Elevated liver enzymes can indicate a problem in the liver. However, eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising are some of the ways a person can lower liver enzyme levels.

The liver contains different enzymes, such as alanine transaminase (ALT), that help the body function properly. When these enzymes exceed their normal levels, the liver begins to malfunction, affecting a person’s overall well-being.

This article looks at how to reduce liver enzyme levels and what happens when they are high. It also covers the major causes of high liver enzymes and the effect this has on the body.

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Many factors could lead to high liver enzymes, so it is important to tell a doctor as soon as symptoms arise. Aside from that, there are other things to try that may help lower liver enzymes.

Drink coffee

A 2017 review found that coffee may protect the liver by lowering liver enzymes.

Another study from 2017 found that drinking 1 to 4 cups of coffee daily can lower liver enzymes, particularly ALT levels, which reduces the risk of liver disease and cancer.

Increase folate consumption

Introducing folate-rich food to the diet and taking folic acid supplements can help lower elevated liver enzymes.

One 2016 study linked folate deficiency with increased ALT levels and liver damage and found that folic acid reduced ALT levels in people with liver damage.

Examples of folate-rich food include:

  • dark leafy greens
  • bananas
  • nuts
  • beans
  • seafood
  • eggs
  • dairy

A person can also take a folate supplement if they find it difficult to get sufficient amounts through their diet.

Exercise more

A 2015 study found that 8 weeks of aerobic training and resistance exercise helped in reducing hepatic fat content and elevated liver enzymes in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Eat healthier

Eating a balanced diet can help in lowering elevated liver enzymes, which reduces the risk of getting a liver disease.

In 2019, a clinical trial found that consuming a low sugar diet for 8 weeks reduced liver enzymes in adolescent boys with NAFLD compared with those on a standard diet.

Generally, cutting down on fats and carbohydrates can help in preventing NAFLD, which is a common cause of high liver enzymes.

Stop smoking

A 2020 study found that people who smoked had a higher risk of liver disease or cancer.

Older research also reports that smoking can increase levels of the liver enzymes gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP), which leads to liver damage.

Reduce alcohol consumption

Cutting down on alcohol or giving up alcohol altogether can improve a person’s liver enzyme count, even in the short term.

According to a 2018 study, giving up alcohol for as little as 1 month may significantly reduce levels of GGT.

Liver enzymes are substances that hasten chemical reactions in the body. Some of these chemical reactions include the secretion of bile and other substances to help with blood clotting, the breakdown of toxins and food, and the response to infections. Examples of these liver enzymes are:

  • alanine transaminase (ALT)
  • alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • aspartate transaminase (AST)
  • gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT)

When the liver sustains an injury, it releases its enzymes — mostly ALT or AST — into the bloodstream. An excess of these enzymes can hinder the body’s functioning.

Having elevated liver enzymes means the level of liver enzymes in the blood is higher than normal.

Although these high levels could be temporary, they may indicate that a person may have underlying medical conditions such as hepatitis or liver disease. Also, some drugs, such as acetaminophen, can cause elevated liver enzymes.

A doctor may check a person’s liver enzyme level if there are signs of a liver injury, disease, or damage. The doctor will usually check these enzymes through a liver function test (LFT).

An LFT is a blood test that screens the liver for infections such as hepatitis, determines how well a treatment is working, and checks the side effects of medications.

However, LFTs typically only include AST, ALT, ALP, total bilirubin, and albumin and do not determine the cause of elevated liver enzymes.

If the result of an LFT shows that a person has elevated liver enzymes, a doctor will try to determine the possible causes. They may also carry out other tests that give more details on the person’s lifestyle and eating habits.

According to research, fatty liver disease is the most common cause of elevated liver enzymes, occurring in about 25–51% of people who receive a diagnosis of high liver enzymes.

Other health conditions that may cause high liver enzymes include:

Some less common causes of high liver enzymes include:

Some medications, such as pain killers (acetaminophen), can cause high liver enzymes. Although high liver enzymes are asymptomatic, the causes may contribute to the signs and symptoms.

Non-liver causes

Sometimes, an elevated liver enzyme count may be due to a non-liver condition, such as:

  • heart attack
  • hypothyroidism
  • heart failure
  • polymyositis (inflammation of the muscles)

A high level of liver enzymes could stem from various conditions, such as liver disease, liver injury, or the side effect of a medication. High liver enzymes may also be temporary.

Talk with a doctor if a liver function test shows a high liver enzyme level. A doctor can discuss with a person the possible causes of their high liver enzymes and how best to tackle them.

A person is at a greater risk of liver damage or injury if their liver enzyme levels are high. There are various underlying conditions that can influence liver health.

For this reason, doctors use a special blood test — an LFT — to check for signs of elevated liver enzymes.

Having high liver enzymes does not typically produce symptoms, which is why doctors may check for symptoms of other conditions known to increase liver enzyme levels.

If a person’s LFT result is positive, then the doctor will determine the cause and recommend the right treatments for the diagnosis.