Woman sneezing

Respiratory tract infections are the most common illnesses in the Western world, and involve diverse symptoms including nasal stuffiness or runny nose, sore throat, headaches, cough and fever. Most children get up to 9 bouts per year, while adults experience 2-5 episodes. Your best defense is a good offense. If you aren’t interested in hibernating without any social contact during fall and winter, here’s what you need to know to stay as healthy as possible:


When it comes to protecting your body from cold and flu viruses, the best defense is to make pathogens feel unwelcome, and that involves creating an alkaline environment in your body. Our blood is naturally slightly alkaline, with a normal pH around 7.45. Unfortunately, modern diets tend to promote excess acidity, and bacteria and viruses thrive in acidic environments.

Foods That Promote Alkalinity

Foods that promote alkalinity and vibrant health include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts, and legumes. Generally, foods that promote acidity include processed foods, meats and sugar. Regular, moderate exercise coupled with stress-busting deep breathing also promote alkalinity.

Boost Your Immunity with Food

Along with an alkaline diet, it’s important to feed your immune system, particularly through the winter months. Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your digestive tract, allowing you to support it every time you eat! For added protection, be sure to include probiotics. Translated from Greek to mean ‘pro-life,’ probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh and natto as well as in supplement form. Not only do probiotics improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, they also help to crowd out undesirable bacteria that can cause problems. Look for probiotics supplements containing fructo-oligosaccardies (FOS) plus Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium in the refrigerated section of your favourite natural health products department or store.


When a cold or flu strikes, be sure to keep hydrated. This not only helps to flush out the pathogens, but also helps to keep all of your cells from becoming dehydrated. Drink a glass of water after every bathroom visit, plus additional fluids including herbal teas. Enjoy hot water with lemon or lime juice, as these fruits provide natural anti-viral and antibacterial properties.

Give Your Digestive System a Rest

When fighting an infection, ease your body’s workload by choosing foods that are nutrient-dense and easy to digest, including soups, vegetable juices and smoothies. Limit your intake of dairy products including milk, cream and cheese as these promote mucous.

Relax and Sleep:

Chronic stress, lack of sleep, medications, alcohol and caffeine cause adrenal insufficiency, leading to a decline in the steroid hormone DHEA and disrupted output of the stress hormone cortisol. One result of this is lowered immunity. Adaptogenic plants help build the immune system, and increase resistance to stress. Look for supplemental Astragalus, and Eleutherococcus to support the body’s inherent vitality and intention; they also contain anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and antioxidant properties.

Stimulate Your Lymphatic System

To stimulate your lymphatic system and promote detoxification and elimination, try alternating warm and cool showers: 3 rounds of cool/cold water, 30 seconds each time, ending with cool. This process enhances detoxification and elimination, while encouraging blood flow to organs, bringing nutrients, and oxygen that help to stimulate your natural, vital force.

In Canada, the shorter daylight hours and angle from the sun in fall and winter severely decreases our ability to synthesize vitamin D. For prevention of cold and flu, take 2000 IU of immune-boosting D daily.


For symptom relief if a cold or flu does strike, increase vitamin D intake to 4,000 IU daily, as it rapidly destroys the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, and viruses including the influenza virus at this dosage. Including echinacea at the first signs of illness can decrease intensity and duration of symptoms.

From fall to spring, be conscious of thoroughly washing hands, and make it a habit for everyone in the family to wash up as soon as they get home.


Lisa Petty, PhD

Lisa Petty, PhD, is a midlife mentor and well-being strategist who helps women release the pressure to be everything to everyone so they can take care of their own well-being—without guilt. Dr. Petty helps women move through midlife uncertainty to emerge re-energized, with a redefined sense of who they are and what they want.