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Liver health

You can find more information about healthy living on NHS Inform >>

Liver blood tests can show if something called ‘gamma GT’ is raised. The most common reasons for this blood test to be raised are either the amount of alcohol you drink being above recommended limits, or due to a build-up of fat in the liver that is usually related to your diet and activity levels.

Making healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of damaging your liver in the future. You may already be doing some of the lifestyle changes (e.g. you may not smoke), so please consider those changes which are appropriate for you.

What is Gamma GT?

When the liver is under stress it releases substances called enzymes and proteins into the blood. By measuring the levels of the enzymes and proteins made by the liver we can get an idea of how well the liver is working. One of these enzymes is called Gamma GT.

A raised Gamma GT is most commonly due a build-up of fat in the liver due to either:

  • Your alcohol intake being above the recommended level, or
  • A mixture of factors related to diet and activity levels.

If you can make healthy lifestyle choices around one or both of the above most common causes you can improve the health of your liver and your general health. This is important as if your liver continues to be stressed (usually over a long period of time) it can develop into irreversible damage in the future.

Often when people make healthy lifestyle changes the build-up of fat will reduce and their Gamma GT level reduces; in some cases returning to normal.

A raised Gamma GT above a certain level can in rare cases be caused by other conditions and it’s important that you follow any advice your doctor has given you about booking a repeat test, to check if your Gamma GT level has improved after your lifestyle changes and to make sure it hasn’t increased to a level where further tests to look for other causes are required.

Will I get any symptoms from my raised Gamma GT?

You most likely will not have any symptoms from this blood test being slightly raised. If you find that you are getting pain in your stomach (particularly on the right hand side), fever, yellow skin, dark brown urine or pale clay coloured stools please contact your doctor.

What can I do to improve my liver health?

Alcohol

If you drink alcohol, the recommended alcohol limit over a week is less than 14 units; spread over 3 or more days. This is equivalent to 6 pints of 4% beer, 6 medium sized glasses of wine or 7 double measures of spirits per week. If you drink above this level you risk causing damage to your health.

Tips to cut down include; having a smaller drink, try alcohol free drink options, swap strong beers or wines for lower strength options, drinking a soft drink between each alcoholic drink, and having several alcohol free days each week.

If you or people around you are concerned about your level of drinking, or think you may have a problem with alcohol and you are having difficulty cutting down, support is available. You could contact the local support service called MELD based in Musselburgh on 07843 339 958.

There are many other alternative services available, type ‘NHS inform alcohol’ into an online search engine to find a webpage with more information.

Food

  • Reduce your intake of saturated fat (‘fatty foods’)
    • For example; pies, sausages, bacon, butter, lard, cream, cheese, coconut or palm oil in foods or for cooking
  • Instead swap these for foods which can increase your good cholesterol.
    • For example; oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), avocados, nuts, seeds, cooking with oils such as sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil
  • Reduce your intake of ‘simple sugars’
    • For example cakes, biscuits, sugary or fizzy drinks, chocolate, ice cream, adding sugar to food
  • Instead swap to healthy snacks for example unsweetened yoghurt or fruit
  • Aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Swap full fat milk for semi-skimmer or skimmed
  • Swap butter for lower fat spreads
  • Swap white bread, pasta and rice for wholegrain options
  • Reduce or stop adding salt to food
  • If you eat meat choose lean meats (meat with low fat content), trim the fat off meat before cooking and remove the skin from chicken and turkey
  • Try to avoid processed foods (including microwave meals) and limit your number of takeaways, instead try to cook meals at home with fresh ingredients
  • Swap frying food for healthy cooking methods for example grilling, poaching or steaming

There is more information available on healthy eating and recipe ideas from various sources online including on NHS Inform.

Movement & keeping active

Any extra movement you can do in your day will be good for your health. We recommend trying to do something active every day and over time try to gradually build up to doing 150 minutes of activity every week. This is the same as doing 30 minutes of activity on 5 days a week.

This can include many different activities; for example, walking, cycling, swimming, or even heavy housework where your breathing Is increased but you are still able to talk. Alternatively, you could aim for 75 minutes per week of ‘vigorous’ exercise, for example running where your breathing is fast and you find it difficult to talk during the exercise.

If you do not already do this level of activity, build up to it gradually, increasing the amount you do each week.

It is also recommended that adults do strength and balance exercises twice a week to keep your muscles and bones strong.

There are lots of different options for activities online, including on NHS Inform.

Smoking

If you smoke, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Phone Quit Your Way Scotland on 0800 84 84 84 or chat with them online (type Quit Your Way Scotland into an online search engine to find the webpage) for free advice and support to stop or cut down on smoking.