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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Ginger – The Root That Should Be In Everyone’s Fridge

April 25, 2016
Sliced Ginger Root

Happy Spring everyone! I hope that everyone is doing well and didn’t get too stressed out from tax season. I love spring because it is a time to start on new projects! (Review my post on nutritional and lifestyle tips for the spring season here.) Today’s post is the beginning of many food posts. I am a firm believer of using food as medicine, and today’s topic is no exception. Ginger has been touted for its many medicinal properties including stimulating digestion, treating colds and fevers, and alleviating nausea from chemotherapy.

Ginger is a root or rhizome, an enlarged underground stem that can be eaten fresh, dried, powdered, or as a juice. It is shaped like a palm with fingers and produced in tropical India, Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia. Part of the Zingiberaceae family, ginger’s siblings include cardamom and turmeric (two other important anti-inflammatory herbs).  The word ginger literally means “spirit” “liveliness” and “verve” (or vigor). And you will see that it does just that — it invigorates the body by increasing energy and circulation.

Here are some of the basic properties and functions to remember about ginger:

  • pungent flavor (review the five flavors here)
  • warming thermal nature (thermal nature review here)
  • stimulates digestion
  • boosts circulation and respiration
  • can treat colds and fevers
  • used for nausea from chemotherapy or morning sickness from pregnancy
  • anti-inflammatory by alleviating pain from arthritis
  • may normalize blood pressure
  • supports the liver and promotes bile release

Common Cold

Ginger is one of the first things you should reach for if you find yourself coming down with a cold or fever. It is a natural diaphoretic that stimulates perspiration, detoxifying the body and bringing our temperatures down. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to boost our immune systems and reduce pain or bodyaches. It also acts as an anti-histamine and decongestant, helping to ease cold symptoms. Add a slice of ginger, lemon, and honey to warm or room temp water as soon as you start feeling symptoms of a cold. Review my post on the common cold here.

Digestion Issues

The phenolic compounds found in this root help decrease gastric irritation by stimulating saliva and bile production. Studies have found that it can increase the rate of gastric emptying and stomach contractions in those with indigestion without affecting or decreasing their gut’s intrinsic peptides (proteins). It has also been found to inhibit H. pylori, which may help prevent ulcers as well as protect gastric mucosa.

Nausea

Research has shown that pregnancy related nausea and vomiting as well as morning sickness can be reduced by taking 1 gram of  ginger daily in short periods (up to 4 days), while several studies have found that ginger is better than placebo in relieving morning sickness. Pregnant women please consult your physician and do not take more than 1 gram/day.

Chemotherapy induced nausea can also be combated with ginger. This study showed that adult cancer patients on chemotherapy who took 0.5 – 1 g doses of ginger daily significantly aided in reduction of severity from acute chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Anti-inflammatory and pain reduction

Ginger has been known to be a great anti-inflammatory agent. A study in 2013 found that women athletes that took 3 grams of ginger or cinnamon daily had decreased their muscle soreness significantly. It has also been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual cramps.

Diabetes

The effects of ginger on diabetes may be simultaneously therapeutic and preventative. A comprehensive review of diabetic patients who took 3 grams of powdered ginger daily for 30 days have shown that it decreases blood glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. It has a positive effect on diabetes because it inhibits enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism and increases insulin release and sensitivity.

Cancer

Several studies on ginger in the last ten years have shown promising results with fighting cancer. In 2007, a study published by the BMC Complementary and Alternative medicine, found that “[it] inhibits growth and modulates secretion of angiogenic factors in ovarian cancer cells.” Another study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered that ginger actually caused the death of ovarian cancer cells in a lab. Finally a study in 2012 published by the British Journal of Nutrition found that this versatile root “exerts significant growth-inhibitory and death-inductory effects in a spectrum of prostate cancer cells.” It seems that different cancers respond similarly to ginger and more studies need to be done to confirm this theory.

Using ginger in your diet

Ginger goes well with many types of food including seafood, sushi, meats, veggies, and fruits such as oranges, melons, and apples. Have you noticed that sushi is always paired with a stack of thinly sliced ginger? This is because it removes toxins from raw seafood. It adds flavor to pork and balances the coldness of veggies and fruits with its warming thermal nature. Add it to your next smoothie or juice, stir fry in veggies and meats, mix in raw with your salads, steep in water with lemon and honey to make tea, or add to any seafood recipe to not only spice things up but also detoxify.

