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Elevated Liver Enzymes and Alcohol

by
author image Gail Morris
Gail Morris has been writing extensively since 1997. She completed a master's degree in nursing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and practiced in medicine for more than 20 years. Morris has published medical articles in peer-reviewed journals and now writes for various online publications and freelances for Internet marketers.
Elevated Liver Enzymes and Alcohol
Heavy alcohol use over several years can cause chronic liver injury. Photo Credit Alcohol image by Sergey Yakovenko from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Your liver is located in the upper right-hand portion of your abdominal cavity, just beneath the diaphragm and on top of the stomach. It is a dark reddish-brown color and weighs approximately 3 lbs. At any given time, the liver has about 13 percent of the body's total blood supply in it. The organ helps to regulate most chemical levels, breaks down fats and processes blood. According to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, the liver performs more than 500 vital functions in the body.

Liver Enzymes

Four different liver enzymes are measured on most routine laboratory tests, according to Melissa Palmer, M.D., author of "Dr. Melissa Palmer's Guide to Hepatitis and Liver Disease." These enzymes include aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase and gamma-glutamyl transferase. The first two are known together as transaminases, and the second two are known together as cholestatic liver enzymes. Elevations in any of these enzymes can indicate the presence of liver disease. Elevations of the transaminases can occur with alcoholic liver disease and fatty liver, conditions that can result from excessive alcohol intake. Elevations of the cholestatic liver enzymes can also occur with alcoholic liver disease.

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Alcohol's Effects on Enzyme Secretion

The liver is one of the largest and most complex organs in the body. It is the chief organ responsible for metabolizing alcohol and is especially vulnerable to alcohol related injuries. According to the January 2005 issue of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's "Alcohol Alert," as little as three drinks at one time can have toxic effects on the liver when combined with over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen. As alcohol is broken down inside the liver, it releases a number of potentially dangerous byproducts that may damage the liver more than the alcohol itself, according to an article written by Dr. Jacqueline Maher and published in "Alcohol Health and Research World." Each of these toxins plays a role in the damage of the liver and the subsequent release of enzymes from the cells.

Liver Cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis is usually preceded by a fatty liver, followed by alcoholic hepatitis and subsequently liver cirrhosis. Up to 70 percent of individuals who suffer from alcohol hepatitis may go on to develop cirrhosis if the drinking does not stop, according to the January 2005 issue of "Alcohol Alert." The number of liver enzymes that are secreted from the cells in a liver with alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis is significantly higher than liver enzymes levels in individuals who suffer from fatty liver secondary to alcohol intake. Other factors that influence the development of fatty liver and alcohol hepatitis include ethnic and racial backgrounds, gender, age, income and family history of drinking problems.

Amount of Alcohol Consumption

Heavy drinking for as little as just a few days can lead to fatty liver, the earliest stages of alcoholic liver disease. This condition, however, can be reversed when the drinking stops. Longer periods of alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver which results in higher levels of liver enzymes in the blood. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, the amount of alcohol it takes to damage the liver and increase liver enzymes will vary between people. Women who consume two to three drinks per day and men who consume three to four drinks per day increase their risk of liver damage and cirrhosis.

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