What’s New and Beneficial About Cabbage
- Cabbage can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you will cook it by steaming. The fiber-related components in cabbage do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they’ve been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it’s easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels. Raw cabbage still has cholesterol-lowering ability, just not as much as steamed cabbage.
- Researchers now realize that different types of cabbage (red, green, and Savoy) contain different patterns of glucosinolates. This new knowledge means that your broadest health benefits from cabbage are likely to come from inclusion of all varieties in your diet.
- Cabbage in general—but also Savoy cabbage in particular—turns out to be an especially good source of sinigrin. Sinigrin is one of the cabbage glucosinolates that has received special attention in cancer prevention research. The sinigrin in cabbage can be converted into allyl-isothiocyanate, or AITC. This isothiocyanate compound has shown unique cancer preventive properties with respect to bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
- In one recent study, short-cooked and raw cabbage were the only types of cabbage to show cancer-preventive benefits—long-cooked cabbage failed to demonstrate measurable benefits.
- New research shows that steaming is a better cooking method than microwaving if you want to maximize the health benefits of glucosinolates found in cabbage. That’s because two minutes of microwaving destroys the same amount of myrosinase enzymes as seven minutes of steaming, and you need those myrosinase enzymes to help convert cabbage’s glucosinolates into cancer-preventive compounds.
- Our Healthy Sauté method, which we recommend for cabbage, is very similar to steaming and enhances the flavor the of cabbage. See “How to Enjoy” below.
You’ll want to include cabbage as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, include cruciferous vegetables as part of your diet 2-3 times per week, and make the serving size at least 1-1/2 cups. Even better from a health standpoint, enjoy cabbage and other vegetables from the cruciferous vegetable group 4-5 times per week, and increase your serving size to 2 cups.
Traditional methods of steaming or boiling make cabbage watery. To retain the maximum number of nutrients and flavor we recommend Healthy Sautéeing cabbage. Slice cabbage into 1/4-inch slices and let sit for 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting benefits before cooking. For more details see Healthiest Way of Cooking Cabbage below.
Our Chinese Chicken Cabbage Salad recipe is a great example of how to enjoy the delicate flavor of napa cabbage in your favorite salad. It is a milder tasting variety of cabbage that boasts the highest concentration of folate.
Enjoy the mild flavor of bok choy by using our Healthy Sauté method of cooking. Bok choy is the #1 vegetable in China and has a higher concentration of beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other variety of cabbage. Our 4-Minute Healthy Sautéed Bok Choy recipe will give you great tasting bok choy in a matter of minutes!
While green cabbage is the most commonly eaten variety of cabbage, we highly recommend trying red cabbage because of it added nutritional benefits and its robust hearty flavor. We don’t think you will be disappointed. The rich red color of red cabbage reflects it concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, which contribute to red cabbage containing significantly more protective phytonutrients than green cabbage. Interest in anthocyanin pigments continues to intensify because of their health benefits as dietary antioxidants, as an anti-inflammatory, and their potentially protective, preventative, and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases.
A recent study showed that a 100 gram (about 3 ounces) serving of raw red cabbage delivers 196.5 milligrams of polyphenols, of which 28.3 milligrams are anthocyanins. Green cabbages yielded much less per 100 grams: 45 milligrams of polyphenols including 0.01 milligram of anthocyanins. The vitamin C equivalent, a measure of antioxidant capacity, of red cabbage is also six to eight times higher than that of green cabbage. Red cabbage is one of the most nutritious and best tasting vegetables around — a great addition to your Healthiest Way of Eating.
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Cabbage provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Cabbage can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cabbage, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- Tips for Preparing and Cooking
- How to Enjoy
- Individual Concerns
- Nutritional Profile
Cancer prevention tops all other areas of health research with regard to cabbage and its outstanding benefits. More than 475 studies have examined the role of this cruciferous vegetable in cancer prevention (and in some cases, cancer treatment). The uniqueness of cabbage in cancer prevention is due to the three different types of nutrient richness found in this widely enjoyed food. The three types are (1) antioxidant richness, (2) anti-inflammatory richness, and (3) richness in glucosinolates.
