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Which medicinal plants are used for health: What's happening in phytomedicine?

Plant extracts versus multi-drug resistance is one of many ongoing fields of research in ethnobotany about how plants can be used for health. Multi-drug resistance is one of the most feared problems in cancer therapy because in such cases most of the standard chemical cancer drugs used in therapy fail and the patient's chance of survival is thus dramatically reduced. Some scientists study the health effects of pepper used as medicine. The field is known as phytomedicine, which is related to the science of ethnobotany, how people and cultures around the world use plants in different ways, some as medicines, some as foods, and some as colorings to dye clothing or to paint the body. Also, you can check out the video and article, "14 Foods That Cleanse the Liver."

Which medicinal plants are used for health: What's happening in phytomedicine?
Anne Hart, photography.

The problem cannot usually be resolved by simply increasing the dosage as this also results in the exacerbation of undesirable side effects. Phytomedicine is the medicine-related branch of the field known as ethnobotany, where scientists study how plants and their extracts or seeds are used around the world for health benefits and effects.

The latest study of phytomedicine and its effects on cancer and tumor cells focuses on new laboratory research. Extracts and other materials of certain African plants, at least in the lab research, may be able to shrink and do away with cancer and tumor cells.

Phytomedicine is one of the newest healthy trends that also is one of the most ancient--using medicinal plants from the tropics to shrink malignant tumors

African medicinal plants contain chemicals that may be able to stop the spread of cancer cells. Which plants from the hidden areas of Cameroon in Africa, may be capable of shrinking and destroying cancer and tumor cells, the latest studies are asking? Two plants appear to date in the study: wild pepper seeds and the root of the giant globe thistle.

This is the conclusion of researchers following laboratory experiments conducted at Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz (JGU). The plant materials will now undergo further analysis in order to evaluate their therapeutic potential. Experiments using benzophenones derived from plants originating in Cameroon produce evidence that these may be effective against multi-drug resistant cancers,

"The active substances present in African medicinal plants may be capable of killing off tumor cells that are resistant to more than one drug. They thus represent an excellent starting point for the development of new therapeutic treatments for cancers that do not respond to conventional chemotherapy regimens," explained Professor Thomas Efferth of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biochemistry – Therapeutic Life Sciences at Mainz University, in the June 10, 2013 news release, "Substances from African medicinal plants could help stop tumor growth."

"We are now looking for substances that can both break down tumor resistance and not produce side effects," continued Efferth, in the news release. Efferth also works with medicinal plants used in traditional Chinese medicine

For the past four years, Efferth and biochemist Dr. Victor Keute of the University of Dschang in Cameroon have been studying the active substances in African plants such as the giant globe thistle, wild pepper, speargrass, and Ethiopian pepper.

You may wish to check out the abstract of the original study, "Cytotoxicity and modes of action of four naturally occuring benzophenones: 2,2_,5,6_-Tetrahydroxybenzophenone, guttiferone E, isogarcinol and isoxanthochymol," Phytomedicine 20, (6): 528-536 . Authors are Victor Kuete et al. (2013). Also see the abstract of this other study, "Anticancer Activities of Six Selected Natural Compounds of Some Cameroonian Medicinal Plants," PLoS ONE. Authors are Victor Kuete et al. (2011). Or see the October 6, 2013 news release, "Substances from African medicinal plants could help stop tumor growth,"

The researchers are focusing on three different resistance mechanisms. Transporter-mediated resistance prevents drugs taking effect because a substance called P-glycoprotein promotes their efflux from cancer cells. In the case of tumor-suppressor-gene-mediated resistance, a mutation in protein p53 means that the cancer cells do not die but are resistant and become increasingly aggressive.

In oncogene-mediated resistance, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) sends signals into the interior of cells causing tumors to grow faster

The researchers in Mainz have cellular models of all three resistance mechanisms that will enable them to appropriately test the effectiveness of the substances obtained from plants, says the news release. In their latest of a total of eight publications produced to date, the research team reports that four naturally occurring benzophenones can prevent the proliferation of the tested cancer cell lines, including multi-drug resistant strains. "The benzophenones investigated are potentially cytotoxic substances that need to be more extensively investigated with the aim of developing new cancer drugs that are effective against susceptible and resistant cancers," explains the article recently published in the journal Phytomedicine.

