A Healthier "Wei" to Snack

People were starting to stare at Allison Crist, a 9-year-old from Shawnee, Kan.

Crist’s chronic coughing fits caused her parents to cancel plans with family and kept her from doing activities with other children. Although Crist wasn’t contagious or running a fever, her prolonged hacking produced a horrifying sound.

She quickly became known as the “sick kid in the family,” according to her mom, Lynn Crist.

“We were even going to the ER for cough attacks,” says Crist. “We tried cough drops, steroids, narcotics and antibiotics. Nothing worked.”

Both hoped the coughing would disappear as Allison got older, but it got worse. She missed school every month, and her peers began to refer to her as “the girl who coughs.”
“I felt kinda embarrassed,” says Allison of her coughing spells. “People would look at me and back away because they thought that I was contagious.”

Allison and Lynn went to several doctors and specialists. Allison was tested for allergies, and she had none. She was treated as if she had asthma, although Lynn insisted that she did not.

They bought new pillows, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and waited it out until the coughing spells subsided. But, the coughing always came back.

In a last effort of sorts, they headed to an appointment with Julie L. Wei, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist or ear, nose, and throat specialist and surgeon at The University of Kansas Hospital.

During their appointment, Wei asked about Allison’s diet and dietary habits in great detail, specifically what time Allison ate dinner, what time she went to bed, and what she ate and drank after dinner until bedtime.

Wei found out that Allison usually snacked after dinner up to bedtime, and consumed quite a bit of dairy and sugar in her diet. Lynn began to cry when Wei said the words that every parent would want to hear while at the doctor…“I know that I can help her.”

“Dr. Wei started talking about ‘Milk & Cookie Disease’TM and it was our story,” says Lynn, who was floored by the simple solutions prescribed by Wei.

Wei recommended that Allison begin using a nasal saline rinse to decrease her chronic nasal stuffiness; eliminate dairy, caffeine and unnecessary sugar from her diet as much as possible; and move dinnertime to an earlier hour of 5 or 6 p.m.

The Crists enthusiastically adhered to Wei’s recommendations in May ... and Allison hasn’t had a bout of coughing since.

“It’s been a refreshing change and different life for all of us,” says Lynn. “Allison can participate in things and run and even beat her sisters.”

Although the changes for Allison weren’t entirely easy, they were understood, because the after-effects of not following Wei’s advice were immediate.

“One afternoon after eating a little ice cream, Alice began coughing and declared, ‘I am never eating ice cream again,’” says Lynn with a laugh.

Although the Crists don’t entirely eliminate dairy from their diets, Lynn says Allison is wary of dairy since she knows its effects on her body. Wei calls dairy a these food for some patients and merely suggests that cutting back or cutting out “trigger” foods in the evening may cause a big difference for patients with symptoms similar to Allison’s. She doesn’t often prescribe total elimination.

The Crists were a health-conscious family before, but thanks to Wei, they have adopted other eating habits, such as not eating after 6 p.m. if possible. According to Wei, this minimal change can make the difference in your overall health.

“The reason that earlier dinner time is beneficial is because it allows more time for food and liquids to be digested and leave the stomach, so that once a child goes to sleep and lays flat, there is less chance of backwash, or “reflux” that may come up into the throat to trigger cough, a natural reflex and response by the body to protect one from having stuff go into the windpipe,” explains Wei.

After years of treating pediatric patients similar to Allison, Wei began to notice a trend.

“Every clinic day I meet children who are otherwise healthy but living with upper airway issues for months and weeks,” explains Wei. “I started consistently talking to families about their children’s eating and drinking habits, about what they eat and equally important, when they eat, especially in the evenings.”

Wei documented her findings and came to the conclusion that dairy and sugar eaten too close to bedtime or before lying down often create reflux or backwash in the throat that causes irritation, coughing and chronic nasal congestion. Many patients had been prescribed acid-blocker medications to treat these symptoms, but Wei truly believes that medication is not the answer, as often symptoms persist despite medication, she says.

“Even if natural stomach acid production is blocked, excessive dairy and sugar will lead to a stomach full of acidic content resulting in reflux as well as associated symptoms,” says Wei.

