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- Participants who took moringa seed oil sublingually at bedtime every night for three weeks reported significantly (1) higher sleep satisfaction, (2) higher sleep quality, and (3) fewer times waking after sleep onset, compared to before taking the oil. In the morning, participants reported feeling more (4) refreshed, (5) energized and (6) excited to start their day after taking the oil, compared to before taking the oil.
- There was no significant difference in the number of hours slept or the amount of time it took to fall asleep after taking the moringa seed oil compared to before taking it.
- Qualitative data collected during the three-week study suggested that taking the moringa seed oil at bedtime helped people to relax, get more restful sleep and wake up more refreshed. Some participants did not get as many hours of sleep as they would have liked, but felt the sleep they did get was of higher quality. Several participants adopted the practice of taking the oil when they woke up at night and reported that it helped them to fall back to sleep.
We all know how we feel after a good night’s sleep—rested, clear-minded, balanced, and ready to tackle our day. If you’re not exactly springing out of bed in this state of mind each morning, you are not alone. An epidemic is quietly gripping the nation each night, as more than 1 in 3 American adults do not get the sleep they need, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, Hawaiʻi is the state with the highest percentage of adults who get insufficient sleep, as nearly half (43 percent) get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night.
Health Costs of Insufficient Sleep
This lack of sleep has high costs in short-term performance and long-term health. The brain may suffer the most from not enough rest. A sleep deprived mind can functionally resemble an intoxicated mind. Just one sleepless night can lead to performance impairments similar to those of a person whose blood alcohol content is well beyond the legal limit. Moreover, struggling to fall asleep night after night has been associated with a risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Not getting enough sleep can also wreak havoc on emotional health. Sleep and our emotions are closely intertwined in a reciprocal causal relationship. Research suggests that sleep, particularly rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, resets brain homeostasis and prepares us for emotional and social functioning the following day. Sleep supports our emotions in multiple ways: how we regulate emotions, how we read emotion in others, and how we consolidate emotional memories overnight. It’s a cycle in which sleep balances our emotions, and our balanced emotions help us to drift off to sleep.
Sleep problems can also lead to metabolic issues, such as eating more and weight gain in even as little as four days of not enough sleep, according to one study. Insulin resistance and eventual risk of diabetes is another example of a metabolic issue exacerbated by sleep problems. Short sleepers can suffer cardiovascular risks, and associations have been found between heart attack risk and sleeping too much or not enough.
Just as insufficient sleep has many health costs, getting the sleep our bodies need has many positive health outcomes.
The Moringa oleifera Tree
Moringa oleifera is a tropical vegetable tree that confers many health benefits. Around the world, people have been eating moringa for centuries. Its nicknames include the drumstick tree, horseradish tree, the miracle tree and mother’s helper. In Hawai'i, people often know moringa by its Filipino names, malunggay or kalamungay. Moringa oleifera is one of 13 moringa species, four of which are edible, and is the most domesticated for leaf and seed production. Moringa oleifera is highly anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants and fights multiple types of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. These health properties come from bioactive compounds in moringa such as flavonoids, alkaloids, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, phenolic acids, minerals, and vitamins.
Neuroprotective Properties of Moringa oleifera Seeds
Every part of the Moringa oleifera tree (leaves, pods, seeds, flowers, bark) is abundant in nutritional and/or medicinal value. The health benefits of eating the leaves are well-documented, but recently an increasing number of studies have focused on the neuroprotective benefits of consuming moringa seed oil. Moringa oleifera seed oil is a safe, edible oil rich in heart-healthy benefits, and it has been eaten as a salad and cooking oil in India, Haiti and Africa.
One study found that mice who were orally administered moringa seed extract retained better learning and memory skills when subjected to cognitive decline. A study that compared the neuroprotective benefits of moringa oleifera leaf versus moringa oleifera seeds found that oral consumption of the seed oil was more effective than the leaf extract in improving memory. The researchers who conducted these studies suggested pharmacological potential for the use of moringa seeds to treat Alzheimer’s disease and amnesia.