For example, another study by different researchers emphasized the benefits of roobois. See the abstract of that study, "Effects of fermented rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) on adipocyte differentiation." One example of how roobois is consumed in the USA is by the popular roobois tea sold in many supermarkets. It's an African tea made of the roobois plant.

Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) contains a rich complement of polyphenols, including flavonoids, considered to be largely responsible for its health promoting effects, including combatting obesity

Decreased leptin secretion was observed after rooibos treatment, says the study's abstract. The researchers' data also show that hot water soluble solids from fermented rooibos inhibit adipogenesis and affect adipocyte metabolism, suggesting its potential in preventing obesity.

Many plants contain toxic substances that they use to protect themselves against predators and microbial diseases. Over the course of millions of years during which life has evolved on earth plants have managed to appropriate certain molecules to help them to offset their main disadvantage in the face of their enemies, for example, their immobility and lack of an immune system. The challenge for the pharmacologists is now to determine which plant substances are medicinal and which are simply poisonous and dangerous. So what's next in research on plants commonly consumed as foods and also used as medicine?

More than 100 spices and plants examined for their cytotoxic effects on cancer cells

During the joint project with Mainz, the Cameroonian scientist Victor Kuete has examined more than 100 spices and plants from his homeland for their cytotoxic effects on cancer cells. Awarded a Humboldt Research Fellowship, he can now continue and extend his investigations as a member of Thomas Efferth's work group in Mainz. "We have already found an entire series of benzophenones and other phytochemicals that are able to elude resistance mechanisms and thus offer many new opportunities for continued research," said Efferth.

The researchers are focusing on three different resistance mechanisms. Transporter-mediated resistance prevents drugs taking effect because a substance called P-glycoprotein promotes their efflux from cancer cells. In the case of tumor-suppressor-gene-mediated resistance, a mutation in protein p53 means that the cancer cells do not die but are resistant and become increasingly aggressive.

Local scientists in Sacramento and Davis study phytonutrients that may have blood-pressure lowing capabilities

For example, hibiscus tea has been studied. Research shows that hibiscus flower petal tea may lower blood pressure by helping the kidneys. Check out the articles, Hibiscus Tea to Lower Your Blood Pressure | Bastyr Center for Natural Health and US government research, Study Shows Consuming Hibiscus Tea Lowers Blood Pressure.

People with high blood pressure (hypertension) may be able to lower their blood pressure by drinking a tea made from a standardized extract of hibiscus flower every day, according to a study published in the journal Phytomedicine (2004;11:375–82). For centuries, Egyptians and Lebanese have drank tea made from the reddish petals of tart hibiscus with or without added chamomile for relaxation as a tonic for the kidneys and possibly to lower blood pressure symptoms. See the December 16, 2010 segment of the Dr. Oz program, "Dr Oz: Gurmar Extract & Hibiscus Tea for Kidneys: Gumar Extract."

Hibiscus tea studied

Drinking hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults, according to a report presented in 2008 by nutrition scientist Diane McKay at the American Heart Association's annual conference in New Orleans, La. Hypertension is a condition in which blood pressure is chronically high, and it affects one-third of all U.S. adults, according to the article, Study Shows Consuming Hibiscus Tea Lowers Blood Pressure.

McKay's research was funded by the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and by Boulder, Colo.-based Celestial Seasonings, a brand of The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. According to the 2008 article, McKay works in the Antioxidants Research Laboratory of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Olives also studied by UC Davis for health effects

Scientists also are studying celery, hibiscus, and olives for potential health benefits. In the Sacramento and Davis regional area, the University of California, Davis studies the health benefits of both celery and olives. See, "Health Benefits Of Hibiscus Tea - Nutrition Benefits Of Drinking."

Sacramento and the surrounding Central Valley, CA are known for their olives and celery. See the PDF file article, "[PDF] Celery Olives." Locally, UC Davis runs the organic Good Life Garden. The mission of the Good Life (organic) garden at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science is to expose and educate a wide audience to the relationship between good food and good health.

