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Is your gut health impacting your energy?

“All disease begins in the gut” – Hippocrates.

For many nutritionists and naturopaths this is a guiding principle in our practice and it’s a core value at The A Life.

When we understand that all disease begins in the gut, we can apply the second principle  from Hippocrates “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”. Thankfully this Greek physician not only told us the root cause, but he’s provided us with a fairly simple solution – Nutrition.

While we know that all disease begins in the gut, we also know that our energy is a direct reflection of our gut health and is often seen alongside most disease states. In clinic we are seeing a lot of clients that are expressing feelings and symptoms of having low energy.

So how does the gut directly influence our energy? And what exactly is our “energy”?

Energy – more than the calories you eat

We’ve long understood that:

Food = calories

Calories = fuel

Fuel = energy

Which, on a basic level is true..

But if we dive a little bit deeper – which is something we like to do here at The A Life – then we uncover that our gut and it’s microbiota have a huge part to play in how much energy we have, where our energy comes from and how our gut health also impacts our mood and sleep, which – yep you guessed it – also impacts your energy!

Our Energy Currency:

ATP (or Adenosine triphosphate) is known as our molecular unit of currency or intracellular energy transfer. Our macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates – are our primary sources of calories. From these we derive glucose, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and our micronutrients vitamins and minerals, all of which play an essential role in the production of ATP.

Insufficient levels of these essential nutrients, means that we aren’t able to adequately produces the energy that our body needs to get through the basic metabolic needs, let alone the energy we need to sustain our work, life and families.

The gut’s role:

Before we even address the foods we eat in a day, we need to address the gut’s health. Even the healthiest diet could fall short, if the gut is weakened by intestinal dysbiosis, permeability or parasites.

Gut microbiota supports energy production through the metabolism of macronutrients. The bacteria itself also produce B vitamins which play a key role in the metabolism of food. Our gut also works with the body on a broader level to keep blood sugar balanced helping to stabilising energy throughout the day.

Factors that influence gut health and energy production:

Intestinal dysbiosis; an imbalance of good and bad bacterial, or simply an over growth of one bacteria, impacts the harmony in the gut. So called “bad bacterial” release bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS) which causes intestinal permeability. New research has shown that these LPS travel in the blood stream to the brain, creating the same permeability in the blood brain barrier (a protective layer to keep out toxins and large molecules).

Leaky gut = leaky brain causing brain fog, impaired cognitive function and memory and low mood which all influence your energy.

Intestinal Permeability (IP): LPS is just one of the factors causing intestinal permeability. Food intolerances is another significant factor with gluten, dairy and fructose being the main culprits. Where there is irritation to the gut, we find localised and systemic inflammation. As a result larger molecules are released into the blood, when they shouldn’t be, and it becomes the immune systems responsibility to eliminate them. Intestinal permeability directly affects our digestion and absorption of nutrients and malnutrition can result. 

Lacking essential nutrients including B vitamins, CoQ10, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese directly influences our energy and energy currency production.

Gut-Brain Axis

We know that the LPS produced in our gut can cause leaky brain, but what we are also coming to realise is that there is a two way connect between the gut and the brain.

The brain gives instruction to the gut, as much as it receives messages from the gut in return.

A large portion of our neurotransmitters are produced in our gut. These include:

  • Serotonin: known for being the happy feel-good neurotransmitter. The gut produces approximately 90% of our serotonin, which regulates our mood, memory, appetite and sleep. A deficiency in serotonin has been lined with depression, obesity and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Dopamine: controls the brains reward and pleasure centres; regulating movement and emotional response. Approximately 50 per cent of the bodies dopamine lies in the gut and low levels have been associated with Parkinson’s Disease and addiction disorders.
  • GABA: is the inhibitor neurotransmitter that results from the metabolism of the amino acid glutamine. It’s calming on the nervous system and keeps us in a relaxed and happy state. However before glutamine is metabolised to produce GABA it first must produce glutamate an excitatory neurotransmitter. Inadequate B6 levels sees a decrease in the production in GABA causing an imbalance of these neurotransmitters. Under stressful conditions, such as inflammation or immune upregulation, glutamate activity increases causing anxiety and impacts energy.

Poor gut health can impact the production of these neurotransmitters and other essential micronutrients that support conditions of anxiety and depression. These mood disorders can impact our will power, motivation and confidence, which significantly impacts the energy we have to get about our day.


One of the most common things we tell our clients is to maintain 2 litres of water daily. Dehydration is linked with a number of health conditions and directly impacts our energy. As our brain comprises of 80 per cent water, it becomes a pool (literally) of water to draw upon when dehydration occurs.

The slightest deficiency in water can lead to brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, confusion and brain shrinkage.

So it’s important to keep the brain hydrated!

Our diet

Once we identify what’s impacting our gut health, eliminate food triggers and work on repairing permeability we turn to the diet to ensure its delivering us with the nutrients we need for optimal health.

On the most part people feel more energised when they eliminate gluten from their diet, cut back on caffeine and sugar, and up their intake of a range of veggies, proteins and good fats.

What we do know is, that our gut is the site of digestion and the vehicle for absorption of nutrients from food. If there is a kink in the chain of our digestive system and there is inadequate digestion and absorption, it directly impacts our ability to fight illness, regulate weight and balance energy, among other functions.

If you are experiencing:

  • Brain fog or impaired cognitive function
  • Low mood
  • Low energy
  • Lethargy, tiredness or the 3pm slump…

… then your gut could be at the root cause of these symptoms.

Annalise Maddrell (Resident Nutritionist)

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