine the actual benefit.

Limitations and Caveats

Multiple studies demonstrating the effectiveness of Testofen were funded and supplied by Gencor Pacific, its manufacturer. Studies without Gencor funding suggest that Testofen benefits men’s health, but perhaps not to the degree that Gencor’s studies claim.

Likewise, studies on other testosterone boosters tend to be funded and supplied by their manufacturers. If you choose to use Testofen or another fenugreek extract to increase sexual function, keep this conflict of interest in mind.

Many of the studies on fenugreek have been conducted on animals or cells. More human trials will be required to confirm any health benefits. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of fenugreek as a treatment for any medical condition [58].

Side Effects & Safety

There is one reported case of a man developing pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lung, after taking a testosterone-boosting supplement containing fenugreek. The mechanism of this event was unclear [59].

According to some researchers, people who are allergic to chickpeas may also have adverse reactions to fenugreek because the two plants contain similar proteins and allergens. Some patients reported wheezing and spasms in the airway after consuming fenugreek [4].

Fenugreek seed extract has been associated with hyperthyroidism in rats. If you have thyroid problems, consult your doctor before using fenugreek [60].

Traditionally, fenugreek was used to induce labor. Because of its potential to affect uterine contractions, fenugreek should not be eaten or taken during pregnancy. While fenugreek is a relatively common foodstuff, little formal research exists on its effects during breastfeeding [58, 4].

Fenugreek contains compounds that act like estrogen in the body. People with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid it [58].

Drug Interactions

The list of potential interactions below should not be considered exhaustive; other substances may interact with fenugreek. Better safe than sorry! Always talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement to avoid dangerous and unexpected interactions.

Because of its blood-thinning properties, fenugreek seed may increase the potency of warfarin, a commonly prescribed anticoagulant. While the observed association has been minor, it may increase the risk of blood loss, even from small cuts [61, 4].

According to some researchers, the sticky fiber in fenugreek seed that helps it moisturize dry skin could potentially also coat the lining of the digestive tract and blocks the absorption of drugs taken orally. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek alongside prescription drugs [4].

Since fenugreek may lower blood sugar, it should not be combined with glucose-lowering medication like insulin. This combination has the potential to promote hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar), which can cause unsteadiness, dizziness, and nausea, especially in older people. If you have a history of hypoglycemia, talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek supplements [4, 62, 63].

Genetics

Men who are prone to low testosterone and people prone to insulin resistance could be the most likely to benefit from dietary or supplemented fenugreek.

Low Testosterone

Researchers have identified a few genes that control a person’s production of testosterone and SHBG. These include [64, 65, 66]:

  • At rs12150660, the G allele is associated with lower testosterone than the T allele [67].
  • At rs6258, the rare T allele is associated with lower testosterone than the C allele [67].
  • At rs2075230, the G allele is associated with slightly lower testosterone and SHBG than the A allele [68].
  • At rs5934505, the common T allele is associated with lower testosterone than the C allele [66]

Insulin Resistance

Researchers have identified a few genes that control a person’s insulin sensitivity. These include [69]:

  • At rs1208, the A allele is associated with insulin resistance [70].
  • At rs972283, the G allele is associated with insulin resistance [71].
  • At rs2943641, the C allele is associated with insulin resistance [69].
  • At rs2943650, the T allele is associated with insulin resistance [72].

Forms of Fenugreek

Supplements

As a dietary supplement, fenugreek is available in capsules or as loose defatted seed powder. Ground up seeds can also be mixed into foods and liquids; this powder is used as a spice in vindaloo paste.

Search for fenugreek seed or “methi” recipes for some creative ways to get this superfood into your diet.

Fenugreek is considered a relatively easy plant to grow in a pot or the ground; both the seeds and the greens are good to eat. Both fenugreek leaves and seeds can also be soaked in hot water to make tea. One tablespoon of the seeds is typically enough to make a cup of tea.

Fenugreek oil is also sold for hair care, usually combined with other nourishing oils.

Combinations

Some athletes take fenugreek seed and creatine supplements in an attempt to improve athletic performance. In a study of 47 resistance-trained men, those who supplemented with 5 g creatine and 900 mg fenugreek had increased upper body strength and improved body composition. This study does not clarify how much of the result could be due to the fenugreek [73].

A combination of fenugreek seed and Lespedeza cuneata extracts was given to 44 otherwise healthy men with low testosterone. After 8 weeks of taking 400 mg of combined supplement per day, about a third of the participants gave significantly improved responses on a survey designed to identify severe androgen deficiency. Much more research will be needed to reproduce and interpret these results [74, 75].

Fenugreek is often sold in combination with other supplements, such as blessed thistle or fennel, with claims of increasing milk production in breastfeeding mothers. The effectiveness of these combinations has not been studied.

Quantities

According to one study, a single cup of tea made from boiled fenugreek seeds may be enough to reduce your appetite.

Studies on the clinical use of defatted fenugreek seed powder typically use large quantities of up to 100 g per day, though some have found a benefit with as little as 5 g per day [4].

Commercial supplements typically contain less than 1 g of powder per capsule.

If you are looking to get a larger amount of fenugreek without breaking the bank, try cooking with or grinding up the whole seeds. This could be a great opportunity to expand your household cookbook!

User Experiences

People’s experience with fenugreek is mixed and varies widely across health status and supplement form.

Many women reported that fenugreek significantly increased their breast milk production, helping them better nurse their children. There were also several cases of fenugreek successfully lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes.

Some users reported increased hair growth and relief from mucus in the lungs, but only after taking fenugreek for several months. Using fenugreek along with blessed thistle worked well for many people.

However, some people complained that taking fenugreek capsules caused them to smell. Others said that fenugreek had no beneficial effect on their health.

Takeaway

Fenugreek is a leafy plant native to parts of Eurasia and Africa. It has been a part of traditional medicine for millennia, and many cultures cook with it to this day. According to some researchers, its saponins are most likely responsible for its reported benefits. This foodstuff’s purported benefits are on the reproductive system: early results suggest that it may increase free testosterone in men and help women with PCOS and milk production. Avoid fenugreek if you are allergic to chickpeas, if you have thyroid problems, or if you are pregnant. People who are genetically prone to low testosterone or insulin resistance are among the most likely to benefit from fenugreek supplements. Always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement such as fenugreek. Fenugreek is available in capsules, as a seed powder, as whole seeds, or as a whole plant. The seeds and leaves are both healthy and safe to consume for most people.

About the Author

Jasmine Foster

Jasmine Foster

BS (Biology), BEd
Jasmine received her BS from McGill University and her BEd from Vancouver Island University.
Jasmine loves helping people understand their brains and bodies, a passion that grew out of her dual background in biology and education. From the chem lab to the classroom, everyone has the right to learn and make informed decisions about their health.

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