Sleep Benefits of Moringa oleifera Seeds
Moreover, recent research suggests that moringa seed oil may have a stabilizing effect on mood amid chronic stress. In the treatment condition, mice were administered moringa seed oil orally for 23 days. In the control condition, the mice were not administered moringa seed oil. The mice who took moringa seed oil exhibited less “anxiety-like” behaviors, showed less “depression-like” immobility, had better spatial memory in a maze and had lower levels of stress biomarkers in the brain. The results suggested a neuroprotective function against chronic stress.
In a study on moringa seed oil and sleep, researchers found that mice who consumed moringa seed oil got better sleep. All of the mice were administered a sleep aid. The treatment group was also administered moringa seed oil, while the control group was not. The group that took the moringa seed oil fell asleep sooner. To address the mechanism through which this happens, the researchers measured the levels of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) in the brain, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that lowers stress, improves sleep onset and promotes the early stages of sleep. They found support for their hypothesis that taking the oil increased GABA and aided sleep onset.
In a follow-up experiment, the research group essentially replicated the study, but added a secondary treatment condition in which a group of mice was only administered the healthy flavonoid kaempferol, which is a bioactive compound found in moringa seed oil. The researchers found that both moringa seed extract and the isolated flavonoid kaempferol increased GABA and aided sleep, suggesting that kaempferol may be one of the bioactive compounds in moringa seed oil responsible for the sleep benefits. The researchers recommended further research on moringa seeds’ potential to treat insomnia, including research on additional bioactive compounds in moringa seeds that may help to induce sleep.
Pilot Study on Moringa oleifera Seed Oil and Sleep
Our pilot study builds on this sleep aid research by testing the effectiveness of a pure, edible Moringa oleifera seed oil grown and cold-pressed at Maruyama Jones Farm in Kona, Hawaiʻi.
We collaborated with 30 people who were interested in learning about how a bedtime moringa seed routine would affect their sleep. They ingested two drops of moringa seed oil sublingually for 21 days and shared their sleep progress in daily surveys. Their partnership in this pilot study enabled us to quantify and better understand the benefits of the nightly oil routine on sleep and relaxation.
Research Question: Does taking moringa seed oil sublingually in a bedtime routine improve sleep quality?
Hypothesis: Based on positive anecdotes from customers who were already taking the moringa seed oil sublingually to get a better night’s sleep, we hypothesized that taking two drops of the Maruyama Jones Farm moringa seed oil sublingually at bedtime would improve sleep quality.
Participants were invited to join through a recruitment email newsletter, social media accounts, and a blog post on the Maruyama Jones Farm’s website. A total of 44 people responded to the request during the recruitment period. Through mail and hand delivery, 44 5mL vials of pure, edible, cold-pressed moringa seed oil were distributed ($20 value). Each 5mL vial contained enough oil for three weeks of daily use.
The moringa seed oil comes from fully mature, brown pods whose seeds have reached their peak oil content. Through cold-pressing on the farm, it typically takes about 1,000 moringa seeds to make an ounce of oil. The oil is golden yellow in color and has a subtly sweet, almond-like flavor.
Study instructions accompanied each vial, asking each participant to take two drops of moringa seed oil sublingually at bedtime for the duration of the study. Thirty of the 44 people who received moringa seed oil followed up by initiating the daily survey protocol. The participants initiated and completed the study in the summer and fall of 2023.
Of the 30 participants, there were 26 women (87%) and 4 men (13%).
The participants were fairly evenly distributed across age groups.
|75 and older||2|
Each participant completed a consent form prior to participating. Participants then filled out a survey that asked about their sleep over the past month. This served as a baseline measurement for sleep quality prior to taking the moringa seed oil.
Thirty participants initiated the experiment by sending a “start” text message to a phone number dedicated to the research study. For 21 consecutive days, at the same time every day, an automated text arrived with a link to a survey asking about the previous night’s sleep and how the participant felt after waking up that morning.
The 30 participants generously poured their time and energy into filling out the daily surveys to collaboratively learn more about this part of the moringa tree. Measurement error was reduced by collecting data in real time every day, when participants’ memories were fresh.