Antioxidant-Related Health Benefits
Cabbage ranked in our WHFoods rating system as an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of manganese. But in terms of antioxidants in the newer, phytonutrient category, cabbage is impressive, even among cruciferous vegetables. Polyphenols rank at the top of the list for phytonutrient antioxidants in cabbage. In fact, one group of researchers has described polyphenols as the primary factor in cabbage’s overall antioxidant capacity. Even white cabbage (a very lightly-colored form of green cabbage and the most commonly eaten variety of cabbage in the U.S.) provides about 50 milligrams of polyphenols in a half-cup serving. Red cabbage is even more unique among the cruciferous vegetables in providing about 30 milligrams of the red pigment polyphenols called anthocyanins in each half cup. (These anthocyanins qualify not only as antioxidant nutrients, but as anti-inflammatory nutrients as well.) The antioxidant richness of cabbage is partly responsible for its cancer prevention benefits. Without sufficient intake of antioxidants, our oxygen metabolism can become compromised, and we can experience a metabolic problem called oxidative stress. Chronic oxidative stress—in and of itself—can be a risk factor for development of cancer.
Without sufficient intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients, regulation of our inflammatory system can become compromised, and we can experience the problem of chronic inflammation. Especially when combined together with oxidative stress, chronic inflammation is a risk factor for development of cancer.
The anthocyanins found in red cabbage are well-documented anti-inflammatory compounds, and make red cabbage a standout anti-inflammatory food for this reason. However, all types of cabbage contain significant amounts of polyphenols that provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
Glucosinolates and Cancer Prevention
Given the roles of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation as risk factors for cancer, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory richness of cabbage would provide anti-cancer health benefits without the addition of cabbage’s glucosinolates. But glucosinolates are cabbage’s trump card with regard to “anti-cancer” benefits. The glucosinolates found in cabbage can be converted into isothiocyanate compounds that are cancer preventive for a variety of different cancers, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. Different types of cabbage highlight different glucosinolates, as summarized in the chart below:
Glucosinolates in Cabbage and Their Anti-Cancer Thiocyanates
|Best Cabbage Source||Glucosinolate||Derived Isothiocyanate||Isothiocyanate Abbreviation|
|savoy and green cabbage||sinigrin||allyl-isothiocyanate||AITC|
* Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is not an isothiocyanate. It’s a benzopyrrole, and it is only formed when isothiocyanates made from glucobrassicin are further broken down into non-sulfur containing compounds.
The isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from cabbage’s glucosinolates act to protect us against cancer through a variety of different mechanisms. In some cases, they help regulate inflammation by altering the activity of messaging molecules within our body’s inflammatory system. In other cases, they improve our body’s detoxification system and leave our cells with a smaller toxic load. But the bottom line is decreased risk of cancer from consumption of cabbage and its glucosinolates. We’ve seen one study, from Poland, showing impressive reduction of breast cancer risk in women consuming large amounts of cabbage. (In this particular study, this reduction in risk was associated with consumption of at least 4 cabbage servings per week, in comparison with the once-per-week serving consumed by women with higher breast cancer risk.)
Digestive Tract Support
Long-established in health research is the role of cabbage juice in helping heal stomach ulcers (called peptic ulcers), but more recent studies on cabbage have looked at the overall health benefits of this food for the stomach and digestive tract as a whole. Present-day studies make it clear that cabbage contains a variety of nutrients of potential benefit to our stomach and intestinal linings. These nutrients include glucosinolates (and the anti-inflammatory isothiocyanates or ITCs made from them), antioxidant polyphenols, and the amino acid-like substance called glutamine. In the case of ITCs, digestive tract benefits include proper regulation of bacterial populations of Helicobacter pylori inside the stomach. These bacteria are normal stomach inhabitants, but their populations can become too large and they can latch onto the stomach lining in an undesirable way. The ITCs made from cabbage’s glucosinolates can lower the risk of these unwanted stomach events.
