Getting high aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels in your blood test can be alarming, especially if it is extremely elevated. AST is a liver enzyme that processes amino acids. It is present in the blood but only in low concentrations. High AST levels can be due to liver damage or an underlying disorder affecting its function. Read further to know more about the medical conditions that can cause elevated AST.
- Liver Problems
Any damage or problem that disrupts liver functions can lead to liver enzymes like AST being released in more amounts to the bloodstream. This also includes the alanine transaminase (ALT) enzyme, which contributes to energy production. Learn more about what it means to have high ALT levels.
The following are the two most common liver problems that lead to elevated AST levels.
Characterized by the inflammation of the liver, hepatitis is usually caused by a strain of viruses categorized as hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E. But there are also cases when a non-infectious microbe triggers the condition. Exposure to hepatitis viruses, however, can be in different forms, and its transmission depends on the type of strain in question.
For example, hepatitis A, B, and C can be transmitted via unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone who already has the infection. You can get hepatitis E or HEV if you’re exposed to contaminated food.
Nonetheless, keep in mind that you can protect yourself from hepatitis by avoiding exposure and getting vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about these preventive measures.
Pro tip: To diagnose hepatitis, your healthcare provider will likely order you to take liver function tests, including the AST lab test, and/or specific screening tests for hepatitis viruses, such as the following:
Did You Know? Kids can also be susceptible to hepatitis, especially when they are within close proximity of exposure. Read more about how liver function tests can help detect hepatitis among children to increase their chances of getting timely and effective treatment.
- Fatty liver disease
Fatty liver develops when there are excessive fats stored in your liver. As the condition progresses and fat buildup worsens due to the absence of an intervention, the liver becomes at risk of more damage, which starts from hepatic inflammation. This subsequently increases your AST and ALT levels in the blood.
Additionally, people with fatty liver disease can form scar tissues that further develop into cirrhosis, wherein the scarring becomes permanent. Cirrhosis can eventually lead to severe liver damage or even liver cancer.
Pro tip: If you wish to know the state of your liver health, consider taking liver function tests. Specifically, the liver enzyme assay blood test can help reveal any liver damage that requires immediate attention.
- Alcohol Use Disorder
Too much alcohol has many consequences for your health. More notably, it damages your liver as hepatic cells screen and detoxify alcohol to prevent poisoning. In doing so, however, some of these cells die.
Although the liver regenerates new ones to replace them, frequent alcohol consumption, especially in large amounts, leaves no room for producing new cells. As a result, liver function is diminished, causing fat buildup and the increase of the enzymes AST and ALT in the blood.
Pro tip: Excessive alcohol drinking impairs vital organs like your liver while at the same time causing psychological and social instabilities. But other lifestyle choices also cause liver damage. Read about them in our article about the ten common habits that destroy your liver.
- Certain Medications
As your liver functions to filter and detoxify foreign substances, including drugs, it’s no surprise that some types of medications can lead to more AST being released into the bloodstream.
This condition in which a certain medication causes high AST levels is called drug-induced hepatoxicity. Some of these medications include the following:
- Nicotinic acid
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Keep in mind that other oral treatments not classified as drugs that can induce hepatotoxicity can cause damage to liver cells when taken without proper guidance. Always make sure whatever medication you’re taking is prescribed by your doctor, and only take them according to instructions.
If you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The excess blood sugar leads to more fat accumulation in the liver. Hence, causing an elevation in the liver enzymes.
This could also happen if you have prediabetes, wherein your blood glucose exceeds the normal range but is not high enough to be classified as diabetes. You can get tested online, but make sure you’re prepared. Read our guide on prediabetes testing to learn everything you need to know prior to the lab test.
- Dietary Supplements
Many supplements, either herbal or synthetic, are commercially available, advertising their ability to improve health and wellness. While there’s truth to this to some extent, relying too much on supplements and taking several without consulting your doctor can potentially lead to liver injury.
According to research data, 20% of hepatic injuries in the US are linked to the intake of dietary supplements. Keep in mind that herbal and synthetic supplements typically contain multiple ingredients that trigger hepatotoxicity. That said, make sure to avoid taking supplements if you don’t have any nutrient deficiencies in the first place.
Pro tip: People engaging in bodybuilding often take supplements to bulk up – which is why some people may deem bodybuilding as dangerous. Nonetheless, when done right through proper healthcare consultation and bodybuilding blood tests, this activity also provides several benefits.
Treating High AST Levels
The treatment for high AST levels depends on the underlying cause. If liver disease is identified, lifestyle changes such as alcohol cessation, weight management, and dietary modifications may be recommended.
Medications and interventions specific to the diagnosed condition may also be prescribed. Regular monitoring and follow-up appointments with a healthcare provider are essential for managing increased AST levels effectively.
Did You Know? Drinking a cup of coffee per day is said to lower high AST levels and other abnormally high liver enzymes. But another drink has the same effect and with extra benefits to your health. According to a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, green tea also contains properties that reduce elevated AST levels, especially among liver disease patients.
Preventing High AST Levels
While some causes of high AST levels cannot be prevented, there are steps individuals can take to maintain a healthy liver. These include the following:
- avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- follow safe injection practices or leave it up to professionals
- maintain a balanced diet
- get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
- manage your weight properly
- Get tested for diabetes, especially if you’re at risk
During your wellness checkup, make sure to inform your healthcare providers of any medications or supplements being taken. If your test results show high AST, your doctor can consider how these medications affect your liver health.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an alarming AST level?
AST levels above 40 IU/L indicate inflammation in the liver, which should prompt a visit to your primary care provider (if you haven’t already). The numbers can be significantly higher if you have a specific condition affecting your liver function. For example, acute hepatitis can cause your AST levels to peak between 500 to 3000 IU/L. But keep in mind that screening AST levels alone, despite being a crucial parameter for diagnosing liver problems, may not be enough to accurately evaluate your liver health.
How can I lower my AST level quickly?
Treating the health condition that triggers elevated AST levels subsequently normalizes the liver enzyme. But aside from medical intervention, you can help lower your AST levels quickly by cutting back or completely avoiding alcohol, making changes in your diet, drinking a cup of coffee daily, and becoming more active.
Can your liver recover from high AST?
Yes, your liver can recover and have AST back at normal levels. But this will depend on what’s causing the enzymatic imbalance and how you’re doing with the corresponding treatment. For example, if you have acute hepatitis and are undergoing treatment. You can expect to have lowered AST levels between three to six months.
The Bottom Line
Knowing what’s causing your elevated AST levels allows you to better the next steps you need to take to improve your health. While the increase in this liver enzyme naturally suggests hepatic problems, it can also indicate other underlying medical problems. That said, consult your doctor and undergo a proper diagnosis to ensure that you determine the extent of certain lifestyle changes.