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Do You Have High Liver Enzymes or a Fatty Liver?


If your doctor delivers news of high liver enzymes or a fatty liver, make sure you understand what that means.

A routine doctor visit is an opportunity to discuss nagging health concerns, whether or not they seem important. Patients complaining of fatigue, aches and general malaise are frequently ordered to undergo blood panel or imaging tests in an effort to rule out any major health issues. Much to the patient’s chagrin, a liver-related result “out of the normal range” can surface. Thanks to the modern physician’s ability to analyze seemingly vague symptoms with lab test findings, many people are learning that their health woes are due to high liver enzymes and/or a fatty liver.

Liver Enzymes

High liver enzymes are one of the more frequent findings at a routine doctor visit. Potentially indicating liver damage, high liver enzymes are detected by a simple blood test. While liver enzymes are usually found in the liver, damage to this important organ causes the enzymes to leak into the bloodstream.

The two liver enzymes that are the most straight-forward to test for and evaluate are aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT). Normal, or healthy ranges for these liver enzymes are:

  • AST = 5 to 40 units per liter of serum
  • ALT = 7 to 56 units per liter of serum

High Liver Enzymes

High liver enzymes could indicate many different types of conditions – some are mild, temporary and unimportant; others are high, chronic and hazardous. The following are some potential reasons for high liver enzymes:

Although the list above is not exhaustive, a fatty liver is by far the most common culprit of high liver enzymes.

High Liver Enzymes and Your Cancer Risk

High liver enzymes can be a sign of both liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. While fatty liver is a much more likely diagnosis, you should be alert for the signs and symptoms of cancer, especially if tests for fatty liver come back negative. Discuss your health history with your doctor, and either suggest a cancer screening or seek a second opinion if you’re not sure. This is especially important if you are overweight, as doctors can be prone to assuming the cause is obesity when, in reality, something else is going on beneath the surface.

Learn more about liver cancer here.

If you don’t have cancer but do have high liver enzymes, breathe a sigh of relief, but start considering cancer prevention. One way to help your liver resist cancer is by using Clinical Liver Support, which helps to eliminate inflammation and free radicals which can lead to precancerous conditions.

Fatty Liver

While a little bit of fat in the liver is normal, livers containing 5 to 10 percent of their weight in fat is considered fatty liver, the first stage of non-alcoholic liver disease. A fatty liver could be due to alcohol abuse or other diet and lifestyle factors. Between 90 and 100 percent of the 15 million alcoholics in the U.S. have a fatty liver.

Even if you do not drink to excess, you may still have a fatty liver and not know it.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 30% of the U.S. population has a fatty liver, which can affect liver function and lead to more serious liver and health issues. The CDC also reports, that approximately 50% of the U.S. population is overweight – and over 25% is obese. Ninety percent of these two groups have liver issues starting with a fatty liver.

Stages of Fatty Liver Disease

There are two basic stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: steatosis and steatohepatitis. Steatosis is the earlier stage, characterized only by liver fat accumulation. If steatosis persists and worsens, steatohepatitis can develop. Steatohepatitis is characterized by liver fat accumulation and inflammation. Referred to by its full name, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis – or NASH – this condition can lead to cirrhosis, a severe health condition defined by irreversible, advanced scarring of the liver.

High Enzymes and Fatty Liver Are Reversible

In and of itself, test results indicating high liver enzymes or a fatty liver don’t mean your quality of life will be affected. As long as severe, permanent damage to your liver has not occurred, both are reversible. Being proactive in supporting liver health with healthy nutrition and supplementation has been shown to normalize liver enzyme levels and reduce liver fat accumulation.

Nine key components of supporting liver health include the following:

  1. Losing weight if overweight or obese.
  2. Eating a nutritious, low-fat, low-glycemic, high-fiber diet.
  3. Getting daily aerobic exercise.
  4. Avoiding alcohol and unnecessary medications.
  5. Minimizing exposure to chemicals and toxins.
  6. Increasing consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries, pomegranates, grapefruit, kale and carrots. In addition to blueberries, find out 5 more anti-inflammatory foods for your liver.
  7. Taking probiotics or other dietary supplements containing healthy live bacteria. Natural Wellness’ Ultra Probiotic Formula contains 35 billion viable cells per capsule.
  8. Supplementing with substances that support the liver’s functions, like milk thistle and Alpha Lipoic Acid.
  9. Supplementing with substances that support the liver’s ability to metabolize fat, like green tea and curcumin. Turmeric 95 is powerful! It contains 95% curcuminoids (or curcumin), the highest level on the market today. Moreover, Natural Wellness’ Clinical LiverSupport contains green tea extract and Curcumin C3 Complex®

Also important is following a doctor’s orders to treat other health conditions which can aggravate the liver, like diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension.

Although not a reason to celebrate, finding out you have high liver enzymes or a fatty liver is not the end of the world. Luckily, routine doctor visits can help many people detect these issues before they progress to severe liver damage. The good news is that the nine liver support practices described above can help normalize liver enzymes and reduce liver fat accumulation so that you can return to optimum health., Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: 5 Tips for Treatment, Prevention, January W. Payne, Retrieved October 28, 2012, US News & World Report, LP, 2012., When and how to evaluate mildly elevated liver enzymes in apparently healthy patients, George Aragon, MD, et al, Retrieved October 28, 2012, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, March 2010., Elevated Liver Enzymes, Retrieved October 28, 2012, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2012., Fatty Liver Disease, Retrieved October 28, 2012, WebMD, LLC, 2012., Diagnosis of Liver Cancer, Canadian Cancer Society, Retrieved July 5, 2018., Pancreatic Cancer, the Silent Disease, Lee, Dennis, MD., Retrieved July 5, 2018,

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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