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Can Exercise Affect Liver Enzymes?

Have you recently discovered you have elevated liver enzymes? Maybe you have been exercising more and you want to know, can exercise affect elevated liver enzymes? In this article, we look at this specific question.  We also explore how much exercise would cause this, the difference between being trained and untrained muscle triggering elevated liver enzymes, and how long the liver enzymes might be elevated from this.   What is actually meant by liver enzymes and are these enzymes really just in your liver or are they found in other places?



If you want to know whether exercise can affect liver enzymes, keep reading. 

Can Exercise Affect Liver Enzymes?

Several people have asked this question about the effect of exercise on elevated liver enzymes.  This article will specifically address this topic in detail.  Fist we will look at a case example of someone that had elevated liver enzymes specifically from exercise.  Then we will look at a research study that looks at the effect of exercise on elevated liver enzymes. 

The case example documents a female graduate student that presented to determine whether or not she was eligible for a pharmacological study involving a new psychiatric medication.  She did not consume much alcohol but did drink alcohol one to two times a week.  We would typically expect higher consumption is needed to cause elevated liver enzymes.  They also did a physical exam on her which was all normal.  The laboratory assessment was not, however.  In this they found elevated alanine amino transferase which is ALT at a level of 87.  So it was moderately high.  They also found AST was also high at 120.  She also had elevated lactate dehydrogenase and creatinine kinase.  Other than these findings, she was otherwise very healthy young female, as far as she knew.  With no real symptoms these findings were a surprise for her too.


While reviewing the results with her she did report that she had been training a lot more for a "ToughMudder."  Once she stopped the exercise altogether, three weeks later her repeated results were in the normal range.  This just illustrates the fact that these liver enzymes are also highly concentrated and muscle.  Yes they are more concentrated in the liver but they are also very abundant in other tissues too, specifically the muscles.  AST is in cells of muscle, heart, kidneys, red blood cells, the brain, and the small bowel.  ALT is present in the cells of liver, muscle, and kidneys.

If you look at it on the larger scale, since our muscles have a larger mass than your liver does, they contain more AST and ALT enzymes overall.  These enzymes are just more concentrated in liver cells.  So if you are doing a full body workout, it's possible to get elevated liver enzymes from this, depending on your training level.   You can get elevated liver enzymes from simply exercising.  Tissue damage in muscle occurs with exercise in a dose dependent manor.  As you ramp up the intensity of exercise you are going to get more muscle damage especially if you're not trained. 

This also brings in a larger point that elevated liver enzymes can be signs of other tissue damage too, not just muscle but heart kidney etc.  You can also have an elevation in these enzymes from hemolysis which is just breaking open of red blood cells.  Heart attack and small bowel damage from ischemia or lack of blood flow also can raise these enzyme levels. 


Research On The Effect Of Exercise On Liver Enzymes

This study does go into more detail on some of these things.  It specifically looks to answer the question of the effect of exercise on liver enzymes.  The study enrolled healthy male subjects to perform weight lifting exercises.  They choose people that were not trained for or exercises that were new.  The exercise was done for about one hour.  The results showed significant increases in AST, ALT, lactate dehydrogenase, creatinine kinase and myoglobulin (a muscle protein) levels.  What was kind of interesting to me when reading this study is that the effects were so prolonged.  Most subjects still had increased enzyme concentrations one week after performing the weightlifting program.  This was in line with other studies looking to answer this question too.  They found using strenuous one-arm exercises resulted in significant muscle damage and increases in liver enzymes up to ten days after the exercise. 

By the way, AST and ALT are typically referred to as liver enzymes and generally we call them liver function tests and liver enzymes.  As noted above, they are in other tissues.  Just because we call them liver enzymes doesn't mean they can't be in other tissues.  It is the enzymes within the cells themselves that are spilling out into the blood.   When those tissues and cells are damaged, the contents of the cells go into the blood.  So whether there's damage to the liver, the kidneys, the muscles you can see elevations in these enzymes.  The liver is just the more common culprit. 

The case example also illustrates that the more trained you are, the less likely this is going to happen.  If you go out and do a really big workout but you haven't been exercising much, you are more likely to see this effect.  You may need to wait at least seven or even ten days for this to normalize after the vigorous exercise. 

The other thing is if you have this ongoing liver enzyme elevation and you are not sure if it is from exercise or not, you do more testing.   For instance, you can also do the creatinine kinase test or myoglobulin test.  If these are elevated, it tells us there is muscle damage going on.  This would suggest the "live enzymes" are more likely coming from the muscle tissue and not the liver. For ongoing elevated liver enzymes not related to exercise, check out this article, 

How To Lower High Liver Enzymes?

That should give you a better understanding of can exercise affect liver enzymes.  If you have questions about the content in this article, please ask it in the comment section below.

If you want a customized plan on how to lower your liver enzymes, click in the link below to get started. 

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