The word, steroid, has different meanings to different people. For some people, steroids are medicines they use to deal with acute conditions like arthritis, while others use it for enhancing muscle growth and performance.
Types of Steroids
The word, steroid, has different meanings to different people. For some people, steroids are medicines they use to deal with acute conditions like arthritis, while others use it for enhancing muscle growth and performance. Steroids are most commonly linked to athletes, who are known to take them for boosting their energy levels and stamina, thereby enhancing their performance.
The word, steroid, is derived from two Greek words - "Stere", which means solid, and "Eidos", which means a three-dimensional form. Together, they form the word, Stereoiedes, which means a solid organic compound. When translated into English, Stereoiedes becomes Steroid.
Technically, steroids are defined as soluble organic compounds composed of four Cycloalkane rings. The four rings, labeled A, B, C and D, are made up of more than 20 carbon atoms that joins them together. Of the four rings, three rings are cyclohexane rings, which contain 6 carbon elements, and the fourth ring is a cyclopentane ring, which contains 5 carbon elements.
Steroids are taken in the form of injections, tablets or soluble powders, for a variety of reasons. They are endogenous and exogenous. Examples of endogenous steroids include cholesterol, which is a direct product of the steroid nucleus. Other examples of steroid include the sex hormones called testosterone and estradiol, and performance boosting hormones called Nandrolone, Stanozolol and Oxandrolone. Dexamethasone, which belongs to the glucocorticoid class, is also a steroid with anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin D is also a classic example of a steroid.
Exogenous steroids that are available as supplements or replacements are usually synthesized versions of the endogenous steroids produced in the body.
Classification of Steroids
The most common understanding of steroids is that they are drug supplements that enable an individual to build muscles and enhance performance. That is not entirely true, for different types of steroids have different functions.
There are different varieties of steroid compounds that can be found in animals, plants and even fungi. Vertebrates produce what are called steroid hormones that are essential for the proper functioning of the body. The functioning of these various types of steroids is not the same, and not all steroids are helpful in building body muscle and mass. In fact, some steroids do just the opposite of that, which is to destroy the muscle tissues.
Steroids can be broadly classified into two types - the Corticosteroid and Anabolic steroids .
Corticosteroids are naturally produced by the body, in the adrenal cortex above the kidney to be precise, and include steroid hormones that the body needs for proper functioning. The corticosteroids are divided into two classes - the glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids.
Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that play an important role in controlling the fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. These steroids also have anti-inflammatory properties as they prevent release of phospholipids, control the action of eosinophil, etc. These hormones are said to be named so, for their involvement in glucose metabolism.
Glucocorticoid levels in the body also affect the development of the fetus, as they play an important role in maturation of lungs and protecting the surfactant. Due to the affect they have on the amygdala, the frontal lobes and the hippocampus, the glucocorticoids also play a role in creation of flashbulb memories of intense emotional events, either negative or positive. They are also considered to have a strong impact on a person's cognitive (memory) and vigilant abilities.
Glucocorticoids can further be classified into metabolic and immunological, depending on their functionality. These steroid hormones are also used for a variety of therapeutic purposes and for controlling certain allergies, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. They are also known to be useful in managing type 1 familial hyperaldosteronism, but not effective with type 2. Glucocorticoids are also used sometimes, in heart failure patients suffering from refractory diuretic resistance.
An example of glucocorticoids is cortisol, which is popularly known as the "stress hormone", for the role it plays in reducing stress in the individual. Cortisol is also an essential hormone in the human body as it regulates important metabolic, cardiovascular and immunologic functions. Other synthesized glucocorticoids are also used in humans, for suppressing an overactive immune system and in cases of glucocorticoid deficiency.
Mineralocorticoids are corticosteroids that play an important role in balancing the sodium levels in the body. Aldosterone is the key mineralocorticoid that is produced in the adrenal cortex. It acts on the kidneys, enabling active absorption of sodium. By regulating the sodium concentration in the body, this hormone regulates the individual's blood pressure.
