TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Whenever you get bloodwork done, you probably don’t know what exactly you’re supposed to be looking at on the sheet (unless you’re a healthcare provider, that is).

Glucose, sodium, and protein may be pretty straightforward, but one value that likely won’t be familiar to the average Joe is the ALT level.

What is ALT?

According to MedlinePlus, which is run by the National Library of Medicine, ALT stands for the enzyme alanine transaminase.

Liver cells release ALT into your blood when they get damaged, and when it reaches a high level, it could be a sign of liver disease.

AST, known as aspartate transferase, is also an indicator of liver disease, but because it is also found in other organs in higher amounts, ALT is a more direct sign of liver health, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

High levels of ALT can be caused by hepatitis, cirrhosis, cancer, infection and other diseases. In other cases, high ALT can be an indication of blood flow problems in the liver or a reaction to poison or certain medications.

However, sometimes it might not be a sign of a medical condition.

“If your results show you have a high level of ALT, it doesn’t always mean that you have a medical condition that needs treatment,” MedlinePlus states. “Many things can affect your results, such as your age, sex, certain medicines and dietary supplements, intense exercise, how much you weigh, and having a menstrual period.”

About one in 20 people will have levels outside the normal range, according to experts.

The Cleveland Clinic states that a normal range for ALT depends on the laboratory, but one common measure is 7 to 56 units per liter (U/L). The normal levels are usually higher in biological males.

According to the clinic, lower-than-normal levels aren’t common and while it usually isn’t a problem, it could indicate a lack of vitamin B6 or kidney disease.

How and when would ALT levels be tested?

ALT levels are detected through a blood test, usually as part of a routine checkup.

In situations where liver function needs to be checked thoroughly, the ALT test will be one of a group of tests to determine your level of health, according to Medline Plus.

This could be done if you have the following symptoms that can be signs of liver damage:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice (Yellow skin and eyes)
  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen
  • Swelling in your ankles and legs
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored feces
  • Frequent itching

Sometimes, a doctor may order an ALT test if you have other conditions like alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, hepatitis, a family history of liver disease, or medications that could pose a risk to liver health.

If you have signs of abnormal levels, a healthcare provider may order follow-up tests to assess what the problem is, like a biopsy or just imaging.

How do I keep my liver healthy?

In situations where a chronic condition is causing liver problems, medical treatment is usually needed to mitigate any issues.

However, Johns Hopkins Medicine says there are five ways to keep that liver healthy so it can continue detoxing your system!

  1. Limit your alcohol intake — There’s no such thing as good alcohol when it comes to your liver. For men, four ounces of liquor a day can damage your liver, and for women, it’s two ounces.
  2. Wash your produce, and keep away from harmful chemicals. Pesticides and toxins can damage your liver as it tries to purge it from your system.
  3. Take precautions against hepatitis A, B, and C. This includes getting vaccinated for A and B, having protected sex, and washing your hands.
  4. Be careful of your use of supplements and medications. Certain substances can be toxic to your liver (a list can be found here)
  5. Finally, as always, practice a good diet and exercise to avoid getting fatty liver.

Keep your liver happy, and it will continue to do its approximately 500 jobs to keep you alive!