The liver is one of the most important organs in the body and has more than 500 individual functions1, many crucial to staying healthy. In this post, we will learn about the liver and also systematically breakdown each and every test done as part of a typical Liver Function Test (LFT).
- Why is it important to get a liver function test?
- What does a liver function test measure?
- What are the symptoms of poor liver health?
- What lifestyle habits affect liver health?
- Are there people more at risk for liver disease?
- What are the normal ranges for a liver function test?
- What should you do if you have abnormal liver health?
- How can you improve liver health?
Why is it important to get a liver function test?
Most liver functions revolve around metabolic activity. Metabolic activities are chemical reactions that occur to make or break down components2. This includes some crucial bodily functions like:
- Metabolizing nutrients2
- Creating proteins2
- Breakdown of toxins within the blood2
- Storing vitamins3
- Storing fats3
- Maintaining hormone levels3
- Producing blood clotting factors3
- Producing bile3
A badly functioning liver can have an extremely harmful effect on the body, resulting in serious health conditions. Liver diseases cause 3.5% of all deaths globally. This equates to 2 million people dying from liver disease each year4.
Despite the potential for liver complications to have serious health effects, these conditions build up gradually. The warning signs can be seen in smaller symptoms. However, considerable damage might have already been done at this point5. Thus, liver function tests are important to monitor your liver for any diseases that could be developing.
What does a liver function test measure?
A liver function test consists of several different blood tests obtained via the same blood sample3. Here’s what it typically tests for:
Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT)
Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme in the liver that is released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged.
Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST)
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is another enzyme in the liver that is released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged.
Total bilirubin tests the amount of bilirubin in your body. Bilirubin is a breakdown product of haemoglobin, which causes red blood cells to be red3.
This test only checks the amount of bilirubin made by the liver. The liver processes bilirubin by attaching sugar to it which is called conjugated bilirubin3.
This is a blood test that measures the amount of proteins in your blood.
Albumin is one of the two main types of proteins that are present in blood.
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP)
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) is an enzyme that is made by the liver and is present in bile to help break down fats in your diet.
Gama-glutamyl Transferase (GGT)
Gama-glutamyl transferase (GGT) is an enzyme made in the liver that is released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged. It is the first enzyme to be released and is used for early detection of liver damage3.
At ElevateMe, we perform the liver function test to monitor your overall liver health through the following tests:
- Alanine Transferase (ALT)
- Gamma GT (GGT)
- Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP)
- Total Protein
What are the symptoms of poor liver health?
Unfortunately, when symptoms occur from liver disease, the liver is already scarred12. This is a condition called cirrhosis.
You should get a liver function test when you experience any of the following symptoms of cirrhosis:
- Feeling tired constantly
- Feeling weak in general
- Loss of appetite – this may lead to weight loss
- Reduced libido
- Being frequently itchy
- Experience any yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes – known as jaundice
- Muscle wasting
- Abdominal pain13.
Cirrhosis is the first instance of any liver disease, however if the condition causes damage to the liver where it cannot function, this is then caused liver failure.
Signs of liver disease do include side effects that are mainly generalised. But there are a few side effects that point only to liver issues. These include:
- Being frequently itchy,
- Jaundice- yellowing of the skin or the whites of your eyes,
- Pale looking stool,
- Becoming easy to bruise and bleed,
- Becoming constantly bloated,
- Darker coloured urine14.
If you experience any of these side effects over a significant period, it is important to get a liver function test. Once identified, liver disease and declining liver health can be improved before permanent long term damage.
What lifestyle habits affect liver health?
There are 4 main causes of developing liver disease. To ensure you are promoting the best environment for liver health, it is important to put steps in place to avoid these causes.
Are there people more at risk for liver disease?
Unfortunately, yes. People at higher risk for liver disease include:
- Prolonged alcohol abusers14
- Type 2 Diabetics14
- Age > 50 years14
- BMI > 3013
What are the normal ranges for a liver function test?
Although these are the normal ranges for liver function tests, most have a wide range. At ElevateMe, we have identified optimal areas for these ranges as shown below. Optimal levels are the values that you should target as they highlight the ranges of healthy and thriving individuals. Optimal ranges tell you the numbers that will allow you to live an optimum life. This is in contrast to reference ranges where the numbers just tell you that you are not sick. Here’s a post on the differences between optimal and reference ranges in blood tests and why we use the former for the ElevateMe program.
|Blood Test||Normal Reference Range18||Optimal Range|
|Bilirubin||less than 21 IU/L||6.83-21 IU/L|
|ALT||15-45 IU/L||17-30 IU/L|
|GGT||11-55 IU/L||15-65 IU/L|
|ALP||30-130 IU/L||30-80 IU/L|
|Albumin||35-50 g/L||44-55 g/L|
|Total Protein||60-80 g/L||60-83 g/L|
What should you do if you have abnormal liver health?
If you have abnormal liver function test results, it is important to seek medical advice. Especially if you are not aware of any abnormal side effects. This will ensure that any potential liver conditions are spotted early.
How can you improve liver health?
The main factors that will aid in improving your liver health are a well-balanced diet and good exercise levels19.
Obesity is a high-risk factor for developing liver conditions13. Thus, if your Body-Mass Index (BMI) is high, it would be beneficial to try to lose weight and lower it. As a matter of fact, reducing your BMI score by 5% will in turn reduce your liver fat by 25%20.
Exercise will trigger your body to burn more energy which it can gain from triglycerides21. Triglycerides increase due to an unhealthy diet. The liver stores excess calories in the form of triglycerides22. Limiting calorie intake to recommended values will reduce strain on the liver. Moreover, this will reduce the body’s overall fat percentage. Consequently, this will reduce the likelihood of having excess fat on the liver23.
Here’s a tool to calculate your daily recommended calorie intake and your BMI.
Some foods reduce the likelihood of developing liver conditions. These include:
- Blueberries 25
- Omega 3 fatty acid supplements27
Most importantly, try to avoid unnecessary toxins such as excessive alcohol and drugs. Especially when your liver function is not well balanced. This will reduce excess harm to the liver whilst it is unwell.
Did you know?
According to the latest survey by the UK government, there were 26,265 premature deaths due to liver disease in England, with mortality rates of premature alcoholic liver disease significantly higher in males than for females.
Take an ElevateMe blood test today to capture 21 blood test insights including liver health and track your sleep, fitness, energy, metabolism, cognition, mood, and immunity.