Corticosteroids as medicines
When there is insufficient production of these endogenous hormones in your body, use of Corticosteroid medicines can help you regain the balance and control diseases. Corticosteroid medicines are basically anti-inflammatory drugs that control swelling of the air ways to lungs. They are also used to treat a variety of medical conditions like asthma, skin allergies, arthritis, lupus and more. Corticosteroid medicines are offered in the form of inhalers or intranasal sprays, tablets or oral medications, topical creams and ointments ad as injections. Commonly prescribed corticosteroids include dexamethasone, prednisone and prednisolone .
When you hear the word, Steroid,on TV, or read about it in the newspapers, it is usually in connection to an athlete or a celebrity abusing it for professional gain. The steroids in question here are called Anabolic steroids, and they are not the same as corticosteroids.
Anabolic steroids are synthesized compounds (man-made) that are related to male sex hormones called androgens. Anabolic steroids imitate the functions of testosterone, and are also referred to as anabolic androgenic steroids, or AAS. They are so called because of the effect they have on the individual. Anabolic steroids result in increase of protein within the body's cells and enhance muscle build. They also have virilizing properties, which is why they are prescribed for the development of masculine characteristics like growth of body hair, deepening of the vocal chords and development of the testicles.
Like the word, steroid, the terms – anabolic and androgenic – are also derived from Greek words, "anabole" and "andros", which mean "that which is thrown up" and "of a man" respectively. In simple words, the word, anabolic, refers to muscle or mass building and the word, andros, is related to masculinity.
Among the anabolic steroids that are commonly used, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone and nandrolone are the key ones, from which a variety of steroid analogues are derived. Of these three, testosterone is perhaps the most important and popular among people, as it affects the physiology of a person and also has medical benefits.
The primary steroid among anabolic androgenic steroids is testosterone, which is found in most species including vertebrates, animals and birds. Naturally produced by the testicles in men, and by ovaries in women, testosterone is the most important sex hormone for males. The androgenic part of the hormone is responsible for development of the primary male reproductive cells like the prostate and testis, and the anabolic part enables development of secondary sexual characteristics like muscle mass, body hair, development of vocal chords, etc. In women, this hormone is produced in very little quantities.
Testosterone and its derivatives are also available as prescription drugs and hormone supplements. While some of these supplements contain these steroids in their original form, others boost their secretion in the body, thus bringing out the same kind of results. Use of AAS is highly common among people who wish to enhance their muscle mass and their body structure. Bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts and even sportspersons tend to use these steroid hormone supplements for enhanced fitness levels.
Androgenic steroids are also prescribed to men who have insufficient levels of testosterone. Low quantities of this steroid hormone can affect the development of masculine characteristics in men, and excess secretion of this hormone leads to enhanced masculine traits in women.
Due to the many physiological effects it has on the body, testosterone is also used as a prescription drug in certain cases. The hormone is said to deliver either anabolic or androgenic effects, although in most cases, the steroid results in both types of changes in an individual. The androgenic effects of testosterone can be seen right from the prenatal stage through the adolescence and adult phase that the person goes through.
Effects of testosterone
Among the biological uses of testosterone are development of sperm, regulation of physical energy and cognition, regulation of acute hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or the HPA, platelet aggregation, increased libido and maintenance of muscle trophism. The hormone induces the "flight-or-fight" response when a person is put in dominance challenges. There is also likely correlation between the levels of testosterone and heart attacks, obesity and perception of one's own health. Studies have also shown that testosterone levels do not in any way cause or have a negative impact on prostate cancer.
It is a well-known fact that hormones, especially testosterone, play an important role in sexual arousal. Studies have also revealed that this steroid hormone impacts an individual's romantic life. The testosterone levels tend to decrease in men who fall in love, while they tend to increase in women in love. It is also suggested that fatherhood brings down the levels of testosterone in a man.
While low testosterone levels decrease a person's libido, higher production of testosterone in men encourages them to have extramarital affairs. It is also suggested that for a man in a relationship, physical interaction is not necessary for maintaining high testosterone levels, while it is the opposite in women. Women need physical intimacy and interaction with their partners for increase in testosterone levels. Testosterone also plays a significant role in decision making, when it comes to risky financial transactions.
Medical and recreational uses of testosterone
Lack of testosterone production in the body can impact the development of reproductive organs and sexual characteristics in males. Testosterone is used for treating men with hypogonadism, a condition where too little or no natural production of testosterone takes place in the body. It is also prescribed for other conditions like infertility, erectile dysfunction, lack of libido, osteoporosis, enhancing penile enlargement, inducing height growth, reversing the effects of anemia and promoting bone marrow stimulation in men.
