IL-6: Covid Shines Spotlight on Underused Aging BioMarker

Interleukin 6 (IL-6) may not have been a biomarker that most people were familiar with before the Covid-19 global pandemic.

But IL-6 appears to be an effective marker able to predict upcoming respiratory failure with high accuracy. That’s according to several pre-print (non peer reviewed) and preliminary clinical trial studies.

In 1993 gerontology scientist William Ershler first noted that IL-6 is one of the main signaling pathways that drives aging and chronic morbidity. In the past twelve years, IL-6 has emerged as an important hallmark of aging.

A positive knock-on effect of the pandemic, could be to bring this inflammation marker from the lab bench to the doctor’s office. Downstream of IL-6 measuring levels of C-Reactive protein, is a less expensive blood test.

A dysregulation in levels of C-Reactive protein can signal dysfunction that silently does damage to vital organs like the liver and heart, and or leads to metabolic syndrome.

IL-6 is a cytokine, a large group of proteins that are secreted by specific cells of immune system. Cytokines are a category of signaling molecules that send instructions to various organs in the body that do important things like regulate metabolism. IL-6 regulates immunity, inflammation and the production of blood cells.

Chronic elevation of IL-6 reflects ongoing inflammation and is linked to type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis.

However medical doctors are trained to test for pathology or specific diseases like fatty liver. So the high sensitivity CRP blood test is not always ordered as part of a patient’s routine bloodwork because results aren’t specific to a particular disease.

But data from the Physicians’ Health Study found that people with elevated CRP were about three times more likely to have a heart attack than those with normal levels.

Covid has brought heartbreak and suffering. But the hope among cardiology experts is a wider use of the hs-CRP test, to improve screening for heart disease in the post pandemic world.