When buying in the supermarket, the freshest root will have smooth and taut skin (without wrinkles) and a spicy, pungent aroma. The hands and fingers of the root should be firm and plump, and the flesh is juicy when fresh. To best preserve, store in a tightly wrapped plastic bag in the fridge or freezer. Ginger should be peeled and easiest to use in your dishes when grated but can also be thinly sliced.

Contraindications

Ginger is safe for most people and usually causes little side effects. Excessive use may cause digestive upset and can exacerbate acid reflux in some people so use sparingly if you are prone to this. Do not use if you have a gallstones.

Remember that when eating, balance is key and your diet should always contain a variety of different foods.

I hope you enjoyed this post on ginger. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. Have a great week!

In health and wellness,

Dr. Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Woods

Ginger’s Many Evidenced-Based Health Benefits Revealed by Joseph Mercola

 

 

 

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Tips to Stay Healthy During Summer

June 22, 2015
Bright Summer Day

Happy summer everyone! I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. Work has been super busy, which hasn’t allowed me any time to blog, but I promise I have a lot of practical and useful information coming your way! Summer is finally here and I wanted to share some tips on how to stay healthy during the summer season.

Summer Basics

Summer, like spring, is also a yang season and represents tremendous abundance, energy, and growth. It is a time for activity, movement, expansion and creativity. Nature also reflects this activity where plants continue to grow from the spring season and flowers are blooming more than ever. It is a light and bright season. To keep in harmony with the summer season, it is still important to wake early, but it is also a season where you can go to bed later. The days are longer, giving us more time to get things done. It is really a time to work, play, travel, and be happy!

With regards to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), summer is represented by the fire element. Do you remember which element pairs with Spring? (Read here to review Spring basics.) The fire element governs the heart and small intestine. It also controls our ability to feel love and joy. When the heart is in harmony and our emotions are in balance, this joy should translate to an overall enthusiasm for life. However, an excess of the fire element and an excess of joy can cause restlessness and hyperexcitability, while a deficiency in fire may cause decreased joy and even apathy or depression. In Chinese medicine, the heart not only regulates blood circulation but controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, memory, and houses the mind. Hence, it is also very much related to the nervous system and brain. We will talk more about how to tell if your fire element and heart is in balance.

The following are basic concepts to remember about the Summer Season:

  • Five elements: Fire
  • Organs: Heart/Mind and Small Intestine
  • Sense Organ: Tongue/Speech
  • Tissue: Blood vessels
  • Emotion: Joy
  • Voice Sound: Laughing
  • Fluid Emitted: Sweat
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Wisdom and Concentration
  • Enviromental Influence: Heat*
  • Development: Growth
  • Color: Red
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Direction: South

*Note: We have discussed the external pathogenic factor of wind associated with Spring here, but we have not talked about Summer heat yet. Summer heat in the body is caused by extreme heat during this season that can later manifest into heat signs and symptoms in the body.

Summer Foods and Preparation

Foods to cook during summer should be brightly colored fruits and veggies. Cooking should be light and short while regularly adding a small amount of spicy and pungent flavors to the food. Spices and pungent flavors can induce sweating, which help to cool the body, especially if you are prone to being hot. The key is not to overdo it with the spicy foods. In the same vein, don’t eat too many cold foods either as it weakens the digestive organs and causes contraction which can hold in sweat and heat. Similar to spring, foods should be sauteed as quickly as possible and also steamed and simmered in a short amount of time.

When it is really hot, the best cooling fresh foods to eat are salads, sprouts, fruit, and cucumber. Cooling teas include chrysanthemum, mint, and chamomile, while common cooling fruits are watermelon, apples, lemons, and limes. As I mentioned above, dispersing hot-flavored spices are also considered appropriate for hot weather, as long as you don’t overdo it. While the initial effect is to increase warmth in the body, the spices should ultimately bring body heat to the surface (our skin) to disperse as sweat. Examples of dispersing hot foods to include in the diet are red and green chili peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh (and not dried) ginger, horseradish, and black pepper. Again, I can’t stress enough, eating too many dispersing foods will result in body weakness and actually a loss of yang, decreasing your ability to stay warm during the cooler seasons. This is why hot and spicy foods should usually be added in smaller quantities.

It’s best to minimize or avoid heavy foods during hot summer days as this can cause sluggishness. These foods include excess meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and grains. In general eating less and eating light on a hot, bright summer day will keep you healthy and energized through the season.