Can hibiscus tea or silymarin help those with kidney conditions?

Kidney disease diagnoses have doubled each of the last two decades. Can hibiscus tea or silymarin help? The first step is to look at some of the research. According to a recent article in Life Extension Magazine, "Innovative Strategies to Combat Kidney Disease," Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is rapidly approaching epidemic proportions.

You may wish to check out the November 20, 2010 ASN Renal Week 2010 news release, "Kidneys: Produce-rich diet improves long-term health, melatonin improves short-term health," in patients with kidney disease, the Western diet produces an acidic environment in the body that has numerous negative effects and possibly worsens health with age as kidney function declines, according to Nimirit Goraya, MD (Texas A&M College of Medicine and Scott and White Healthcare) as explained in the news release.

You can watch repeats of the Dr. Oz show in Sacramento daily at 9:00 a.m. on channel 58 if you have Dish Satellite if you want to catch the information mentioned regarding hibiscus tea. Some people should not be drinking hibiscus tea. See the article, "The Dangers of Hibiscus Tea."

Dangers of hibiscus tea on concentration and focus

According to the article, The Dangers of Hibiscus Tea, "Hibiscus tea is capable of having negative effects on concentration and focus. People should make sure to not drink this beverage before or during engaging in any activities that require full attention or alertness, such as driving or operating heavy machinery."

That article, "The Dangers of Hisbiscus Tea," also mentions it's not for pregnant women or people with low blood pressure, and not to be taken if you're also taking medications such as anti-inflammatory medications and/or acetaminophen within two hours of each other to avoid risk of an interaction."

On the other hand, there's a YouTube video reporting research on hibiscus tea's ability to lower blood pressure. According to that video, "about 3 cups daily of hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure up to 13 percent." See the video on hibiscus tea research, "Heart Health News Atrial Fibrilation Dialisis & High Blood Pressure Hibiscus Tea Lowers Hypertension."

Did you know that up to 26 million Americans suffer from some form of kidney disease?

If your kidneys filter 200 quarts of blood every day, imagine what damage the environmental toxins from Sacramento's auto and truck exhaust and other air, water, and food pollution are doing to add even more toxins to your environment. Add in addition to the cadmium pollution from air pollution, the fact that that high blood pressure is on the rise.

See the article, "High Blood Pressure Affects Between 20 and 33 Percent of the Population in the USA or Canada." Sacramento has high levels of air pollution from the heavy traffic, especially around Arden and Watt Avenues. That's one reason why more trees and green plants have been put in around the schools in that area, to help reduce the air pollution from traffic.

Regarding kidney health, in the Sacramento regional area, UC Davis and UCLA have studied how sugary (not diet) soda pop is more dangerous to women than men

Also see the 2009 PDF file article published in Nutrition Perspectives from UC Davis, "Women Who Drink Two-Plus Cans of Soda Per Day at Nearly Twice the Risk for Early Kidney Disease." The article also discusses the Loyola University Health System study. Interestingly, there have been other studies on a wide variety of artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and how those affect consumers. But this study focused only on sugary sodas and the women who drank those beverages.

One California study in September 2009 linked sodas to obesity. Another recent study revealed that women who drink two or more cans of soda pop per day are nearly twice as likely to show early signs of kidney disease.

Researchers did not find an elevated risk for men, or for people drinking diet soda, according to lead researcher, David Shoham of the Loyola University Health System. High blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen), certain medications, and high-protein diets are the most common threats to kidney health, according to the Life Extension magazine article, "Innovative Strategies to Combat Kidney Disease."

Potentially lethal insults they inflict include oxidative stress, production of advanced glycation and lipoxidation end-products (AGE's and ALE's), inflammation, and an excessive filtration burden that taxes renal function over time. Also check out the article, Diet Sodas May Be Hard on the Kidneys. Drinking two or more diet sodas a day may double your risk of declining kidney function, a new study shows.