You can count on cabbage to provide your cardiovascular system with valuable support in the form of cholesterol reduction. Researchers understand exactly how this process takes place. Your liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to produce bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in your gall bladder, and when you eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body. When you eat cabbage, fiber-related nutrients in this cruciferous vegetable bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of your body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, your liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon your existing supply of cholesterol, and as a result, your cholesterol level drops down. Cabbage provides you with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether it is raw or cooked. However, a recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw cabbage improves significantly when it is steamed. In fact, when the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed cabbage was compared with the cholesterol-lowering ability of the prescription drug cholestyramine (a medication that is taken for the purpose of lowering cholesterol), cabbage bound 17% as many bile acids (based on a standard of comparison involving total dietary fiber).
Cabbage has a round shape and is composed of superimposed leaf layers. It is a member of the food family traditionally known as cruciferous vegetables and is related to kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts. All cruciferous vegetables provide integrated nourishment across a wide variety of nutritional categories and provide broad support across a wide variety of body systems as well. For more on cruciferous vegetables see:
The word “brassica” translates in Latin as “cabbage,” and this word is being used more and more by researchers to refer to the entire group of cruciferous vegetables. You’ll find many plant scientists now using the Latin word Brassicaceaeand the phrase ” brassica vegetables” instead of Latin word Cruciferae and the traditional phrase “cruciferous vegetables” when referring to cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards and other foods in this vegetable subgroup.
Because cabbage’s inner leaves are protected from the sunlight by the surrounding leaves, they are oftentimes lighter in color. There are three major types of cabbage: green, red, and Savoy. The color of green cabbage ranges from pale to dark green. Both green and red cabbage have smooth-textured leaves. Red cabbage has leaves that are either crimson or purple with white veins running through it. The leaves of Savoy cabbage are more ruffled and yellowish-green in color. Red and green cabbage have a more defined taste and crunchy texture as compared to Savoy cabbage’s more delicate nature. Bok choy as well as Chinese (Napa) cabbage are other varieties of cabbage available. Bok choy has a mild flavor and a higher concentration of vitamin A. Chinese cabbage, with its pale green ruffled leaves, is great to use in salads. Red cabbage contains additional health benefits not found in green cabbage.
Sturdy, abundant, and inexpensive, cabbage is a longstanding dietary staple throughout the world and is so widely cultivated and stores so well that it is available throughout the year. However, it is at its best during the late fall and winter months when it is in season.
Cabbage has a long history of use both as a food and a medicine. It was developed from wild cabbage, a vegetable that was closer in appearance to collards and kale since it was composed of leaves that did not form a head.
It is thought that wild cabbage was brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. It was grown in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that held it in high regard as a general panacea capable of treating a host of health conditions.
While it’s unclear when and where the headed cabbage that we know today was developed, cultivation of cabbage spread across northern Europe into Germany, Poland and Russia, where it became a very popular vegetable in local food cultures. The Italians are credited with developing the Savoy cabbage. Russia, Poland, China and Japan are a few of the leading producers of cabbage today.
Sauerkraut, a dish made from fermented cabbage, has a colorful legacy. Dutch sailors consumed it during extended exploration voyages to prevent scurvy. Early German settlers introduced cabbage and the traditional sauerkraut recipe were introduced into the United States. As a result of this affiliation, German soldiers, and people of German descent were often referred to as “krauts.”
How to Select and Store
Choose cabbage heads that are firm and dense with shiny, crisp, colorful leaves free of cracks, bruises, and blemishes. Severe damage to the outer leaves is suggestive of worm damage or decay that may reside in the inner core as well.
There should be only a few outer loose leaves attached to the stem. If not, it may be an indication of undesirable texture and taste. Avoid buying precut cabbage, either halved or shredded, since once cabbage is cut, it begins to lose its valuable vitamin C content.
Keeping cabbage cold will keep it fresh and help it retain its vitamin C content. Put the whole head in a plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. Red and green cabbage will keep this way for about 2 weeks while Savoy cabbage will keep for about 1 week.
If you need to store a partial head of cabbage, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Since the vitamin C content of cabbage starts to quickly degrade once it has been cut, you should use the remainder within a couple of days.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking
Tips for Preparing Cabbage
Even though the inside of cabbage is usually clean since the outer leaves protect it, you still may want to clean it. Remove the thick fibrous outer leaves and cut the cabbage into pieces and then wash under running water.