In women, this steroid hormone is used for dealing with low libido post menopause. Studies also reveal that proper dosage of this hormone can help in treating Type 2 diabetes, while low testosterone has been associated with Alzheimer's disease.
The natural production of this hormone decreases in men as they age, which is why testosterone is highly used in hormone replacement therapy for aging men. Men with abnormally low levels of this hormone are also prescribed testosterone steroids or booster supplements.
Commonly used testosterone steroids
Testosterone is the most effective steroid hormone produced in the human body. Other important sex hormones in males, including dihydrotestosterone and nandrolone exist because of this steroid hormone .
Most of the testosterone steroids are available as prescription drugs, while the steroid supplements are offered as over-the-counter medicines. The commonly available testosterone steroids are as follows.
The most commonly used testosterone steroid by athletes and bodybuilders, testosterone enanthate is a derivative of the primary endogenous steroid hormone testosterone. The steroid is also the most commonly prescribed compound to treat low testosterone levels and adropuase in men. It is highly anabolic, which means it promotes significant muscle development and also enhances strength, while helping in reducing fat in the body.
Endogenous androgens are responsible for normal development and growth of male reproductive organs like the prostate, penis, scrotum and seminal vesicles. Androgens also play a significant role in development of secondary sexual characteristics like growth of pubic hair, bodily hair, facial hair, thickening of the vocal chord, fat distribution and overall changes in the body musculature.
Testosterone enanthate, commonly known as test-e among athletes and bodybuilders, helps in building body muscle, and reducing fat. This is because the parent hormone, testosterone, plays a major role in determining the size, shape and overall appearance of the muscle fibers. Androgens such as these also protect the muscles from catabolic glucocorticoid hormones, thus preventing the release of stored protein. The steroid is also known to have the ability to increase the production of red blood cells in kidneys, thereby improving the endurance levels in the person.
Testosterone enanthate is widely available as an injection and is prescribed to treat delayed puberty, primary hypogonadism and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism in males. It is sometimes used as secondary drug in treating metastatic mammary cancer in women.
A synthesized version of testosterone, testosterone cypionate is a highly anabolic steroid. The derivative of the primary androgen is mostly used by athletes and bodybuilders who wish to increase their strength and size, and promote muscle retention. This testosterone steroid carries an anabolic and androgenic rating of 100, as it is entirely testosterone, and affects the body as the endogenously produced testosterone does.
Testosterone Cypionate also improves levels of IGF-1, another anabolic hormone to induce more anabolic activity in the body. Body metabolism is also boosted by this steroid, leading to fat loss and gain in muscle tissue. Testosterone cypionate is also prescribed to treat low testosterone levels in men, which can have a significant effect on their lives. Testosterone Cypionate is also available as injection.
Also an injectable form of testosterone, this steroid is one of the oldest testosterone derivatives that are exogenously produced. A water-based hormone supplement, the testosterone suspension significantly increases the amount of glycogen stored in the muscle cells and is almost immediately effective due to its water base. A major difference between this testosterone steroid and the others is that it sustains the elevated hormone levels only for 2 to 3 days, owing to its microcrystal design. The fact that this steroid does not have any attached ester makes it one of the most powerful testosterone steroids out there.
Besides these three, Testosterone-Propionate, the original form of the hormone is also used widely world over. Testosterone is also available in the form of tablets, powders, topical gels, skin patches and implantable pellets. When considering testosterone steroids and supplements, it is extremely important to take proper dosage for the desired results. The choice of steroids you make should be based on your individual goals.
Abrupt discontinuation of testosterone, especially when you have been taking it for a long duration (through multiple cycles) or if you have been taking it in larger doses, should be avoided. When taken for longer periods, the body stops producing testosterone endogenously, and discontinuation of the exogenous hormone can result in withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, weariness, decrease in libido, etc.
If you are considering injections, or even tablets, it is best to seek the advice and assistance of a medical practitioner to ensure proper dosage. Over use or abuse of these steroids must be avoided to prevent deteriorating side effects .