Wei realizes that perfect nutrition isn’t possible every day (she admits to battling a late-night Cheetos addiction at times), but she wants people to recognize the effects of what they are eating and when they are eating it, especially children.

“Life is busy all of the time,” says Wei who, despite working full-time and being a full-time mother, is determined to cook for her family five or six days a week. “But more children are like this today than there used to be.”

Lynn & Allison Crist with Dr. Julie Wei.

She recently wrote a book titled A Healthier Wei which is available online at ahealthierwei.com. In it, Wei describes meeting with patients who were taking an array of prescriptions to treat their symptoms, including antibiotics, antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. They had no improvement to show for it. She explains how she treated and healed many of them by prescribing diet changes that included the elimination of dairy and sugar, especially in the evenings.

“I’m just offering the chance for parents to empower themselves through diet,” says Wei. “Save the junk food for after school or even on the weekends.”

In her book, Wei describes “Milk & Cookie Disease”TM — the phrase that she used when talking to the Crist family. Wei coined the phrase to make a comment that common comfort foods for children, such as dairy and sugar, are anything but benign.

“The world is flat until it is round,” says Wei. “What I’m suggesting for parents won’t harm or starve their child.”

Dr. Wei will be giving presentations and signing copies of A Healthier Wei at the following locations in January:

Saturday, January 19th, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Blue Koi Restaurant
10581 Mission Road
Leawood, Kan.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 6:30 p.m.
Whole Foods Market 
6621 W. 119th St.
Overland Park, Kan.

In fact, Wei worked with her sister Nancy, a registered dietician and nutritionist, to include recipes, cooking tips and grocery shopping suggestions in her book. She’s also been known to cruise the supermarket aisles with a patient and his or her family to teach them what foods contain fiber and how to read a nutrition label.

Wei recognizes that not all ear, nose and throat issues are related to diet, but she does recommend that suspect patients eliminate dairy and sugar and subscribe to her philosophy of “The Kitchen is Closed” almost two hours prior to bedtime if possible.

After following her recommendations for dietary changes for four to six weeks, Wei usually meets with patients to determine if symptoms are resolved, or if medications, further testing, or surgeries are the next step. She says, that like other physicians, she was trained to treat illness and not health.

Wei acknowledges that dietary habit changes may not always lead to immediate results, and they don’t always work.

However, for people like Allison, A Heathier Wei has made all the difference.

“I barely cough now,” says Allison. “It’s really great.”

For more information, visit kumed.com or call (913) 588-1227. Call (913) 588-6701 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Wei. 


Dietary Tips To Try

Dr. Wei offers these tips in A Healthier Wei to encourage parents to explore dietary connections related to their children’s ear, nose and throat problems if traditional medications aren’t working.

•  Talk to your doctor if medications prescribed
for your child’s symptoms are not working.
Ask your doctor how long your child should continue to take the prescribed medication(s). How will the doctor determine if and when your child can stop any of the medications he/she is on?

•  Stop bedtime snacks including all beverages
other than water. Toddlers and children need to avoid drinking milk, juice, soda or any
beverage other than water to avoid “backwash” into the throat during sleep.

•  Avoid or minimize dairy and sugar in the evenings. Dairy and sugar both lead to increased acidity in the stomach as well as delayed gastric emptying time, resulting in slow digestion, indigestion and reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux and laryngopharyngeal reflux may lead to problems during sleep and even into the next day such as coughing, stuffy nose and sore throat.

•  Choose snacks carefully. If your child must eat after dinner or before bed, offer bananas or dry crackers, and avoid foods containing dairy and sugar. Some foods are more acidic than others and more likely to cause reflux. In addition to avoiding dairy and sugar, also avoid chocolate, soda, citrus fruits and orange juice. Even fresh fruits such as grapes and berries are highly acidic … instead eat cantaloupe, pears, bananas and oatmeal.

•  Treat your child’s constipation — don’t ignore it.
If the body is constipated, then the digestive process takes even longer and increases the risk of reflux of stomach contents back up into the esophagus and even throat. Talk to your child’s primary physician about how to best treat constipation.

To order a copy of Wei’s book, A Healthier Wei or to view Wei’s documentary trailer, “The Kitchen is Closed,” visit ahealthierwei.com.