As a measure of liver health, AST (aspartate aminotransferase) levels are commonly used by physicians to evaluate the functioning of the liver. Low AST levels, however, are not as commonly discussed as high AST levels. Should you worry if your AST levels are low? In this article, we’ll explore the role of AST in the body, normal AST levels, the causes of fluctuating AST levels, and how to interpret the results of an AST test with a focus on low levels.
Understanding AST and Its Role in the Body
AST is a liver enzyme that is released into the bloodstream when liver cells die or are damaged. AST is also found in other organs such as the heart and the muscles. Its primary function is to aid in protein metabolism, particularly in the breakdown of amino acids. Therefore, AST levels in the blood give an indication of liver health, muscle damage, or heart disease.
High levels of AST in the blood can indicate liver damage or disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis. However, AST levels can also be elevated due to strenuous exercise or muscle injury. In addition, AST levels can be used to monitor the effectiveness of certain medications that can cause liver damage as a side effect. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider to interpret AST levels and determine the underlying cause of any abnormalities.
What are Normal AST Levels and What Causes Them to Fluctuate?
Normal AST levels range from 5 to 40 units per liter of blood. AST levels can fluctuate for a host of reasons, including exercise, certain medications like statins, viral infections like hepatitis A or B, alcohol consumption, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Your AST levels can also decrease if you have reduced liver function, where there is less AST being made available in the bloodstream.
In addition to the aforementioned causes, AST levels can also fluctuate due to certain medical conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and autoimmune hepatitis. It is important to note that AST levels alone cannot diagnose a specific condition, and further testing and evaluation by a healthcare professional is necessary to determine the underlying cause of any abnormal AST levels.
The Importance of AST in Diagnosing Liver Disease
AST levels are an important indicator of liver health. Elevated AST levels can signal a host of liver diseases such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. However, low AST levels don’t necessarily mean that your liver is healthy. In some cases, low AST levels may indicate a chronic liver condition such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or even liver cancer. Absent AST levels can also mean there is decreased liver function in patients with liver disease.
It is important to note that AST levels alone cannot diagnose liver disease. Other liver function tests, imaging tests, and medical history must also be taken into consideration. Additionally, certain medications and supplements can affect AST levels, so it is important to inform your healthcare provider of any medications or supplements you are taking before undergoing liver function tests.
Other Medical Conditions That Can Affect AST Levels
Aside from liver disease, other medical conditions can affect AST levels. For instance, muscle or heart damage can lead to raised AST levels. Congestive heart failure, shock, pancreatitis, and kidney disease can all disturb AST levels, leading to abnormal measurements. Physicians will need to assess clinical symptoms and perform additional testing to determine the cause(s) for the patient’s AST levels.
In addition to medical conditions, certain medications and supplements can also affect AST levels. For example, statins, a type of medication used to lower cholesterol, can cause elevated AST levels in some patients. Herbal supplements such as kava and valerian root have also been linked to increased AST levels. It is important for patients to inform their healthcare provider of any medications or supplements they are taking to ensure accurate interpretation of AST levels.
How to Test for Low AST Levels and What the Results Mean
A simple blood test is performed to measure AST levels. This evaluation is usually done as part of an assessment of liver function or to monitor liver disease. Low AST levels, as defined by the blood test showing a result of below 5 units per liter of blood, could suggest that either your liver is functioning poorly, or there may be decreased production of AST from the liver. Further studies will help determine the best course of action for treatment.
It is important to note that low AST levels alone cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. Other tests, such as ALT levels and imaging studies, may be necessary to determine the underlying cause of liver dysfunction. Additionally, low AST levels may also be seen in individuals with a genetic condition called erythrocyte pyruvate kinase deficiency, which affects the red blood cells and can lead to hemolytic anemia. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider to interpret the results and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Symptoms to Look Out for When You Have Low AST Levels
Low AST levels typically don’t cause any symptoms. Sometimes it is a finding on routine liver function testing. However, if you experience symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice, it is essential to contact your healthcare provider immediately as these symptoms may be suggestive of underlying liver disease.
It is important to note that low AST levels may not always indicate liver disease. In some cases, it may be due to a deficiency in vitamin B6 or a genetic condition known as pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of low AST levels.
In addition to seeking medical attention, there are also lifestyle changes that can help improve liver health. These include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Regular exercise and staying hydrated can also help support liver function.
Possible Treatment Options for Low AST Levels
If the cause of low AST levels is determined, then treatment should be directed towards that underlying condition. For instance, NAFLD, which is a common cause of low AST levels, can be managed with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. Other causes like liver disease may require medication, surgery or lifestyle changes. It is important to note that low AST levels are typically a sign of an underlying medical condition that warrants treatment.
In addition to the aforementioned treatment options, there are also some general measures that can be taken to improve AST levels. These include maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and engaging in regular exercise. These lifestyle changes can help improve liver function and overall health, which may in turn lead to an increase in AST levels.
It is also important to regularly monitor AST levels and follow up with a healthcare provider to ensure that treatment is effective and any underlying conditions are being properly managed. In some cases, additional testing or imaging may be necessary to fully understand the cause of low AST levels and determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Improve AST Levels Naturally
While low AST levels are typically a symptom of an underlying condition, there are several lifestyle factors that can improve liver health and potentially increase AST levels. These changes include reducing alcohol intake, reducing the intake of fatty and processed foods, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, and managing stress levels. These changes promote liver regeneration and are beneficial to liver health.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, certain foods and supplements can also help improve liver health and potentially increase AST levels. Some of these include:
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale, which are high in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation in the liver.
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, which contain compounds that support liver detoxification.
- Turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect the liver from damage.
- Milk thistle, a supplement that has been shown to improve liver function and reduce inflammation.
It’s important to note that while these changes and supplements can be beneficial, they should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have concerns about your AST levels or liver health, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional.
When to Seek Medical Help for Low AST Levels
As low AST levels can indicate an underlying medical condition, you should seek medical help if your AST levels are persistently low. It is important to note that low AST levels alone aren’t sufficient to diagnose any condition, your physician will perform further testing to determine what is causing your low AST and subsequently determine the best course of treatment for your condition.
Some medical conditions that can cause low AST levels include liver disease, malnutrition, and certain medications. If you are experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, or jaundice, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor may order additional tests such as a liver function test or a complete blood count to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and low AST levels.
Low AST levels can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires medical attention. AST is an essential liver enzyme that performs several critical functions in the body. As such, keeping AST levels in normal ranges is necessary for optimal health and well-being. If you have any cause for concern about your AST levels, speak to your healthcare provider who can assess your medical history and provide you with guidance on the best course of action for your condition.
It is important to note that AST levels can also be affected by certain medications and supplements. If you are taking any medications or supplements, it is essential to inform your healthcare provider to ensure accurate interpretation of your AST levels.
In addition, lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and smoking can also impact AST levels. Reducing or eliminating these habits can help maintain healthy AST levels and improve overall liver function.