By Wendy Sarubbi | December 10, 2014 3:57 pm

Children’s constant runny noses may be the “Milk and Cookie” disease, caused by too much dairy and sugar especially before bed, an ear, nose and throat specialist told a UCF College of Medicine audience December 8. Speaking at the second Health and Wellness Series at the college, Dr. Julie Wei of Nemours Children’s Hospital said consuming dairy and sugar just before bed can cause children to have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. That can cause heartburn and also increased mucus and sore throats – symptoms of the common cold, she said.

Children with such symptoms are often misdiagnosed as having sinus infections and allergies. “In my practice, I was repeatedly seeing things wrong with kids,” Dr. Wei said in explaining how she arrived at the Milk and Cookie disease diagnosis. “How can a human being that’s not physically sick have these symptoms every day?”

Over her years of practice, Dr. Wei noticed her young patients were downing sugary drinks and milk all day long, right up until bedtime. She hypothesized that lying down at night with so much dairy and sugar in their stomachs caused the reflux symptoms, and when she directed parents to significantly reduce milk intake, especially before bedtime, the symptoms abated.

One child was visiting the emergency room at least three times a month with severe wheezing in the middle of the night. Dr. Wei learned the boy was drinking chocolate milk all day long and at bedtime and suggested the parents stop the practice. The child is now living without those severe symptoms. “It is critical for us to teach the current and next future generations of physicians that health is not achievable if we don’t always, always include nutrition and dietary counseling as part of our standard intake, evaluation and management,” she said.

Some families may wonder how growing children will get enough calcium if they stop drinking milk. “I’m not completely dairy free, I’m not completely sugar free—we all have the things we love,” Dr. Wei said, noting that many other foods like soy milk, greens and nuts are rich sources of calcium.

The Health and Wellness Series is sponsored by the College of Medicine’s new Health and Wellness Committee. One of the group’s leaders, Interim Associate Dean for Research Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, is conducting nutritional research with Dr. Wei and invited her to speak at the event. “The College of Medicine is not only concerned about its students and employees,” he said, “but also their families, their children and their friends.”

Family education is one of Dr. Wei’s priorities as she wants to inform parents about hidden sugars in foods that are marketed as healthy – such as high-sugar fruited yogurts and fruit juices. “Empowering families is the only real solution,” Dr. Wei said. “Processed food with a picture of a healthy toddler on it, what message does that convey?” She advises parents to read nutrition labels, and don’t fall for “sugar free” or “100% juice” claims in marketing materials. The World Health Organization recommends the average person should consume less than 25 grams of sugar per day, yet many yogurts deliver more than half that amount.

Dr. Wei is working to spread the word about her findings through her published book, A Healthier Wei and appearances on national talk shows like “The Doctors.” Her ideas about the causes of disease include Eastern Medicine concepts for looking closer at internal causes for ailments. Dr. Wei hopes that more physicians will begin to look at why patients are experiencing certain symptoms, instead of just writing prescriptions that don’t fix the real cause. “The solution to the U.S. healthcare crisis cannot always be focused on medications and surgeries,” she said. “This is where I want to start a revolution.”

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