Independent and Dependent Variables
We compared participants’ baseline sleep to their sleep while taking the moringa seed oil in this within-subjects experimental design, also known as a repeated measures design.
Our independent variable was whether or not participants were taking moringa seed oil. The two levels were (1) taking moringa seed oil during the study and (2) not taking moringa seed oil prior to the study.
Our dependent variables measured the subjective experience of sleep, known as sleep quality. The measures included a modified version of the Single-Item Sleep Quality Scale and portions of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index:
- sleep quality (Snyder, Cai, DeMuro, Morrison, Ball, 2018)
- sleep satisfaction (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
- hours slept (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
- how long it took to fall asleep (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
- the number of times woken up after sleep onset (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
- how refreshed people felt in the morning (Snyder, Cai, DeMuro, Morrison, Ball, 2018)
- how energized people felt in the morning (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
- how excited people felt to start their day (Nelson, Davis, Corbett, 2022)
DATA ANALYSIS STRATEGY
Quantitative Data Analysis
Participants’ sleep measurements while taking moringa seed oil was calculated by taking an average of the responses in their daily surveys. When participants forgot to take their moringa seed oil, their survey data from that night was not included. On average, participants completed 18.8 of the 21 daily multiple-choice surveys.
The ordinal data (i.e., strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree) was converted to numerical, interval data (i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). This enabled the use of statistics to test the hypothesis.
A paired sample t-tests compared baseline sleep prior to taking the moringa seed oil with sleep after taking the moringa seed oil. The survey items in the initial baseline survey and the daily surveys were worded nearly identically, allowing a comparison between the measurements.
We analyzed the data using Microsoft Real Statistics Data Analysis Tool, a Microsoft Excel Add-on, using the T-test and Non-parametric Equivalents function.
Qualitative Data Analysis
The surveys collected three sources of qualitative data. Firstly, an open-ended question asked participants, “When you think of a good night's sleep, what words come to mind?” This question in the baseline survey was designed to gain a better understanding of the subjective criteria participants used to evaluate their sleep.
The second source of qualitative data was an item at the end of every daily survey, which asked, “Anything else to mention related to taking the moringa seed oil?”
Lastly, the third source of qualitative data were retrospective questions posed in the final survey. The questions were displayed on a second web page that was visible only after pressing a button to continue, and half of the participants filled out this open-ended portion. The questions were:
- What were your overall impressions of the moringa seed oil?
- What changes to your health have you noticed since taking the moringa seed oil?
- If you noticed health changes, do you think something besides the moringa seed oil affected those changes?
These qualitative data were coded inductively to identify patterns and themes across participants that are summarized in the results section.
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate whether there was a difference between the sleep satisfaction of participants before and after taking the moringa seed oil. The results indicated that sleep satisfaction after taking moringa seed oil (M = 3.62, SD = .65) was significantly higher than sleep satisfaction before taking the oil (M = 2.27, SD = .91), t(29) = -6.64, p = < .0000001. The extremely low p-value suggests extremely high confidence that there was an effect.
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate whether there was a difference between the sleep quality of participants before and after taking the moringa seed oil. The results indicated that sleep quality after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.57, SD = .61) was significantly higher than sleep quality before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.7, SD = .88), t(29) = -4.44, p = < .0001.
Number of Times People Woke Up Each Night
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate if there was a difference between the number of times people woke up before and after taking moringa seed oil. The results indicated that the number of times people woke up after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.53, SD = .82) was significantly lower than the number of of times people woke up before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.13, SD = 1.04), t(29) = 2.51, p = .015. Note, the graphs show a shift to the left after taking moringa seed oil, indicating that participants were waking up fewer times after they fell asleep.
How Refreshed People Felt in the Morning
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate if there was a difference between how refreshed people felt in the morning before and after taking moringa seed oil. The results indicated that agreement with the statement “I felt refreshed this morning” after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.43, SD = .56) was significantly higher than agreement with the statement before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.53, SD = 1.01), t(29) = -4.26, p = .0001.