Cooling fruits, veggies, and herbs to keep in mind during the summer:

  • Apples
  • Apricot
  • Cantaloupe
  • Lemons/LImes
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Mung Beans
  • Seaweed
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Summer squash
  • Watercress
  • White Mushroom
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Mint
  • Peppermint

Summary of tips for the summer season:

  • Wake up early.
  • Rest in the middle of the day.
  • Go to bed later in the evening.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Drinking water infused with lemon and cucumber throughout the day will keep you cool.
  • Add pungent flavors to your diet.
  • Eat in moderation as overeating, especially during the hot weather can cause indigestion and sluggishness.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy foods such as dairy and fried foods.
  • Try not to get angry or irritated over things and instead stay calm and even-tempered. (Anger and frustration can also increase heat and stagnation in your body).

Enjoy your summer!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Flavors of Spring – Pungent and Sweet

May 29, 2015
Cabbage - Pungent and Sweet

Happy Friday! We talked earlier this week about basic lifestyle, nutritional and cooking tips for the Spring season. Spring is also the best time to cook with pungent and sweet flavored foods. Both these flavors are yang in nature and energizing, qualities that reflect the active nature of spring. Cabbage, in the featured image above, have both a pungent and sweet flavor.

Pungent Flavor

The pungent flavor is a yang flavor, expansive, and dispersive. It tends to have a warming thermal nature and stimulates circulation of energy and blood, by moving this energy upwards and outwards to the periphery of the body. Pungent herbs can stimulate digestion and disperse mucus caused by mucus forming foods like dairy products and meat. It protects against mucus forming conditions like the common cold. The pungent flavor also lightens the effects of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which have a tendency to build mucus in the body.

In general, the pungent flavor has these effects on the organs:

1) Enters and clears the lungs of mucus conditions.
2) Improves digestion and rids gas from the intestines.
3) Moistens the kidneys, which affect fluids throughout your body (eg ginger increases saliva and sweat in the body).
4) Stimulates blood circulation and strengthens the heart.
5) Clears obstruction and improves a sluggish liver function.

Pungent flavored foods benefit those who are sluggish, dull, lethargic, or overweight. Those who are overweight from overeating should choose cooling pungents. Those with cold signs will benefit from warming pungents. Warming pungents should be used with caution if you have heat signs. This flavor also helps those who are thin (with dry condition – more on dryness later) or those who tend to be nervous and restless (wind condition – review the properties of wind here). The seed pungents relax the nervous system and improve digestion. These include fennel, dill, caraway, anise, coriander, and cumin. Pungent roots are stimulants but also help stabilize and increase circulation. These include ginger, cooked onion, and horseradish.

Contraindications of pungents: some pungents will actually worsen those who are “dry” or “windy” (above). Sage, raw onion, and all hot peppers (especially cayenne), worsen these conditions. In general, those with deficiency in qi or stagnant qi (seen with liver problems) should avoid these foods.

Examples of different pungents:

Warming pungents : spearmint, rosemary, scallion, garlic and all onion family members, cinnamon bark and branch, cloves, fresh and dried ginger root, black pepper, all hot peppers, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, horseradish, basil, bay leaf, nd nutmeg.

Cooling pungents: peppermint, marjoram, elder flowers, white pepper, and radish and its leaves.

Diaphoretic pungent herbs that induce sweating for the common cold: ginger, mint, cayenne, elderflower, scallions, garlic, and chamomile.

Neutral pungents: taro, turnip, and kohlrabi

(Note: For those with cold signs or coldness, the best warming pungent herbs to use are dried ginger and cinnamon. They are deeply warming for a relatively long period of time and gentle on the system. This is opposed to cayenne and other hot peppers, which are also warming, but so extreme that they quickly change to a cooling effect. Also, for the full effect of pungent flavored foods, it’s best to eat them raw or pickled as simmering and steaming can diminish the pungent properties. Leafy herbs such as mints should be steeped, and barks and roots like ginger and cinnamon should be simmered.)

Sweet Flavored Foods

Sweet flavored foods like grains, legumes, seeds, and sweet starchy vegetables like young beets and carrots are also best eaten during the spring. The sweet flavor, which is also yang in nature, increases energy, especially in combination with warming foods. Sweet foods also build the yin of the body (building and nourishing fluids in the body), and strengthen weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet foods, in the form of complex carbohydrates, are usually the foundation of most traditional diets. They energize but also relax the body, nerves, and brain. Complex carbs, such as grains, vegetables, and legumes, that are more warming can also treat cold signs and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet flavored foods have these effects on our organs:

1) Enters and strengthens the spleen-pancreas, or digestive system.
2) Appropriate for the liver as it soothes aggressive liver emotions such as anger and impatience. Sweet foods have been traditionally used to calm acute liver attacks.
3) Sweet foods also reverse dry conditions of the lungs through a lubricating action on the lungs and calms an overactive heart and mind.