Dihydrotestosterone or DHT is a very potent androgen necessary for normal sex development. It is synthesized from testosterone present in the adrenal glands, prostate glands, hair follicles and testes by 5-alpha reductase . Being so closely related to male sex hormone testosterone, it performs similar actions, activating gene expressions needed for sex development. Dihydrotestosterone promotes the formation of male primary sex characteristics and a majority of secondary male sex characteristics associated with puberty, such as body and facial hair, muscle growth and deepening of voice. In fact, it is responsible for the sexual differentiation in the womb prior to birth – the levels of this androgen in the womb decide whether the fetus will develop into either sex. Dihydrotestosterone also has a bearing on sexual drive and function.
Hair loss related to dihydrotestosterone is a much-talked about subject. While DHT is a primary factor in promoting male pattern baldness, its role in female hair loss is less predominant . Dihydrotestosterone builds up in the body slowly over time and disappears. If it builds up at a fast rate, it does not have any specific function to perform or location to be stored in. So, it binds to the hair follicles and keeps them from receiving important nutrients necessary for healthy hair growth. This in turn results to hair loss as loss of nutrients cause hair to become weak eventually and fall off .
When dihydrotestosterone is present in higher-than-normal levels in women, it may cause androgynous male secondary sex characteristics such as facial hair and deep voice. The role of DHT in the development and aggravation of prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia has also been seen. However, administration of DHT to patients suffering from chronic heart disease is said to have beneficial effects, improving total exercise time and time of onset of angina .
As a non-aromatizing androgen, dihydrotestosterone is extremely potent. Aromatization refers to the conversion of testosterone or anabolic steroids into estrogen. High estrogenic activity causes bloating, acne, water retention and oily skin. As dihydrotestosterone does not aromatize even at high dosages, users do not face the aforementioned side-effects. Lack of water retention also has a hardening effect on muscle tissue, in bodybuilders. Being a powerful androgen, dihydrotestosterone is also responsible for a shift in the estrogen-testosterone ratio in the body. Due to its predominant androgenic component, the steroid has a stimulating effect on the adreno-pituitary functions, and causes neurological excitation in the ‘sexual orientation areas of the brain’. This in turn, spikes sex drive in males.
Some of the common DHT-derived drugs include Winstrol, Anadrol, Masteron and Primobolan. Winstrol is a popular cutting steroid, but depending on the anabolic steroids it is stacked with, it can also serve as a bulking substance. It can be administered via injections or orally ingested. Primobolan is a mild steroid used in cutting cycles, meaning it helps users gain low muscle mass as opposed to retaining fat. This can also have a positive effect on the quality of muscle gained. Anavar is a commonly used steroid that adds lean muscle mass and burns fat. The oral steroid is usually used in the cutting cycles.
Nandrolone is not a stranger to the sports and bodybuilding fraternities. It is an anabolic steroid that is present in the human body in minimum quantities. The commercial name of nandrolone is Deca-Durabolin. As a steroid, it can be defined as the synthetic form of testosterone that is injected or consumed orally. It is basically a modification of testosterone in an anabolic-androgenic ratio of 125:37. The high anabolic ratio points to its muscle-building ability while the low androgenic ratio keeps its virilization effects negligible. In the 60s and 70s, nandrolone was a sought-after option among athletes, but easy detection saw its popularity wane.
Nandrolone does not convert into estrogen, so there are no estrogenic effects associated with its use. This is also one reason why it is able to build quality muscles. As there is no fat storage or water retention, the muscles formed are stronger and leaner. Also, cholesterol deposits, rapid heart rate and high blood pressure do not come into the picture. In fact, nandrolone is sought-after among body-builders for its ability to maintain both quantity and quality in the muscle-building process. It is also believed to aid the muscles’ regeneration process and relieve muscle pain.
Nandrolone also offers medical uses. It is used in the treatment of refractory anemia and severe disease states. By promoting tissue-building, reversing catabolism and stimulating the production of red blood cells, nandrolone works well for remedying disorders such as HIV; the same functions also make it a popular steroid among athletes and bodybuilders. Clinical studies have also found nandrolone to be effective in treating osteoporosis and breast cancer.