Are there any nutrients that help? And where can you check the research to find out whether such nutrients are safe for your individual body? According to the Life Extension article, "nutrients such as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) fight AGE's and ALE's.

CoQ10, silymarin, resveratrol, and lipoic acid also are clinically supported, potent interventions. Omega-3 fatty acids help quell inflammation, contributing to enhanced kidney health. A host of additional nutrients complement these actions, including folic acid (folate) and vitamins C and E."

Milk thistle extract studied

The Life Extension article notes that, "silymarin is extracted from milk thistle (Silybum marianum), a plant rich in the flavonolignans silychristin, silydianin, silybin A, silybin B, isosilybin A and isosilybin B, which are collectively known as the silymarin complex."

How safe is this compound? It has a long history as a traditional therapy for liver and kidney conditions and has been used in Western medical practice for more than a quarter of a century as the treatment of choice for the serious kidney injury resulting from severe mushroom poisoning, owing to its potent antioxidant and nephron-protective effects

If you check out the website of that Life Extension article online, "Innovative Strategies to Combat Kidney Disease," you'll find medical and scientific journal articles on the topic. Interestingly, there's a reference in that article to silymarin being protective against certain types of neurotoxins.

Mushroom poisons (mycotoxins) are among the most deadly natural toxins known. Their kidney toxicity is surpassed only by some of the most aggressive chemotherapy agents. Physicians have therefore looked to silymarin as a potential “renoprotective” agent for patients undergoing chemotherapy, according to that article.

Silymarin is also protective against several classes of nephrotoxic drugs, in particular cisplatin and Adriamycin®, two of the most potent chemotherapeutic drugs—but also two of the most damaging to the kidney owing to oxidative damage and severe inflammation. Check out the references in that article to medical journal articles and scientific studies. Researchers around the world have found that silymarin and its components reduce and often entirely prevent the kidney damage caused by these drugs.

Basically, silymarin helps to protect against the oxidative stress produced by potent drugs. But do scientific research articles suggest that it may be useful in protecting against more subtle, chronic injury by free radicals, particularly those generated by chronic blood glucose elevations?

There's the key. Keep your blood glucose levels from spiking. And keep them in the healthy range. Can silymarin entirely prevent injury to renal cells incubated with elevated glucose concentrations while blocking production of oxidative stress markers?

That's what one study referenced in the Life Extension article has reported. Talk to your doctor about whether silymarin’s protective power also extends to ischemia/reperfusion injury (restoration of blood supply following restriction of blood flow)?

Silymarin study with animals

You can read some European research articles on the topic. For example, according to the Life Extension article, Turkish researchers demonstrated that they could completely prevent visible and functional damage to kidney structures exposed to this kind of injury by pre-treating animals with silymarin. But can it work with humans as well? That's why research needs to continue to find out the extent the nutrient can help humans as well.

If you're into nutrition, you want to look at implications for the general population. You can use basic logic to reason that if you keep up a healthy amount of antioxidant function, you're health at least has the potential to achieve balance.

The question is whether you need to keep up your antioxidant function through supplementation or with organic foods, with juicing, and whether to leave the pulp in, and other variables. For example, artichokes contain silymarin, an antioxidant that may help to prevent skin cancer, plus fiber to help control cholesterol, according to the article, "The 29 Healthiest Foods on the Planet."

One medium artichoke has 60 calories, 0 fat and 7 grams of fiber. Steam over boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice on top, then pluck the leaves off with your fingers and use your teeth to scrape off the rich-tasting skin.

Silymarin in foods

For nutritionists, the idea is to prevent as much as possible of the chronic oxidative damage to which our kidneys are exposed daily. Check out the benefits and side effects of silymarin, and which foods are highest in it.

Then talk to your health care team to see whether you need to supplement or just get what you need from foods and cleaner air. Now, where can you get cleaner air in Sacramento without all those heavy metal toxins such as cadium from auto exhausts? What this city needs perhaps are more pure oxygen bars.