How Energized People Felt in the Morning
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate if there was a difference between how energized people felt in the morning before and after taking moringa seed oil. The results indicated that agreement with the statement “I felt energized this morning” after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.35, SD = .55) was significantly higher than agreement with the statement before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.53, SD = 1.01), t(29) = -3.91, p <= .001.
How Excited People Were to Start Their Day
A paired t-test was conducted to evaluate if there was a difference between how excited people were to start their day before and after taking moringa seed oil. The results indicated that agreement with the statement “I felt excited to start my day” after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.69, SD = .57) was significantly higher than agreement with the statement before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 3.03, SD = 1.03), t(29) = -3.05, p <= .01.
Number of Hours Slept
A paired t-test evaluated if there was a difference between the number of hours slept each night before and after taking moringa seed oil.
The results indicated that there was no statistically significant difference between the number of hours slept after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.57, SD = .41) and the number of hours slept before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.33, SD = .66), t(29) = -1.64, p = .11.
How Long it Took to Fall Asleep
A paired t-test evaluated if there was a difference between how long it took to fall asleep before and after taking moringa seed oil.
The results indicated that there was no statistically significant difference between how long it took to fall asleep after taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.15, SD = .85) and how long it took to fall asleep before taking the moringa seed oil (M = 2.47, SD = 1.11), t(29) = 1.23, p = .23.
The qualitative data reinforced the statistical results, suggesting that participants felt more satisfied with their sleep. Several participants said they were sleeping better and fell back to sleep quicker when they woke up overnight. Multiple people said they felt more relaxed and productive amid stressful seasons in their lives. Participants also reported feeling more refreshed and clear-headed upon waking, after taking the moringa seed oil the previous night. Lastly, the "sweet and loving self-care routine" seemed to have compounding benefits for some participants, as it sparked a positive mindset on sleep and led to benefits that extended into their waking hours.
Benefits to Sleep and Relaxation
A mother of young children, Participant 7, reported feeling more “refreshed and happy” even while weaning from breastfeeding, which often leads to declines in the feel-good hormones prolactin and oxytocin. After several weeks of moringa seed oil use, she wrote:
The restful and relaxing benefits of the moringa seed oil were lauded by not only Participant 7, but also Participant 2, Participant 3, Participant 5, Participant 6, Participant 13, Participant 15, Participant 18, Participant 21, Participant 22, Participant 28 and Participant 30.
Participant 2 wrote that after a family emergency that interrupted sleep, she was able to have a productive day, get a good night’s rest and could function the next day. Participant 2 wrote, “I spent most of the day yesterday cleaning and doing physical things. Went to bed at a decent time and passed out. Despite the stress I slept really well and I had energy for more physical work today.”
Sharing a similar sentiment, Participant 21 shared that the oil was helpful amid a stressful season in her life, writing, “I would say that I think it was helpful. But my stress has been pretty high these past few weeks. I think my overall disposition could’ve been much worse tbh.” When asked about how her overall health was affected, Participant 21 shared that the bedtime moringa seed oil routine served as a catalyst for cascading positive health choices.
I noticed my disposition was a little better throughout these weeks. My mood and stress levels decreased a little. Also because I made this slight health change I think it helped to influence the overall healthy choices I made throughout my day. (Participant 21)
Some participants noticed sleep benefits immediately. Participant 6 wrote after one night of moringa seed oil use, “I slept better last night than I’ve been sleeping.” Similarly, after one night of use, Participant 15 wrote that the moringa seed oil “helped with relaxation!” He added that the benefits included “vibrant energy and lower inflammation.”
