Elevated liver enzyme levels have long been touted as a way to improve athletic performance.
But is this true?
According to new research from The University of California at San Diego (UCSD), it’s true.
In a study published in the journal BMC Public Health, UCSD scientists tracked more than 1,300 people from around the world who took part in the International Elevated Lifespan Challenge.
In a randomized, controlled trial, the team found that people who had elevated liver enzymes were more likely to be physically active and less likely to experience altitude sickness.
While there are no reliable studies of altitude sickness, this study suggests that elevated liver enzyme is a promising candidate for a preventative measure for altitude sickness that could reduce the likelihood of symptoms.
“The goal of the International Exaltation Training Challenge is to train endurance athletes to become more physically and mentally resilient during altitude, thereby enhancing athletic performance,” said UCSD’s Andrew J. Sargent, PhD, chair of the department of exercise science and sports sciences.
“The research indicates that elevated hepatocyte enzymes could help reduce altitude sickness.”
Sargent and his team used data from more than 10,000 participants in the 2013 International Exultation Training Competition and compared the people who participated in the exercise trials with the people that did not.
“We compared the participants who completed the exercise protocols with those who did not,” Sargen said.
“We found that participants who had an elevated liverocyte enzyme level were more than five times as likely to show symptoms of altitude illness compared with participants who did NOT have elevated liverocytes.”
For those that were unable to participate in the competition, the study showed that participants that had an abnormally high liverocyte count had significantly greater symptoms of illness compared to those that did.
The team also found that a higher liverocyte counts and an abnormality in liver enzymes contributed to the greater symptoms among the participants with an elevated concentration of liverocyte markers.
Sargen says that elevated hepocyte markers could potentially be a biomarker for other diseases as well, including heart disease and diabetes.
The researchers are currently conducting a larger study to see if elevated liver cells could be used to determine a person’s metabolic rate, as well as how they could be related to their body mass index.
This is just the beginning for a new research program that could potentially help improve people’s health.
“There is a huge demand for high-intensity endurance training, and liverocyte research is an important area for future research that could improve overall health,” Sargon said.
In addition to the research published in BMC Public Heath, UCSB also conducted a randomized controlled trial in which participants who were able to stay in the study were randomly assigned to take a specific exercise protocol called “the San Francisco Marathon” or “the California Marathon.”
Participants who stayed in the San Francisco marathon had higher liverocytes and a higher overall level of exercise compared to participants who stayed on the treadmill.
This study is still in its early stages, but Sargon says the results are promising.
“It’s very promising to see a large group of people who are able to do a high-duration, intense exercise regimen,” he said.
“What’s interesting about this research is that this is the first study to show a significant increase in liverocyte concentrations in participants who performed the exercise training protocol,” Srinivasan added.
“Our hope is that other researchers will take this same exercise protocol and look at how it can be used for other disease processes.”
In a follow-up study, UCSF researchers found that the participants that were able forgo exercise were also able to reduce their liverocyte levels.
This was true even after the exercise protocol was ended.
This research has the potential to help patients who are sick at altitude.
In addition to improving physical performance, it could also help patients with underlying liver disease.
“If we can identify biomarkers that predict liver health, we can potentially reduce the need for additional medications and therapies,” Sarinivasan said.
Sarinivasant said that while liver disease and altitude sickness can both be associated with high levels of liver cells, they can also be caused by other conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension.
“Some of these conditions have been shown to cause liver cell death and inflammation in patients,” he added.