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How to Stay Well in the Winter: Our Family’s Protocol

My daughter eating her avocado and drinking her smoothie to stay healthy!
My daughter eating her avocado and drinking her smoothie to stay healthy in the winter!

Sometimes the rituals that we do to keep ourselves from getting sick can seem almost like superstitions – like not washing a sports jersey so that our favorite team will win or not opening an umbrella indoors to avoid bad luck. Do the simple, preventive measures  that we take to stay healthy really make a difference in whether or not we catch a cold or fall prey to the flu?


For me, I like to make my choices based on both scientific findings AND on the anecdotal experiences of others, as well as trusting my own intuition and experience. Though we do a lot of different things in our family to stay well (it’s hard for me to know which ones make the most difference), I will say this: since we’ve changed our food habits and started using natural immune-building foods and supplements, we get sick way less often. In fact, the only sickness our kindergartener has had this year is one short cold that did not even keep her home from school. This seems quite a feat for kindergarten, which is notorious for bringing home lots of new sicknesses to the child and her family.


Our Family’s Plan for Staying Healthy in the Winter:

  • We eat nutrient-dense foods every day.

    In our family, we focus especially on eating garlic, onions, greens, nuts, seeds, bone broth, and fresh fruits and veggies. Keeping our vitamin and minerals stores replenished helps all of our systems to function well.

  • We limit our intake of processed foods and sugar.

    Through processing at high temperatures, bleaching, extrusion of grains, and additional preparation processes, these foods have been stripped of their nutrient content. In fact, this means that these foods must “steal” nutrients (like calcium, magnesium, and B12) from our reserves in order to be digested by our bodies. This mineral loss continues at a rate 300% higher than normal for 12 hours after eating processed sugar (research by Dr. Joel Wallach). This leaves us with depleted mineral and vitamin stores and makes us more susceptible to whatever is “going around.” Additionally, sugar reduces the effectiveness of our white blood cells – especially the macrophages for at least 5 hours after consuming it (see reference). Remembering these points about sugar can help us to make careful choices at this time of year when “treats” are everywhere. In our family, we try to make most of our treats from scratch (with natural sweeteners – that DO have vitamins and minerals in them), and we limit our intake of other sweets.

  • We take vitamin C every day.

    Phagocytes and t cells (which help to fight off invaders) need vitamin C for their functioning. There is some data to show that taking vitamin C and zinc helps to reduce the duration and severity of respiratory illness (see reference). My mom, who owned a health food store when I was a child, instilled in me the habit of taking vitamin C and upping the dosage and frequency when I started to feel sick.

  • We take a fish oil. 

    Fish oil has an immune-boosting effect. I have seen many people experience better immunity after including a daily fish oil supplement. (see reference)

  • We include probiotics in our daily routines.

    Some foods we include are raw apple cider vinegar, yogurt with live & active cultures, and homemade sauerkraut. A large percentage of our immune system is governed by the microorganisms that live in our guts. Nourishing them and replenishing them has a profound effect on our health. We also take a probiotic supplement. (article to learn more)

  • We use organic coconut oil for lotion on dry skin.

    This is better than an anti-bacterial hand treatment. It moisturizes and naturally keeps bacteria, viruses, and fungi in check).

  • If one of us feels we are starting to get sick, we step it up. 

    We take the following measures one at a time, moving up to the “next level,” if we are starting to get worse.

o   We LOVE Christa Orecchio’s Nature’s Flu Shot recipe: http://thewholejourney.com/natures-flu-shot-pineapple-ginger-juice.

o   We increase our intake of antimicrobial and immune-building foods, like fresh citrus, garlic, and ginger. Here’s a great post on the benefits of fresh ginger and a recipe for ginger tea: https://www.healthambition.com/health-benefits-of-ginger/.

o   Vitamin D drops.

o   We use essential oils in coconut oil or olive oil as a carrier oil (usually a immune-building or respiratory blend).

o   REST – take a nap or at least sit or lie down. We make choices that allow us to “take it easy” for the rest of the day – a simple nourishing meal (most likely a simple soup made with homemade bone broth), sitting and reading books with the kids instead of physical activities, and going to bed early).

o   For the adults – a few drops of oregano oil mixed into water.

UPDATE (Winter 2017): We have collected quite a few other items in our natural medicine cabinet over the years. I like having options on hand that can help me prevent a full-blown illness or a doctor’s visit. Here are a few of my current favorites: elderberry tincture (echinacea root, elderberries, ginger rhizome), elderberry syrup, olive leaf complex, herbal teas for different purposes (cough relief, upset stomach, immune support, etc.), homeopathic medicines (I have ones for specific symptoms – like a croupy cough, earache, etc.). We are also part of a local herbal group where we get a share of local herbal products every month and learn about the medicinal use of herbs. When I notice an illness is getting worse, I will use Biocidin (by BioBotanical Research) or colloidal silver (my last effort before using an antibiotic, as it has a similar affect on the microflora as an antibiotic has).

  • We use massage and chiropractic to support the immune system. 

    I also think it’s important to “get things moving” in the body. I am a Thai bodywork practitioner, and I have seen and experienced great effects from supporting the body physically – through touch – when a person is starting to get sick/already sick.

o   I tend to focus first on massaging the back of the neck/base of the skull gently, and then deeper. Then, I massage the head and back and arms gently, encouraging any stagnation to flow by making gentle sweeping motions from the center of the body outward toward the extremities. (Maybe I’ll have to do a video on this!).

o   Also, we sometimes go to a light-touch chiropractor, which helps very similarly in creating movement through the body and supporting the body in healing itself. If I feel like I’m starting to get sick and it’s a particularly busy and stressful time when I know I won’t get much rest, this is the best way I know to see a quick difference.

  • Finally, we try to take time for self-awareness.

The times when I have experienced the worst illnesses or seen them in my family have been when there was something deeper going on – emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes, it has been a time when one of us was stressed or busy for an extended period of time or when we were feeling an emotional weight from something going on in our lives. Several times, I have found that an illness “slowed me down” enough to pray or hear God or tune into my intuition. At times, I am certain that the illness has been a manifestation of my intuition or of God speaking to me.

Remember to Think Holistically and Be Persistent in Your Efforts

As is our way at Sweet Water Offering, we invite you to think holistically about your health this holiday season. Even with colds and flus, our bodies, minds and spirits are all involved. Also, remember to be persistent with your natural support. Some people take one vitamin C or one dose of fish oil and say it didn’t work for them. Natural treatments often take more time and consistency as they build up your body’s own ability to fight off disease and restore balance. A stronger effort at natural immunity at the onset of an illness is especially important.

Next week, Katie will be sharing more about how caring for yourself in this busy season can support your immune system.


Disclaimer: All information provided will be intended for educational uses only, and is not to be taken as medical advice. We are fellow travelers on this journey of health. We are here to support you through education and support groups. We are not doctors, and we are not trying to take on that role. It is always important that you consult your health care professional before making major dietary changes and before using herbs or natural remedies, in the case that it may do harm to your body or conflict with medication.

My name is Candace McCallister. I am the founder of Sweet Water Offering, a holistic health enterprise to support women and families to heal naturally. My background is in biology, counseling, bodywork, and nutrition. My husband and I are helping to start an intentional Christian community in Little Rock, AR. We have three lively and beautiful children.


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