Examples of Sweet Flavored Foods

Warming sweet foods help to acclimate to springtime. These include: spearmint (also pungent), sweet rice, sweet potato, mochi, rice syrup, molasses, sunflower seeds, pinenuts, walnuts, and cherries.

Neutral sweet foods: cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, figs, yams, and peas.

Sweet flavored foods benefit those who are dry, cold, nervous, thin, and weak. The sweet flavor will help increase their energy and strength. They are contraindicated in those who are sluggish, overweight, obese, or those who tend to have increased mucus in their systems. Eating sweet flavored foods will exacerbate these conditions. Also, in Chinese medicine, eating too much sweet flavored foods can damage the kidneys and spleen/pancreas (digestive system), weaken our bones and may cause hair loss (from the head). As I have always emphasized, balance and moderation is key!

Have a great weekend and happy eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

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Ayurvedic Medicine, Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Nutritional and Lifestyle Tips for the Spring Season

May 27, 2015
Spring Flowers

I hope everyone is having a great week! The year is flying by and before summer creeps up on us, I wanted to go over some nutritional and lifestyle tips for the Spring season. The Chinese believed that the seasons have a cyclical influence on human growth, development, and well-being. Climatic changes occur with each season and the best way to stay healthy is to live in harmony with these changes.

Spring Basics

Spring represents new beginnings, cleansing, and rejuvenation. This is when seeds sprout into plants, flowers bloom, and the sun shines brightly. It is the time of year to wake up early with the sun and take walks in the morning. It is a time to be active and expend energy. These are all yang activities that reflect the “ascending and active nature of spring.” If you look at plants and vegetation in the spring, their actions mimic this yang action. Plants and flowers grow upwards towards the sun after a time of hibernation during the winter.

The five elements of Chinese medicine are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (more on this fundamental concept soon). Spring is represented by the Wood element. Wood symbolizes plants, nature, and new growth, all seen during the spring season. The internal organ associated with spring is the liver and gallbladder. If you recall my post from last month on the external pathogenic factors and spring wind, the liver is the organ that is most affected during the spring (read more here), which is why we should pay close attention to the liver and gallbladder during this time.

Usually during spring, we should eat less, and even occasionally fast, to cleanse the body of the fats and heavy foods eaten during winter. Have you noticed that during the holiday season you may eat more heavy and fatty foods, feeling the need to go on that healthy detox diet after the new year? The Spring diet should be the lightest and the foods should represent the yang, ascending, and expansive qualities of spring. These foods include young plants, fresh greens, and sprouts. It is best to avoid salty and heavy or fattier foods which have a more sinking and descending energy. These types of foods stagnate the liver which can lead to indigestion and other liver problems.

Here are some basic concepts to remember about the Spring season:

  • Five elements: Wood
  • Organs: Liver and Gallbladder
  • Sense Organ: Eyes/Sight
  • Tissue: Tendons and sinews (ligaments)
  • Emotion: Anger and impatience
  • Voice Sound: Shouting
  • Fluid Emitted: Tears
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Patience
  • Enviromental Influence: Wind
  • Development: Birth
  • Color: Green
  • Taste: Sour
  • Direction: East

“Spring” into Spring

1) Eat your Greens – The color green is associated with springtime and the liver. As I mentioned above, this is the time to eat, fresh leafy greens, sprouts, young plants, and raw foods. This will ultimately strengthen your liver and improve it’s overall function, which is to control the overall smooth movement of Qi in our bodies (review the function of Qi here).

2) Stretch, stretch, and stretch! – The liver controls our tendons and ligaments. When we are at rest, the liver stores our blood and releases blood to our tendons during activity, which helps to maintain flexibility and tendon health. When we are stressed, angry, and impatient, this tightens our tendons making us less flexible physically. When we are less flexible physically, we also become less flexible emotionally which leads to more anger and impatience as well as other aggressive emotions (review the emotions associated with the liver here). Take time to stretch a little every morning. In general, it is important to stretch every day, all year round.

3) Protect your Eyes – Our eyes are a reflection of our liver health and vice versa (i.e., if your liver is healthy, your eyes are also healthy). Make sure you wear sunglasses with UV protection when you are outdoors and rest your eyes after long periods of time in front of the computer. Supplement with Omega-3’s which contain DHA crucial for eye health (review Omega-3’s here). Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements may also be helpful for those with more serious eye issues (more on these supplements later).