If you notice any signs of worms or insects, which sometimes appears in cabbage, soak the head in salt water or vinegar water for 15-20 minutes first. To preserve its vitamin C content, cut and wash the cabbage right before cooking or eating it. Since phytonutrients in the cabbage react with carbon steel and turn the leaves black, use a stainless steel knife to cut.
To cut cabbage into smaller pieces, first quarter it and remove the core. Cabbage can be cut into slices of varying thickness, grated by hand or shredded in a food processor.
Proper cabbage preparation and cooking methods can be essential when it comes to getting the most benefits from cabbage. In one study that compared steaming to microwaving of raw cabbage, researchers found that it took 7 minutes of steaming to result in the same amount of enzyme (myrosinase) destruction that occurred with only 2 minutes of microwaving. In other words, short steaming was much better than microwaving for preserving some myrosinase activity in the cabbage. Since we need myrosinase activity to convert the glucosinolates in cabbage to cancer-preventive isothiocyanates (ITCs), preservation of as much myrosinase activity as possible when cooking cabbage seems worthwhile. Researchers have some proof that light steaming actually works because they have found higher concentrations of one particular isothiocyanate (AITC, or allyl-isothiocyanate) in lightly steamed cabbage. AITC has the ability to help lower risk of certain cancers (including bladder, breast, colon and prostate cancer). This recent research finding underscores the value of light steaming as a way to preserve anti-cancer benefits when cooking cabbage.
It’s worth adding here that a little bit of bitterness in the taste of cabbage is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your health. Although the commercial food industry sometimes tries to remove bitter-tasting constituents from cruciferous vegetables through hybridization of different cabbage varieties, some of the bitter-tasting constituents—including sinigrin, one of the glucosinolates especially plentiful in cabbage—is the source of the anti-cancer substance AITC discussed in the previous paragraph. Rather than attempting to completely eliminate the natural bitterness of cabbage, we would be much better off from a health standpoint weaving cabbage into a recipe that included differently flavored foods in such a way that the cabbage was allowed to retain a little of its natural and noticeable bitterness but within a blended-flavor context of a delicious dish! For example, ourGingered Cabbage provides you a wonderful sweet and sour flavor.
Finally, it’s important to remember that we can allow myrosinase enzymes in cabbage to do their natural work by slicing, shredding, or chopping raw cabbage and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking. Once the cells in cabbage have been broken apart through slicing, shredding, or chopping, the myrosinase enzymes in those cells can become active in converting the glucosinolates in cabbage into isothiocyanates (ITCs).
Want to learn more about how cutting, slicing, and chopping may affect fresh vegetables like cabbage? See our Q+A on this subject here.
The Healthiest Way of Cooking Cabbage
From all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking cabbage, our favorite is Healthy Sauté. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for concentrated nutrient retention.
To Healthy Sauté cabbage, heat 5 TBS of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add shredded cabbage, cover, and Healthy Sauté for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 2 more minutes before transferring to a bowl and tossing with Mediterranean Dressing. (See our 5-Minute Healthy Sautéed Red Cabbage recipe for details on how to prepare this dish.) Ginger is a great addition to your Healthy Sautéed cabbage; you can also add rice vinegar and sesame seeds.
How to Enjoy
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Braise red cabbage with a chopped apple and red wine. This is a child-friendly dish since the alcohol (but not the flavor or the flavonoids) will evaporate.
- Combine shredded red and green cabbage with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and seasonings such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, and black pepper to make coleslaw with an Indian twist.