How to prepare a vegan hibiscus-celery frozen dessert

How would you like to serve an hibiscus-celery frozen dessert for dessert? Here's how to make a vegetable-based frozen snack. As you know, ice cream contains at least 16% butterfat. But instead of ice cream for your dessert, try something more nutritious: a celery-hibiscus frozen dessert recipe combining fruit and vegetables. Also see the site, "Hibiscus Herb | The Herb Depot."

Celery-Hibiscus Nondairy "Ice Cream substitute" (Frozen Dessert) Recipe

4 stalks celery, clean and scraped

4 oz. dried edible hibiscus flowers

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1 cup pomegranate juice

1 cup cherry juice

1/2 cup almonds

1 cup frozen pitted dark, sweet cherries

1/2 cup frozen mango chunks

1 banana

2 tablespoons lecithin granules

1 teaspoon of barley green powder (optional)

1/4 cup chopped dark green kale

1/4 cup peeled chopped carrots

Steeping the hibiscus: (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add hibiscus blossoms and allow to steep, covered. When cool and steeped for ten minutes, add the lime juice. Mix and add to the other ingredients.

If you have left over hibiscus, it can be used as a tea. See the culinary art FAQs at the recipe site for cooking with hibiscus (the edible portion). Don't put the flowers in the cookies, just the hibiscus tea liquid from which you steeped the petals and then strained them out. View more information at this site about Hibiscus sabdariffa.

Blend all ingredients together in a high-power blender such as a Vita-Mix. Set on liquefy or ice crush. If more liquid is needed, add more fruit juice.

Pour into dessert bowls. Cover and place in freezer. When frozen solid enough to taste like sherbet, ice cream, or frozen dessert, serve. You won't really taste the celery or carrots, but the texture is great. What will come through is the cherry, mango, and banana flavor with the slight tartness of the cherry and pomegranate juice and the texture of the almonds and liquefied carrots.

All those vitamins and nutrients will be in that frozen dessert. Ice cream refers to a product that has at least 16 percent butterfat. So the best way to refer to celery frozen dessert is as a nondairy alternative frozen dessert. The almonds in liquid create an ambiance of almond 'milk.'

Here Are The Possible Health Benefits of Eating Celery and Hibiscus For Dessert

According to the site, Celery is an Asian folk remedy for high blood pressure. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center to put one man’s folkloric remedy to the scientific test. Researchers keep looking into foods that may inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme.

Scientists also found the ingredients in aged Gouda cheese may offer some benefits. Japanese investigators are researching fermented milk products such as kefir. The folkloric remedy is to eat four stalks of celery daily.

The celery - folkloric medicinal plant study

Also see the book, Best Choices from the People’s Pharmacy, page 388. A section in the book mentions the celery remedy. But they note, 8 stalks of celery. Other sources reiterate 4 stalks of celery were used in Mr. Lee's celery remedy brought to the attention of the University of Chicago investigation.

In 1992, at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Mr. Minh Le, father of a University of Chicago medical student, had been diagnosed with hypertension, decided that instead of cutting back on salt, as advised by his physician, he wanted to use a traditional Chinese remedy for high blood pressure.

Traditional Chinese medicine touted eating four stalks of celery

Traditional Chinese medicine recommended eating about four stalks of celery (about a quarter pound) daily for a one-week stretch and cutting out the celery for the following three weeks before resuming the regimen. Mr. Minh Le also refused to take the standard blood pressure medications prescribed by his physician, according to the book, The New Healing Herbs, by Michael Castleman.

The New Healing Herbs, book also reports that Mr. Minh Le ate the four celery stalks for one week and took three weeks off. Within a week his blood pressure dropped from 158/96 to 118/82.

Mr. Minh Le, through his son, brought this ancient Chinese folkloric remedy to researchers to test at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where the investigators tested animals by injecting the mammals with a small amount of 3-n-butyl phthalide, a chemical compound that is found in celery. Mr. Minh Le's son, Quang Le, and University of Chicago pharmacologist, William Elliot, Ph.D isolated the compound,3-n-butyl phthalide and injected rats with the equivalent amount of what's found in four stalks of celery.

Not only did the rat's blood pressure drop 13 percent in a week, but the rats' cholesterol levels also dropped by seven percent. The high fiber in the celery helped to lower the cholesterol levels in the animal experiment.

