IL-6 is a in indicator of inflammation in your body but is a simple blood test able to tell you whether or not that you will be dead in five years?

What is an IL-6 Test?

In short, IL-6 (aka interleukin-6) is something that your body releases when there is some sort of inflammatory rest happening inside your body. OF recent years, blood tests for measuring inflammation inside the body have been becoming more popular. One such test already more widely known is a HS-CRP test which is another test for inflammation. Those with higher HS-CRP levels are at a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease. You can read more about HS-CRP tests here.

So what about IL-6?  Why is IL-6 Important?  

Well, a recent study coming out of the UK looked at over six thousand men and women between the ages of forty-five and sixty-nine and looked at IL-6 markers in fasting blood tests.  The initial samples were taken between the years of 1997-1999 with a follow-up in 2015.  Researchers found that those with elevated IL-6 levels had a significantly higher risk of dying within five years.  The two highest causes of death was cancer followed by heart disease (1).

How IL-6 Works

The body’s inflammatory response is any response that needs to trigger a reaction within the body to protect itself.  IL-6 is one of those things – specifically a cytokine.  A cytokine is an enzyme released by the body to help limit tissue injury.  If your body has any sort of injury to it’s tissue, enzymes are released to help the body repair itself and limit its damage (2).

Why is IL-6 elevated in cardiovascular disease and cancer?

With heart disease, the process behind plaque buildup actually causes inflammation within the walls of your blood vessels.  The reason:  it’s not normal!  As a way of eliminating or repairing the walls of the vessel, the body activates its inflammatory response.

The same response is activated for cancer as well.  Cancer is due to uncontrolled cell growth.  The body recognizes this and attempts to limit it by activating its inflammatory response.

Studying the body’s own defense mechanisms is important to understanding early detection of preventable diseases.  If diseases are caught early enough, changes can be made or treatments can be delivered to a person.  Hopefully early detection can reduce deaths.

Is IL-6 A Good Test To Have?

Yes and no.  But regardless, it’s worth asking your doctor about.

The reason that it’s a bad test is that inflammation can be triggered for a variety of reasons.  For example, any trauma, burns, major illnesses, cancer, psoriasis, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and even exercise can cause increased IL-6 levels .  So, if you have any of these going on, inflammatory markers such as IL-6 and HS-CRP tests could be elevated.

If the test is slightly elevated however, it could mean you have some smaller inflammation response going on that you may not know about.  Like cardiovascular disease or an unknown tumor.

However, my take is that if your test is elevated, there’s a good chance you probably already know where you stand on the totem pole of health.  For example if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Overweight
  • Eating a diet high in carbohydrates, low in vegetables, and high in saturated fats
  • Sedentary lifestyle

However, there are those that fit the model of a perfect bill of health who would benefit from knowing what’s going on beneath the surface.

IL-6 and Exercise

As I mentioned earlier, cancer and cardiovascular disease are not the only things that can cause an elevated IL-6 level. IL-6 is significantly released by skeletal muscle during strenuous exercise as well. In fact, IL-6 levels can be 100 times greater after marathon races. Recent research has shown that in addition to triggering an inflammatory and immune response in the body, IL-6 stimulates glucose production by the liver and fat breakdown during exercise. So IL-6 does have an important role at assisting to fuel workouts. Have you done a strenuous exercise or race lately? It could also cause elevated IL-6 levels (3).

Lab Ranges For IL-6

0.31-5.00 pg/mL (4)

Higher levels are associated with a higher risk for death.

Have you ever had an IL-6 level done to asses for cardiovascular disease risk?

Elevated in marathon runners (molecular pathyphysiology….

Sources:

1. Singh-Manoux, A., Ph.D., et. al. “Association between inflammatory biomarkers and all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer-related mortality.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. 28 November 2016. Web. 10 December 2016.
2. Sehgal, P., M.B.B.S, Ph.D. “Interleukin-6: Molecular Pathophysiology.” The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. July 1990. Web. 10 December 2016.
3. Pederson, B. MD. “Exercise and Interleukin-6.” Current Opinion In Hematology. May 2001. Web. 10 December 2016.
4. N.a. “Interleukin-6.” Lab Tests Online. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. 15 September 2014. Web. 10 December 2016.