As nandrolone does not break down into dihydrotestosterone but a weaker form, its effect on the prostate, skin and scalp are less. The toxic effects of the substance on the liver are also reduced owing to the lack of alkylation on the 17α-carbon. But this is not to say that nandrolone is the safest anabolic steroid you can use. It does cause some side-effects in sensitive individuals. These include nausea, insomnia, diarrhea, acne and bladder irritation. Other side-effects include reduced libido (when taken in large doses), gynecomastia and testicular atrophy.
Injectable steroid Nandrolone Phenylpropionate or NPP is used in the bulking or cutting cycles by bodybuilders. The cycle for which it can be used would depend on dosages and diet. Owing to its predominantly anabolic nature and sparse androgenic properties, its use in a mass cycle stacked with testosterone and an effective oral anabolic steroid like Dianabol or Anadrol can make it an important component of a bulking cycle. In combination with an injectable short-estered anabolic steroid and an oral steroid like Anavar or Winstrol, it can be used in the cutting cycle.
The use of nandrolone can be detected in hair or urine; in the latter, the individual in question is tested for a metabolite called 19-norandrosterone. A limit of 2.0 μg/L of 19-norandrosterone as the upper limit in urine has been set by The International Olympic Committee – anything above this limit will be deemed as doping by the athlete. In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, a nandrolone study – the largest of its kind - was conducted on 621 athletes. None of the athletes tested more than 0.4 μg/L. 19-Norandrosterone, a trace contaminant in commercial preparations of androstenedione, which was available as a non-prescription dietary supplement in the United States until 2004.
As it has a long life, nandrolone is intramuscularly injected in doses of 400mg typically one or two times a week. For rapid action and sustained result, it is usually stacked with other anabolic steroids.
Classification of Anabolic Steroids Based on Administration
Anabolic steroids can be classified on the basis of how they are administered to the individual. They can be administered through injection, taken orally or be applied topically . Before we can understand how each type of steroid administration works, it would be important to note that the use of anabolic steroids can be traced all the way back to the 50’s when sports participants of countries in the Eastern bloc of Soviet Union were administered anabolic steroids to guarantee their success at international-level events . In the modern-day sports and body-building landscape, the judicious use of steroids has helped deliver better outcomes, and become a key component of fitness and event-preparation regimens.
Individuals should be aware of the features, pros and potential cons of each form of steroid administration. Let’s start with the first common type of administration – injection.
Injectable steroids: Steroids can be oil-based or water-based. The former is administered through injection while the latter is intended for oral consumption. Esters are the most commonly used form of injectable steroids . Basically, an ester allows anabolic steroids to extend the length of their effects. Injectable steroids stay in the individual’s system for a longer duration; they do not have any effect on the digestive system and are not passed immediately through the liver . The chemical structure of oil-based steroids is responsible for bypassing the human digestive system, thereby significantly reducing the risk of kidney or liver damage. On the flip side, as injectable steroids stay in the system for an extended period of time, they can be detected long after they have been administered.
Injectable steroids offer many advantages to users, but they are also associated with some side-effects. Straight off, their bioavailability makes them high-value steroids – bioavailability is a measure of the amount of drug absorbed from a given dosage. The degree to which an injectable steroid becomes immediately available to the target tissue upon administration is high. Its quick action apart, an injectable steroid offers minimal gastrointestinal effects and can be administered to individuals in altered states of consciousness .
Some of the other benefits of injectable steroids include (a) increased rise in fat oxidation (b) higher energy levels during workouts (c) enhanced muscle strength (d) improved speed of recovery. Side effects include water retention, anxiety, hypertension and acne.
Administration and dosage are two critical factors influencing the right use of injectable steroids. Instruction with respect to dosage must be strictly adhered to. High dosages cannot guarantee quick results, and if anything, may pose health risks.
As far as administration is concerned, some best practices have been prescribed to ensure the proper use of injectable steroids. The anabolic steroid must never be injected directly into a vein, or it can have serious repercussions. Water-based and oil-based steroids must be injected intramuscularly on the thigh’s lateral area or the fleshy upper area of the buttock . Other areas of the body pose a risk of nerve damage, and must be avoided. Users must change sites of administration on a rotational basis to avoid straining the skin and keeping scar tissue at bay.