Some WHFoods recipes that feature cabbage:
- Asian Chicken Salad
- Chinese Chicken Cabbage Salad
- Spicy Cabbage Soup
- Poached Fish with Napa Cabbage
- Sesame Braised Chicken & Cabbage
- Sweet N’ Sour Cod with Cabbage and Broccoli
- Vegetarian Stir-Fry
- Napa Cabbage Salad
- 5-Minute Healthy Sautéed Red Cabbage
- Gingered Cabbage
Cabbage is sometimes referred to as a “goitrogenic” food. Yet, contrary to popular belief, according to the latest studies, foods themselves—cabbage included—are not “goitrogenic” in the sense of causing goiter whenever they are consumed, or even when they are consumed in excess. In fact, most foods that are commonly called “goitrogenic”—such as the cruciferous vegetables (including cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower) and soyfoods—do not interfere with thyroid function in healthy persons even when they are consumed on a daily basis. Nor is it scientifically correct to say that foods “contain goitrogens,” at least not if you are thinking about goitrogens as a category of substances like proteins, carbohydrates, or vitamins. With respect to the health of our thyroid gland, all that can be contained in a food are nutrients that provide us with a variety of health benefits but which, under certain circumstances, can also interfere with thyroid function. The term “goitrogenic food” makes it sound as if something is wrong with the food, but that is simply not the case. What causes problems for certain individuals is not the food itself but the mismatched nature of certain substances within the food to their unique health circumstances. For more, see an An Up-to-Date Look at Goitrogenic Substances in Food.
Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper. Additionally, cabbage is a good source of choline, phosphorus, vitamin B2, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, protein, and niacin.
Cabbage and its cancer-protective phytonutrients
As described earlier in this food profile, cabbage is also a unique source of several types of phytonutrients. Its overall antioxidant activity is most likely due to its unusual polyphenol content. With red cabbage, these polyphenols include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins. Cabbage is also unique for it rich supply of glucosinolates. These phytonutrients can be converted by the body into isothiocyanates that have special detoxification and anti-cancer properties.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here:Cabbage.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile forCabbage is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System Chart
In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.
Cabbage, red, cooked
GI: very low
|vitamin K||71.40 mcg||79||32.8||excellent|
|vitamin C||51.60 mg||69||28.5||excellent|
|vitamin B6||0.34 mg||20||8.3||excellent|
|manganese||0.33 mg||17||6.8||very good|
|fiber||3.90 g||16||6.5||very good|
|potassium||393.00 mg||11||4.6||very good|
|vitamin B1||0.11 mg||9||3.8||very good|
|folate||36.00 mcg||9||3.7||very good|
|copper||0.08 mg||9||3.7||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.09 mg||7||2.9||good|
|pantothenic acid||0.23 mg||5||1.9||good|
|vitamin B3||0.57 mg||4||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
|very good||DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%
In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Cabbage
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- Bhattacharya A, Tang L, Li Y, et al. Inhibition of bladder cancer development by allyl isothiocyanate. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Feb;31(2):281-6. 2010.
- Higdon JV, Delage B, Williams DE, et al. Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic Evidence and Mechanistic Basis. Pharmacol Res. 2007 March; 55(3): 224-236. 2007.
- Hu R, Khor TO, Shen G, Jeong WS, Hebbar V, Chen C, Xu C, Reddy B, Chada K, Kong AN. Cancer chemoprevention of intestinal polyposis in ApcMin/+ mice by sulforaphane, a natural product derived from cruciferous vegetable. Carcinogenesis. 2006 May 4; [Epub ahead of print. 2006. PMID:16675473.
- Kahlon TS, Chiu MC, Chapman MH. Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage. 2008 Jun;28(6):351-7. 2008.
- Kurilich AC, Tsau GJ, Brown A, et al. Carotene, tocopherol, and ascorbate contents in subspecies of Brassica oleracea. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr;47(4):1576-81. 1999. PMID:13300.
- Kushad MM, Brown AF, Kurilich AC, et al. Variation of glucosinolates in vegetable crops of Brassica oleracea. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr;47(4):1541-8. 1999. PMID:13320.
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- Rungapamestry V, Duncan AJ, Fuller Z et al. Effect of cooking brassica vegetables on the subsequent hydrolysis and metabolic fate of glucosinolates. Proc Nutr Soc. 2007 Feb;66(1):69-81. 2007.
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- Tang L, Zirpoli GR, Guru K, et al. Consumption of Raw Cruciferous Vegetables is Inversely Associated with Bladder Cancer Risk. 2007 Apr 15;67(8):3569-73. 2007.
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For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.
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