4) Eat Sour Foods – The flavor associated with the liver is sour (review The Five Flavors here). Sour flavored foods can stimulate and strengthen the liver. An easy way to do this is add slices of lemon into your water, which will also help to stimulate digestion. Squeezing lime onto beef or chicken is a great way to brighten flavors. Using oil and vinegar in your salad dressing is also a simple way to add “sour” to your diet.

5) Increase Outdoor Activities – Outdoor activities are yang in nature and will also help move stagnant liver qi. Hiking, swimming, and biking are all great outdoor activities that will easily stimulate and circulate energy.

Raw Food During Spring

Spring, which is the first season of the year, also represents youth, vitality and raw energy. Because of this, raw and sprouted foods can be eaten more during the springtime, which reflect the young and early stages of food. Raw foods are cleansing and cooling. According to Ayurvedic medicine, raw foods are vatic (vata) or “wind-like” which encourages quickness, rapid movements, and outward activity, much like yang energy.

Raw foods should be consumed more in those with heat signs, those living in warmer climates, and during times of greater physical activity. A little bit of raw food daily is cleansing for the body, and should be consumed more during spring and summertime. However, be careful not to overdo it with raw foods as it can also weaken digestion and may cause excessive detoxification of your system, resulting in fatigue and stomach symptoms like indigestion and diarrhea. Do not eat raw foods if you have bowel inflammation or weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Spring Cooking

Finally, when you’re cooking during the spring, it’s best to cook food for shorter periods of time, but at higher temperatures. This way, your food is not thoroughly cooked, especially the inner part of the food, preserving some of the raw energy of the food. Also if using oil, quick high temperature sauteing or stir frying is the best way to go.

Happy spring eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Thermal Nature of Food

March 21, 2015
Tomatoes and Cauliflower - Thermal Nature of Food

Hello universe and happy Spring! Welcome to my health and wellness blog!  I am so excited to share this project that I have been working on.  When I was practicing medicine, I found that my patients had many practical questions for me regarding nutrition, herbs, supplements, fitness, and stress management as well as more theoretical questions regarding Eastern medicine and philosophies, and how it affects them physically and emotionally. I am formally organizing this information and hope you will find it easy to understand and useful in your everyday lives.

I want to begin by talking about something that is important for everyone: the food you eat! More importantly I want to introduce a concept that not many people may be aware of, which is the thermal nature of food. This is a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine and using food as medicine to heal. The three qualities that any food possesses are whether it is cooling/cold, warming/hot, or neutral in nature. When I say “hot” and “cold”, I am not only referring to the temperature of the food, but the actual property of the food and its ability to warm or cool your physical body. For example, we eat watermelon on a hot summer day, because it cools us down. We add ginger to our cooking, especially during the colder months because ginger contains a lasting warming property.

Summer Watermelon  Ginger

 

 

 

 

Click on the following links to see examples of common cooling, warming, and neutral foods.

So what determines whether a food is hot or cold? There are several theories that explain this*:

  1. Foods that take longer to grow (carrots, cabbage, ginseng) tend to be more warming than those that grow faster (lettuce, summer squash, cucumber).
  2. Eating cooked food is more warming than eating it raw.
  3. Warm or room-temperature food is more warming than cold or chilled food.
  4. Red, orange, or yellow colored foods are more warming than similar foods that are blue, green, or purple. (i.e. a red apple is more warming than a green apple, a lime is more cooling than a lemon)
  5. Cooking a food with more time, higher temperatures, greater pressure, more fat and oil, or less water will make it more warming.
  6. Manipulating food in various ways will have a more warming effect.  Finer cutting, pounding, grinding, pressing, stirring, and chewing breaks the food down and releases more energy and heat.
  7. Using gas or wood heat to cook a food creates more warmth than using electricity.  Microwaved food conveys the least amount of warmth to a food.
  8. Foods grown in temperate zones are more warming than foods in tropical or subtropical climates.

Cooking probably has the highest influence on the property of food. In general, moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) makes it easier for the body to assimilate the nutrients of a food without destroying them. Raw foods, on the other hand, require a stronger digestive system to best assimilate its nutrients. So those who suffer from fatigue or low energy, allergies, and a weak digestive system will assimilate cooked foods better.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Most foods tend to have either a cooling, warming, or neutral effect on our bodies.
  • The way a food grows, its color, and the way it is prepared greatly affects its thermal nature.
  • Moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) is the best way to assimilate a food’s nutrients.

I will discuss next when you should choose warming or cooling foods.

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References*
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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