Elevated liver enzymes: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Elevated liver enzymes: Causes, symptoms, and treatmentOur liver is an important organ that is responsible for many functions in the body. When it becomes damaged, we feel ill, but symptoms may often be confused with other illnesses.

Elevated liver enzymes may indicate a problem with the liver. When the liver is inflamed, it releases more chemicals than normal, which can be seen in a blood test.


You can lower elevated liver enzymes naturally, but first let’s examine elevated liver enzymes and what they mean for your health.

Common liver enzymes are alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST). Normal levels of ALT should be five to 40 units per liter of serum. Normal levels of AST are seven to 56 units per liter of serum. These enzymes are biomarkers doctors use to determine the health of the liver. The doctors use a blood panel to measure the levels.

Causes and symptoms of high liver enzymes

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Considered the most common reason for a person to develop elevated liver enzymes as found on a blood test. As the name suggests, this condition can occur in those who do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol. NAFLD is characterized by the storage of too much fat in liver cells. Healthy livers only have about 5–10 percent fat in them, while those suffer from NAFLD can have significantly higher numbers. NAFLD is estimated to affect nearly 25–30 percent of the American population.

Medications (prescription or over the counter)

Many of the drugs we use, prescribed by a doctor or not, can cause an overload on the liver resulting in elevated liver enzymes. Acute liver injury is a common occurrence, and one of the signs doctors use to decide to which to an alternative medication. Some of these medications may include statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs; tetracyclines, an antibiotic used in patients who are allergic to penicillin; and anti-seizure medications, among others. Common over-the-counter medication leading to liver damage includes acetaminophen (Tylenol), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.

Alcohol abuse

Sustained regular alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on the liver, leading it to become damaged. This is because the chemicals found in alcohol are difficult to break down causing your liver to work extra hard. Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol often lead to fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, or even alcoholic hepatitis. However, fatty liver is usually reversible if caught early and stopping the consumption of alcohol. Chronic alcohol liver damage can lead to liver failure and even death.

Viral hepatitis

Infections including hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV), or hepatitis C (HCV) are usually present with elevated liver enzymes. These infections can lead to inflammation of the liver presenting with symptoms of fatigue, abdominal pain, darkening of the urine, and jaundice. Some types of hepatitis can go undiagnosed for years and only present with non-specific symptoms such as chronic fatigue.

Autoimmune hepatitis

A condition of the body where the immune system attacks your own liver cells. This often leads to the liver becoming inflamed, causing elevated liver enzymes. The cause of this autoimmune disease is not known but appears to have genetic and environmental influences. Patients may present with symptoms of fatigue, abdominal discomfort, anorexia, myalgia, and edema.


Commonly referred to as “mono” or the “kissing disease,” this condition is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and is commonly transferred through kissing. The condition may also be caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV) in some cases. Symptoms typically include swollen lymph glands, a sore throat, and high fever. Many cases of mono involve the liver and possibly cause it to become enlarged or inflamed, leading to elevated liver enzymes.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy), sometimes called sprue, is a condition in which certain individuals have developed a damaging immune reaction whenever they consume gluten; a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The immune reaction occurs in the small intestine and over time damages the intestinal lining, leading to malabsorption of essential nutrients, weight loss, fatigue, bloating and anemia. Celiac patients often have elevated liver enzymes.

Wilson disease

A rate genetic condition caused by a mutation in the Wilson disease gene. It is characterized by copper accumulation in the liver as well as the brain. Having excess copper in the body can lead to liver damage and a subsequent elevation of liver enzymes. Symptoms typically present at a young age and include vomiting, fatigue, fluid buildup in the abdomen and legs, jaundice, itchiness, and swelling in the legs.


Pancreatitis is a condition whereby inflammation has overtaken it, leading for this organ to not function as it should. There are a number of different causes for pancreatitis, such as alcoholism and gallstones, but sometimes the nature of the condition is never found. Pancreatitis often leads one to be admitted to the hospital. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include nausea, vomiting, and pain in the upper abdomen. Elevated liver enzymes are often a feature of this condition.

Liver cancer

A cancer of the liver cells, with the most common type being hepatocellular carcinoma. However, it is important to note that the majority of liver cancers are by metastasis, with a cancer elsewhere in the body spreading to the liver. Elevated liver enzymes are a common attribute of liver cancer.

Tips to lower elevated liver enzymes

A healthy diet can work wonders on the liver, just like how a bad diet can harm it. When we consume fatty foods and alcohol, these get processed in the liver, making it work harder. When we eat liver-friendly foods, the liver doesn’t have to work as hard and can continue to keep us healthy.

If you want a healthy liver and want to reduce elevated liver enzymes, cut down on your alcohol intake, or eliminate it completely. Stay away from processed, fatty, and sugary food items as these weigh heavily on the liver. Red meat, spices, and oil should also be limited, as these, too, can impact the liver negatively.

You can also adjust your diet to help lower your liver enzymes. Make sure you drink enough water. Below is a list of foods you should incorporate into your diet in order to lower elevated liver enzymes.

  • Foods high in antioxidants
  • Foods high in fiber
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cruciferous vegetables

Avoid foods that can harm your liver. Instead, opt for fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein. Eating healthy can help lower elevated liver enzymes and protect your liver in the long run.

Manage your diet: This often means eating a diet high in green vegetables, foods high in fiber, foods with antioxidant properties, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, Brussels sprouts, and even horseradish to help rebalance liver enzymes.

Drink water: Consuming at least eight glasses of water a day is the best way to aid your liver to flush out harm bodily toxins.

Skip the alcohol: The easiest way to damage your liver and one that should be enjoyed responsibly. Cutting alcohol from your diet completely will ensure your liver is not negatively affected by alcohol

Watch your medication: A possible culprit of liver damage, it is important to read all warning labels before you take any medication. It is also recommended to speak to your doctor when in doubt.


Mind your environment: It may be possible that harsh chemicals around you may be contributing to your elevated liver enzymes. It is a good idea to know what you are using when using household cleaning chemicals and to avoid harmful fumes from second-hand smoke or paint.

Go natural: Choosing to add natural herbs to your diet can be a great way to promote health. Dandelion and milk thistle help reduce inflammation and may even stimulate the liver to restore any damage.

Infographic: Understanding Elevated Liver Enzymes


Related Reading:

Fatty liver and abdominal obesity independently linked to snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods: Study

Bile function and liver: Foods that help increase bile production