The chemical in celery that reduced the animals' blood pressure readings turned out to be phthalide

It's known in scientific circles that phthalide relaxes the muscles and arteries that regulate blood pressure. When arteries, blood vessels, and muscles are relaxed, the blood vessels then dilate, according to the researchers.

Phthalide is a chemical that also reduced the amount of "stress hormones," called catecholamines, in the blood. Don't confuse 'phthalide' which relaxes muscles and arteries that comes from celery with 'phthalates,' which are chemicals leaching from plasticizers and plastics.

Stress hormones also raise blood pressure since catecholamines constrict blood vessels

Even though there were no such invention as blood pressure monitors in ancient China, Asian folk medicine practitioners using traditional Chinese folk medicine, advised their own hypertension patients for the past thousand years to eat four to five celery-stalks every day for a week, then stop for three weeks.

Then start again for one week on celery and three weeks off celery. How did they know who had hypertension if high blood pressure doesn't show symptoms unless it's very serious? Be careful if you’re salt sensitive.

One stalk of celery does contain about 35 milligrams of sodium

Some people may be so salt-sensitive, then even a small amount of salt may cause blood pressure to go up rather than down. However, everyone needs a basic amount of salt found in whole foods.

You can’t live without a certain base level of salt. Talk to your doctor about how much sodium you need if you're salt sensitive. You can also take a multiple mineral supplement that contains sodium, but not sodium chloride.

It’s sodium chloride that raises blood pressure, not sodium, as found in baking soda, for some people. Find out which category you're in. But if you’re salt sensitive, talk to your doctor. Same goes if you have kidney disease or injury. By eating foods such as canned fish packed in water without added salt, you’ll still be getting some salt.

Then again, if you eat too much celery, it’s dangerous if you have salt-sensitive hypertension. Are four stalks of celery going to be helpful or too much? There’s also an herbicide built into the celery. It’s made of several compounds called 'psoralens,' that protect celery from fungi.

The 'psoralens' may also harm you. So don’t go overboard with celery because the psoralens could make your skin so sensitive to sunlight, that you’ll burn after spending a very short time in the sun.

Runners have been known to suffer from celery shock caused by exercising after eating celery. Be careful if you decide to eat four stalks of celery at a sitting. Can it help you? Find out by working with your doctor, naturopath, or nutritionist.

Celery May Stop Tumor Cells from Growing

Celery contains acetylenics, compounds that stop tumor cells from growing. Also, compounds in celery called phenolic acids block the action of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Do prostaglandins encourage the growth of tumor cells? Check out the site, "Hibiscus Tea | Organic Hibiscus Flower Extract." (

Research is ongoing and promising pointing in the direction that celery could lower your blood pressure and at the same time block tumor cells from growing in your body. Keep reading the latest research to see how many human trials compared to animal research studies have been done using celery compounds to see whether or how they block tumor cell growth.

Celery works cooked or raw. An eight-ounce cup of celery, raw or cooked, contains about 9 milligrams of vitamin-C, 15 percent of the Daily Value (DV); 426 milligrams of potassium, 12 percent of the DV; and 60 milligrams of calcium, 6 percent of the DV. Also helpful as a cooking spice or fragrant salad dressing alternative to salt and pepper are celery seeds. Check out the site, "Health Benefits Of Hibiscus Tea - Nutrition Benefits Of Drinking."

Baking soda and Kidney Disease Research

Also see the article, "Baking Soda Prevents Kidney Disease, Renal Failure and Kidney Dialysis." There also are studies that the non-caffeinated herb tea (teasan) called hibiscus tea may be of help to your kidneys.

Helpful books on food, nutrition, and genetic genealogy include, How Nutrigenomics Fights Childhood Type 2 Diabetes & Weight Issues (2009) or Predictive Medicine for Rookies (2005). How to Safely Tailor Your Foods, Medicines, & Cosmetics to Your Genes (2003) or How to Interpret Family History & Ancestry DNA Test Results for Beginners (2004) or How to Open DNA-driven Genealogy Reporting and Interpreting Businesses. (2007).

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