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Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes

Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes

Liver is one of the largest organs in the body and performs multiple functions. For performing these functions, it makes use of a form of protein known as liver enzymes. Elevated levels of these enzymes are bad news and can cause damage to the liver.
Arjun Kulkarni
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
The liver performs a range of functions related to digestion, such as breaking down the food; and after identifying the utility of the foods, stores or removes it. The various enzymes secreted by it help perform these processes. So as long as they are secreted in moderation, it's all good. But when it sustains some damage, there is a risk of enzyme production going haywire. There are two different enzymes that may be secreted beyond requirement, known as alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST). What happens is, when liver is injured, the cells leak out these enzymes much in excess of their requirement. So, there really is no work for them as the it needs only so much enzyme to help in the process of digestion. So they do what most unemployed people do. Create a ruckus. They run riot in the liver causing inflammation and disrupt its working.

So, does the trauma end at inflammation? No. It just starts there! Like I said, the excess enzyme hampers the daily routine of the liver. The function of the liver is not just digestion, it also boosts production of clotting factors in blood, production of proteins which draw fluid into the blood vessels and last but not the least, detoxify all that we eat. Detoxification is an important process wherein the consumed toxins are nullified and excreted out by the iron fist of the liver. Back to the enzymes, the ensuing side-effects depend upon which function gets impaired. So it may be anything from tumor, pancreatitis, heart disease, anemia, gangrene, anything. Phew.


The causes are genetics-specific and vary from person to person. What might be the cause in one person, might not necessarily trouble another. The time factor also plays its part. In some individuals, it takes more time to contract the secretion maladies than others. For example, alcohol abuse is said to be a leading cause of elevated AST levels, but not all people are affected in the same proportion. People with strong immune system are less susceptible to the illness as compared to people with weak immune system. The common causes of elevated liver enzymes are given below:
  • One of the leading reasons is over consumption of alcohol. Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol, which when broken down creates an even more toxic substance called acetaldehyde. Metabolizing it requires special efforts and ends up in over secretion of cytokine enzyme along with AST.
  • The other substance that you should be wary about is acetaminophen, or as we know it in pill form, Tylenol or aspirin. It does the same as what alcohol does to the liver. An excess intake of Tylenol will certainly have a serious effect on your liver.
  • Alcohol consumption also leads to conditions in which liver enzymes are secreted more than usual. Alcoholic hepatitis, which is one of the leading causes of elevated enzymes is a condition brought about by alcohol. Viral hepatitis also leads to enzyme secretion by the liver. It is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The enzymes are secreted by the cells in the hope that they will be able to quell these diseases. Unfortunately, they put the body in the risk of contracting some more deadly diseases
  • Now, about Alkaline Phosphatase, or ALP. An elevated ALP level (the normal level is 20-120 U/L) may be due to complications in the biliary tree, which obstructs the flow of bile from the liver. The bile flow impediment may be a fallout of a bile duct stone, a cancerous pancreas and other pancreas problems or biliary cirrhosis. Elevated ALPs sound more frightening as they are the effect along with the cause of disease. Another rare cause stems from a damaged heart or bones. Even though your liver might be fine, bones (that also create ALP) can cause an elevated production of ALP when damaged.
  • Another unnerving cause of elevated enzymes is medication. Any form of synthetic, antibiotic medication is unnatural and new to the body, so the body may react in an unreasonable way. Sometimes the medication may be too strong for the body, in which case it is advisable to look for softer medical alternatives. Of course, depending on the harshness of the medication, the increase in secretion may be only temporary. You can also look for alternative medication. Herbal medicines have a lesser impact on enzyme secretion.
  • While all these are known causes, sometimes enzyme levels gets elevated for no apparent reason at all. Enzyme level may be elevated in the course of your daily routine, even if you've been leading a chaste lifestyle.
So, you can see that the causes may not always be very reasonable. It is always good to get a routine check up done regularly by your physician. In case the enzyme level is elevated, based on your medical history, your physician will advise you medication which is most suitable to your condition.