Others experienced relaxation benefits first, then improvements in their sleep after multiple days of use. Participant 5 wrote, “Definitely felt more relaxed after taking moringa seed oil. Took me longer to fall asleep but even with less sleep hours, I felt more alert and energized.” By the second night, Participant 5 wrote: “Nicer dreams. Upon waking, felt wide awake (no fuzzy, sleepiness).” Participant 5 mentioned specifically that her idea of a good night was one that was nightmare-free, and she noted multiple times in her comments that she was experiencing more pleasant dreams during the study. After the third night of use, Participant 5 noticed an improvement in her sleep latency (the amount of time it took her to fall asleep), writing:
Since taking moringa seed oil, I am able to fall asleep quicker. Feel like I am able to have a deeper sleep although I still wake up every two or three hours. Upon waking, I feel alert and ready to start my day. (Participant 5)
Just like Participant 5, Participant 28 mentioned the relaxing benefits of the moringa seed oil prior to sleep improvements, writing, “Taking 4 drops I felt it relaxing me. Although it took me longer to fall asleep than usual. Which I found odd, but thought I should mention it.” After two nights of use, Participant 28’s sleep satisfaction improved and remained high throughout the study, except for twice when she forgot to take her oil. Participant 28 wrote, “I forgot to take the oil last night, and my sleep quality took a hit. During the times I would wake up, it was difficult to go back to sleep.” Once she resumed taking her oil, her sleep satisfaction scores rebounded to the highest possible level. Several days later, she forgot to take her oil again. Her sleep satisfaction decreased for the night, but returned to the highest possible level once she resumed taking moringa seed oil. Participant 28 also began taking the oil when she woke up during the night to help herself fall back asleep, writing, “Total fan of this oil at this point. ☺️”
Several other participants adopted the practice of taking the oil upon waking up overnight to help them fall back to sleep. For instance, Participant 30 wrote, “Woke up and took 2 more drops to help me fall asleep again.” Another participant, a mother of a baby, also took the oil upon waking to get deeper sleep. Participant 3 wrote,
I didn’t take it till the morning at around 3:30 am. Meant to do it at night but accidentally fell asleep with baby at 9pm. For the hours I slept after taking the oil 4-6:30, felt like i went deep and felt great upon waking. (Participant 3)
Curiosity About Taking a Higher Dosage
Participant 22’s sleep also improved. Similar to other participants, she wondered if a higher dose would lead to more potent benefits, writing, “I liked it! I felt that it did help with my quality of sleep. I didn't have any negative thoughts about it. I considered taking more than recommended to see if the effects would be more noticeable.” Participant 18 echoed this curiosity about taking a higher dosage, writing:
It helps me fall asleep more quickly. I went to bed much later than usual most of the study and I have history of sleeping problems. I think moringa helps me to fall asleep more quickly and I want to see what happens if I take 3 drops instead of 2. (Participant 18)
While most of the participants resolved at least one or some of their sleep issues with help from the moringa seed oil, not everyone noted an improvement in their comments. Four of the 30 people in the study (13.3%) said in the comment section that the oil did not have any effect on their sleep. Three more participants (10%) said they were undecided on whether it improved their sleep. However, all but one of those seven participants’ sleep satisfaction measurements improved while taking the moringa seed oil.
Five people mentioned that it was hard to accurately gauge the number of drops that were coming from the dropper. One dropper’s gold cap also became loose, and the dropper would not open. We’ve ordered new glass bottles with better droppers in response to the constructive feedback.
Five people mentioned dreaming after taking the oil. Three participants reported having more vivid dreams, one participant who used to have nightmares before taking the oil said her dreams were more pleasant, and one participant mentioned nightmares. Participant 20, the only participant who mentioned having nightmares, mentioned this only once, writing that she “had nightmares which happens rarely but had the a/c on which is rare.” On the other hand, Participant 5 found that the oil helped her to get “deeper sleep and happier dreams.” As we did not measure dreams in a systematic way, the oil’s effect on dreams is worthy of exploring further in future studies.
Summary of findings
Our findings suggest that several dependent variables of sleep improved after taking moringa seed oil compared to before taking the oil: (1) sleep satisfaction, (2) sleep quality, (3) the number of times people woke up, (4) how refreshed people felt when waking up, (5) how energized people felt when waking up and (6) how excited they were to start the day.
There was no significant difference in the (1) number of hours slept or (2) how quickly people fell asleep after taking moringa seed oil compared to before taking the oil.
