The liver is the body’s largest internal organ, and is one of the few organs with limited regenerative power. It has many essential functions. It detoxifies your blood, handles cellular waste, produces proteins that help with clotting, stores vitamins, processes nutrients, and helps your body make glucose. However, the liver can become strained with overuse. Elevated liver enzymes are a symptom of overuse, but simple dietary and lifestyle changes can lower liver enzyme levels back to a healthy balance.
Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes
Lifestyle contributors such as obesity and drinking alcohol can impair the liver’s optimal functioning and cause elevated liver enzymes.
Many medications, particularly those for cholesterol, and acetaminophen-based pain relievers can also cause levels to rise.
Partly because the liver performs so many essential functions, it is prone to a number of different diseases. There are a wide variety of diseases that can cause elevated liver enzymes.
- Hepatitis viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E all have different causes. However, each different type of hepatitis infection taxes the liver.
- Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): fats such as triglycerides and cholesterol accumulate in the liver.
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Other infections that burden the liver include mononucleosis, adenoviruses, and cytomegalovirus.
- Autoimmune hepatitis, inflammation resulting from an autoimmune condition
- Cirrhosis or the late-stage scarring of the liver
- Inflamed gallbladder or pancreas
- Cancer that is often related to previous viral infections and liver cirrhosis
Symptoms of Liver Disease
There is no single list of symptoms that point to liver disease, because the liver is involved in so many different processes. However, every liver disorder has both unique and shared symptoms. These symptoms include;
- Dark yellow or reddish urine color
- Chronic fatigue
- Pale or bloody stools
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Yellowish skin and eyes
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- A tendency to bruise easily
- Dry mouth and increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor for a physical exam, and provide him/her with a complete medical history and description of your symptoms. Your doctor will also order a Liver Function Test (LFT) analysis of a blood sample. The LFT will test for the levels of various liver enzymes and proteins. Some of these enzyme tests include:
- AST (Aspartate aminotransferase): AST levels are analyzed to determine the likelihood of acute or chronic hepatitis.
- ALT (Alanine aminotransferase): ALT is used to detect and follow the progress of hepatitis and liver injury. High levels are found in those with alcoholism, viral hepatitis, and diabetes.
- The ratio between AST/ALT levels is often used to tell if liver disease is due to infection, inflammation, or alcohol use.
- LD (Lactic dehydrogenase): LD (sometimes known as LDH) is used along with the other LFT values to monitor treatment of liver and other disorders. High levels are seen in various liver diseases, anemias, kidney disease, and infections.
- GGT (Gamma-glutamyl transferase): With ALP, can be used to distinguish between liver and bone disease. GGT is also useful to help determine alcohol history; it is increased in about 75% of chronic alcoholics.
- ALP (Alkaline phosphatase): Can help diagnose bone disease, liver disease and gallbladder disorders.
Normal Range of Liver Enzymes
The two most straightforward liver enzymes to test for and evaluate are AST and ALT. The normal ranges for these liver enzymes are:
- AST: 5-40 units per liter of serum
- ALT: 7-56 units per liter of serum
How to Lower Liver Enzymes
1. Drink Enough Water
Water is a natural detoxifier because it helps flush toxins from the body, including the liver. Drinking enough water will help your liver flush out waste products, reducing its work burden. Drink eight to ten 8 oz. glasses of water every day.
Choose fresh, clean, plain water, and if you’re going to add anything to it, choose apple cider vinegar and lemon—these will both further help detoxify the liver. Take special care to drink water at the following times:
- When you wake up
- Before and during meals
- Before and after physical activity
- Right before you go to bed
2. Limit Alcohol
Drinking alcohol is one of the easiest ways to damage your liver, so if you are trying to lower your enzyme levels it is better to skip alcohol entirely. Remember that the liver has to work overtime to filter it from your system.
Chronic alcohol use damages the liver and a damaged liver won’t filter toxic substances from the body as efficiently as it normally does. This damage causes the liver to leak high liver enzymes into the bloodstream; therefore, stopping drinking is critical to your health. However, if it is hard to stop at first, reduce the amount of alcohol you drink to 8 glasses per week.
3. Reduce Environmental Toxins
Toxins enter the body through the skin and everyday products such as chemical cleaners, sunscreens, perfumes, personal hygiene products, detergents, disinfectants, and even second-hand cigarette smoke all contain toxic ingredients that can greatly impair the liver. Try going green and use chemical-free products made from natural ingredient
4. Avoid Pain Relievers
Your doctor will help you monitor any prescription meds, but it is best to skip pain relievers until you speak with a doctor. Over-the-counter pain relievers containing acetaminophen and ibuprofen can damage your liver and make the situation worse. Try to avoid these medications until your liver enzymes are stable.
5. Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods are high in sodium and refined sugar. The chemicals used to preserve them can quickly damage your liver and break down its function. Natural, fresh and whole foods are your best options for a healthy liver. Including more fruits and vegetables into your diet is a great way to cleanse your liver and increase vitality.
Diet to Lower Liver Enzymes
Many natural foods can detoxify the liver to get it back to an optimal state, so following a diet that can lower liver enzymes will certainly help.
Eat a low protein diet. A damaged liver can’t process protein as efficiently as it used to, so try to avoid high protein foods until your liver enzymes are stable. Plant-based proteins are more easily digestible than animal proteins, so try to eat more of those. If you need to eat meat, then try to cut your normal portion in half.
Look for foods high in antioxidants. Foods with antioxidant properties won’t make your enzyme levels decrease, but they will support liver function. Avocados have a lot of vitamin E, which is an effective natural antioxidant. Beets are high in flavonoids that act as antioxidants that help your liver function properly.
- Walnuts are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce liver inflammation.
- Other nuts, including Brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds also contain B vitamins and minerals in significant amounts.
Eat plenty of leafy greens. Leafy green vegetables have high levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Eating a diet high in leafy green vegetables can make sure that your liver is receiving the necessary vitamins and nutrients for healthy functioning, and can make sure you reduce fat stored in the liver.
- Leafy greens include spinach, collard, beet, turnip and mustard greens, kale, and all lettuces.
Eat cruciferous vegetables. The family of vegetables called “cruciferous vegetables” are known to balance the production of detoxifying liver enzymes. These enzymes neutralize cancer-causing carcinogens in the body. These vegetables also have plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber:
- Brussels sprouts
- Rutabaga and turnips
Eat high-fiber foods. High-fiber foods are a great way to make sure that many of your body’s processes are doing what they should be, and they can help break down cholesterol, making sure your liver has to do less work to process these. By reducing the amount of cholesterol your liver has to process, you increase liver health and lower enzyme levels. Fiber also help increase the amount of bile the liver produces, improving fat digestion and preventing liver disease down the line. Foods high in fiber include:
- Beans and peas
- Oat, wheat, corn, rice bran
- Fruit (such as pears, apples, prunes, plums, peaches, apricots)
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
Get your vitamin C. Eating citrus fruits or drinking their juices will help the liver heal, bringing enzyme levels back to healthy levels. Citrus fruits are also known to reduce the risk of liver cancer. Find ways to add oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes into your diet. When buying juices, look for products fortified with extra vitamin C.
Avoid foods that harm liver health. Healthy foods can support the liver, but unhealthy foods can damage the liver. Too much fat, salt, sugar, or oil can overburden the liver. If you already have high enzyme levels, you need to give your liver a break for a while. Avoid the following foods to balance your enzyme levels:
- Sugary foods like cakes, pies, or cookies
- Fatty foods like lamb, beef, chicken skin, foods made with shortening or lard, and vegetable oils
- Fried foods
- Salty foods like most processed and prepared foods, snacks like pretzels and chips, and canned foods
- Raw or undercooked shellfish (these may contain liver-damaging toxins)
Herbal Teas to Lower Liver Enzymes
There are a number of natural herbs that can be used to support liver function. Little is known about how these herbs function, but there is a long history of safe use. In general, most of these herbs have been given as teas, so dosing is not often clear. The doses listed here should only be used as guidelines. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and consult your physician for dosing.
- Milk thistle: Research suggests that it may be most useful for those with alcohol-related liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatitis. Dosages range from 160-480 mg daily.
- Dandelion root: Decreases cholesterol, reducing the burden on the liver. Drink 2-4 cups of dandelion root tea daily.
- Astragalus: The usual dose used is 20–500 mg of extract taken 3-4 times daily.
Natural herbs can be a great dietary supplement and a way to make sure levels don’t increase in the future.
How Long Does It Take to Lower Liver Enzymes
Once you have made proper lifestyle and dietary changes, your liver will likely be healed within a couple of months. However, this doesn’t mean that you should revert to your old habits. In order to keep your liver healthy, you need to continue eating right and maintaining healthy lifestyle.