Sterile equipment must be used every time a dosage is administered. Sharing injections – as is the case in any medical scenario – can pose a risk of infection, including HIV and different types of hepatitis.
Oral: An advantage of oral steroids is their fast action; on the flip side, owing to their shorter half-life, they need to be consumed often . The common examples include Anavar, Dianabol, Adroyd, methyltestosterone and Holotestin.
Oral anabolic steroids make their way through the digestive system and liver to enter the bloodstream. This poses a small problem - the natural tendency of the liver is to remove such substances from the body, and as result, oral steroids are subject to strong action by the liver. This is why they are synthesized to protect the molecule against acidic secretions in the stomach and liver . For the same reason, oral anabolic steroids can stress the liver and be less safer in comparison to their injectable counterparts. They do not pose big health risks contrary to what some sources may suggest. Abuse of oral steroids can culminate into liver damage, but the same holds true for any anabolic steroid, over-the-counter drug or even alcohol. Even as the health risks of oral anabolic steroids are exaggerated, the onus is on the user to ensure judicious consumption.
Patches and gels
Testosterone gels and patches are more recent products that deliver testosterone transdermally into the body. While FDA approval for many such products is in progress, they may not be as readily available as injectable or oral anabolic steroids. Two of the prominent ones include Androderm and Androgel . The former provides 24-hour delivery upon application on the skin. Sportspersons and bodybuilders may use testosterone patches in accompaniment with other steroidal preparations or as a stand-alone solution. Androgel is a gel that releases testosterone slowly into the skin and requires daily application. The FDA approved the gel preparation for clinical use in June 2000.
Bulking and Cutting Steroids
Bulking is a period where there is a calorie surplus given that the aim is to gain weight, increase strength and build muscle. Cutting is a period of calorie deficit, the objective being to shed the pounds and become leaner.
Bulking steroids are used to stimulate bone growth, make muscles harder and give users’ appetite a boost. Bodybuilders use such steroids to increase their stamina and strength for rigorous workouts. By bulking up, users gain muscle quickly but have to contend with accumulation of fat, given the fact that they also consume a calorie-rich diet.
Lean out or cutting steroids increase fat burning and lower the body’s ability to store fat. They rid the fat and water retained in the body during the bulking cycle, to build hard muscles. Cutting steroids can be injected into the muscle tissue or taken orally. Some cutting steroids are also available as patches, sprays and topical ointments, though the effectiveness of these delivery systems is debatable. Some examples for bulking steroids include Anavar, Primobolan and Winstrol.
Mexican steroids are named after their country of production. Most of these steroids are basically veterinary steroids but bodybuilders across the United States and Canada use them, though few may actually experience the expected benefits, and some may even face adverse effects from contaminated products. Despite the obvious risk of consuming Mexican steroids, some from the bodybuilding community prefer them owing to their low cost. Many years ago, steroids developed in Mexico would have been the last resort for fitness enthusiasts, who invested in European or domestic branded high-quality steroids. The perception of low-quality, unsafe steroids and fake gear from Mexico loomed large. However, over the years, as the price of anabolic steroids has skyrocketed, Mexican-branded products have become a more attractive option for individuals looking for cost-effective solutions.
This is not to say that all steroids made in Mexico are unsafe or unregulated. With the Mexican government allowing foreign companies to establish operations on local shores, collaborations between big name manufacturers and Mexican manufacturers of veterinary and human steroids, have resulted in product improvements. Individuals seeking cheaper alternatives must research their options to zero in on authentic and effective Mexican steroids that deliver the claimed benefits.
Safe use of steroids
Bodybuilders who have successfully leveraged anabolic steroids to meet their fitness goals have most probably followed the golden rules on steroid. How harmful steroids can be, is dependent on four main factors (a) the dosages takes (b) the form in which they are taken (c) the duration for which they are used (d) user’s gender, age and health status. While performance enhancement and athletic advantages are associated with steroids, they work best when accompanied by proper diet and training. Increasing dosage to experience quick or better benefits is only a myth – it does not have any additional effect, and if anything, it can worsen side-effects. Men and women who take steroids must be fully aware of the potential side-effects, so as to make informed decisions. Physicians advise children and teenagers against using anabolic steroids as it may lead to stunted growth.
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