Qualitative data from participants reinforced our statistical findings, as they shared they experienced higher quality sleep and felt more refreshed and clear-headed in the morning. Participants reported deeper sleep, even when their amount of sleep was less than ideal. The nightly moringa seed oil routine seemed to have compounding benefits, as some participants found the bedtime routine to be a catalyst for shifting their health habits throughout the day and even their mindset around sleep.
The multiple-choice portion of the survey did not ask about feelings of relaxation; however, multiple participants responded in the open comment section that they felt more relaxed even during times of high stress. The qualitative data also suggested that the moringa seed oil may have helped some participants fall back to sleep when they awoke–an emergent practice that was not initially recommended for the experiment but was adopted by several people in the study with positive effects. Multiple participants increased their dosage from two drops to three drops or more, and many more participants indicated that they were curious about increasing their dosage of the oil to improve the potency of its effects.
There are several limitations to this pilot study. The first limitation is the potential of a placebo effect. The mind is a powerful tool. When placebo effects occur, the brain can offer relief even if a treatment is inactive, if the brain stimulates healing due to the sheer power of believing it might work. Even the routine of taking the oil at bedtime and the process of reflecting on one’s sleep each day could create an effect on sleep, regardless of the bioactivity of the treatment.
One way to eliminate the bias of a placebo effect is to have a treatment and control condition, in which one group of participants receives the treatment of the moringa seed oil and another group receives an oil that looks and tastes like moringa seed oil but does not have the bioactive compounds that affect sleep. If changes occur in both the treatment and control group, then a placebo effect may be at work. If sleep improves in only the moringa seed oil group, then the results would suggest the moringa oil’s bioactive compounds are the components improving sleep. To eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect in future research, we would be open to collaborating on an experiment with a treatment and control condition that is double-blind, meaning neither the participants nor the experimenter know who is receiving a particular treatment.
The second limitation is the number of confounding variables that influenced participants’ sleep. In the open-ended comments in their daily surveys, many participants noted when their sleep was affected by travel, work, social functions, family emergencies, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, upset stomach, pain from injuries, PMS, partner’s sleep rhythms, children waking up, etc. These confounding variables may limit an ability to draw an ironclad cause-and-effect conclusion, known as internal validity, but the real-world setting enables us to extrapolate findings to the lives of everyday people and situations, meaning the research design has good external validity. As we were interested in practical solutions, rather than theoretical conclusions, the real-world setting was effective for our purposes.
The third limitation is that the dependent variables are subjective measurements of sleep based on participants’ experience of sleep, rather than their physiological measurements. A future study may benefit from collecting physiological data such as sleep duration, the number of times waking after sleep onset, temperature, heart rate and time spent in each sleep stage. A mixed-method approach that combines physiological and subjective measurements may yield richer findings about the quality of sleep throughout the night.
Moringa oleifera seeds have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich and anti-microbial properties. This is one of the first human studies to explore the effectiveness of taking moringa seed oil sublingually to improve the experience of sleep.
The statistical results suggest that taking the moringa seed oil at bedtime increased sleep satisfaction, improved sleep quality, and decreased the number of times people woke up after sleep onset. The moringa seed oil routine also impacted how people felt in the morning, as they reported feeling more refreshed, energized and excited to start their day. Qualitative data suggest that participants felt they got higher-quality sleep, even if the quantity was not ideal, and they felt more rested in the mornings. They also described feeling more relaxed overall, even amid stressful circumstances.
Sleep builds a foundation for well-being, as it impacts physiology and behavior. Moringa, as a tree that is easy to grow and accessible in tropical climates, is well poised to help many people meet their foundational need for rest to better thrive in a modern world.
- By Misa Maruyama Jones, Ph.D. Misa conducted social science experiments as a researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at UH Manoa, after earning her doctorate in Communication Information Sciences. Misa worked as a journalist in print and broadcast in California and New Mexico, after earning her master’s of science in journalism degree from Northwestern University. She now lives with her husband, Geoff, and daughter, Momi, in Kailua-Kona, where together their family grows and handcrafts moringa wellness products.
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