DNA testing is the ultimate solution to getting detailed, hyper-personalized results about your unique health makeup and gene composition. With a simple DNA testing kit, you'll learn your genetic health risks like what diseases you might easily defeat and which you need to watch out for, what you're a carrier for that can be passed down to your kids, and influential diet, fitness and lifestyle recommendations that serve your unique blueprint!
We're lucky enough to live in a time where our technological and medical knowledge is so vast that we can literally test our DNA–the very substance of every part of our bodies–to reveal important insights about our past (our lineage and ancestry), present (why we look and feel like we do) and even our potential future (giving indications of what we may experience later on in life).
Isn't this completely mind boggling?!
Let's go back to high school science class for a quick sec as a mini refresher: in total layman's terms, our DNA is what makes us who we are, determining our physical traits like our hair color, height and eye color, as well as our susceptibility to various diseases and health challenges. It's the result of thousands of generations of reproduction and countless instances of mutation.
The analysis of your DNA also reveals quite an accurate calculation of your heritage, linking you to pockets of humanity that existed many thousands of years ago all over the world.
When I first heard about 23andMe–one of the leading companies for genetic ancestry and DNA testing–I was intrigued. Not only was I simply curious about my lineage, but I wanted to get some unique insight and awareness into my health, wellness and potential risk factors. After all, what is more personalized than an analysis of our very own DNA?!
Admittedly I was a little scared–what if the DNA test revealed something disturbing?!–but ultimately decided it was worth the investigation, with a few caveats. Namely, I did not want to know if I had the Alzheimer's or Parkinson's genes, since there's not much I can do about it and it doesn't mean I will definitely get the disease.
That's the thing about DNA testing–to a certain point, it can be unnecessary information that will just cause us to worry. Scientists and doctors are still just starting to understand what these results mean and what we can actually do about them. And just because you have a gene or are a carrier, does not mean you or your children will definitely have the disease. Your DNA is just one aspect, with diet, lifestyle and environmental factors having a huge influence on the outcome.
That said, I feel like it's more empowering to be my own best health advocate and take my health into my hands as much as possible, than to risk not knowing anything at all–especially if there's info out there that can help me live a longer, healthier life.
While some of the results are more just interesting pieces of knowledge (like our lineage lines, ancestry family trees or our likelihood of having light skin), DNA testing can also provide actionable information that can literally improve our health. How? Let's take a look!
DNA Testing: Personalized Health Results
The only DNA test I've tried is 23andMe's Health + Ancestry Service, which gives you 90+ online reports of your ancestry, traits and health based on your 23 unique pairs of chromosomes. While there are other DNA tests out there, I'll be talking about this one here as I can speak from personal experience. (FYI: this post is NOT sponsored by 23andMe, it is simply an honest review of my experience and results.)
There are five overarching categories that classify your 23andMe results: ancestry, genetic health risks, wellness, carrier status and traits. We'll cover each of these in more detail below!
What this is: Discover where your DNA is from out of 150+ regions worldwide.
Included reports: 5 reports including Ancestry Composition, Maternal & Paternal Haplogroups, Neanderthal Ancestry and Your DNA Family
Why these results matter:
- Certain ethnicities are more or less susceptible to certain diseases, so this information helps inform your health and carrier risks.
- You can choose to connect with people around the world through 23andMe's DNA Relative database and fill in your family tree, if you're into that kind of thing (currently at one million people and growing!).
2) GENETIC HEALTH RISKS
What this is: Learn how your genetics can influence your risk for certain diseases.
Included reports: 5+ reports including Celiac Disease, Late-Onset Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, BRCA1/BRCA2 (select variants of breast, ovarian and other cancers) and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Why these results matter:
- Learn what illnesses you might be susceptible to developing so that you can live a lifestyle that minimizes the chances of their occurrence, or at least helps you mitigate symptoms and effects should the condition arise.
- If your report says you have variants associated with increased risk, you can follow-up with a healthcare professional since effective options may exist to prevent or reduce risk for disease. (Each report will provide more specific guidance.)
NOTE: Going back to what I shared before about wondering how you'd handle potentially scary insights from your results, 23andMe gives you the option to exclude the following reports from your results: BRCA1/BRCA2, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.
They understand it could be upsetting to learn about genetic risks for these diseases for you and your family, especially if you (like me) tend to be more inclined towards anxiety or depression. They also recommend you consult with a genetic counselor from the National Society of Genetic Counselors before purchasing so you can make an informed decision, get questions answered and have the support you need along the way.
What this is: Learn how your genes play a role in your well-being and lifestyle choices.
Included reports: 5+ reports including Caffeine Consumption, Lactose Intolerance, Genetic Weight, Alcohol Flush, Deep Sleep, Muscle Composition and Saturated Fat and Weight
Why these results matter:
- Better understand how your body responds to things like sugars, alcohol, caffeine, fat and sleep so you can make choices in your daily life that support your body's natural preferences.
- Put together your insights to create a customized fitness and/or dietary regimen unique to your body's needs.
4) CARRIER STATUS
What this is: If you are starting a family, find out if you are a carrier for certain inherited conditions. Being a carrier means you have one variant for the condition. While carriers typically don't have the condition, they can pass the variant to their children. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25% chance their child will have the condition.
Included reports: 40+ reports including Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, Hereditary Hearing Loss, Hereditary Fructose Intolerance and Muscular Dystrophy
Why these results matter:
- Understanding your carrier status helps you work with your doctor to prepare for the health of your future family.
What this is: Learn how your DNA influences your facial features, taste, smell and other traits.
Included reports: 25+ including Hair Loss, Sweet vs. Salty, Skin Pigmentation, Cilantro Taste Aversion, Hair Texture and Thickness, Wake-Up Time, Fear of Heights and Ability to Match Musical Pitch
Why these results matter:
- I mostly found this category to be just a fun evaluation as to why I am the way I am. Plus, it's amusing (like the Asparagus Odor Detection trait) and fascinating (is your fear of heights inherited? Can you carry a tune?).
- There's also an Inheritance Tracing Tool where, if other close family members take this test as well, you can see how different traits have traveled through generations and explore the genetic similarities and differences between you and family members.
DNA Testing: My Ancestry + Health Results
I shared screenshots of my results for each of the categories above, but for those of you who are curious to dig a bit deeper, here is a selection of my results, which are utterly fascinating (to me, anyway!) and explain so much!
- I'm 69.2% British + Irish with a little French, German and Scandinavian thrown in for good measure.
- My maternal haplogroup is H1c1, which traces back to a woman who lived approximately 3,500 years ago.
- I have 303 Neanderthal variants, which is more than 87% of 23andMe customers, including one that makes me prone to having less back hair (thank God!).
GENETIC HEALTH RISKS
- I am NOT Celiac (phew!).
- I have two genetic variants for age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among older adults. But no family history, and since environment and lifestyle play such a huge role, I'm not too worried about this.
- I am not likely at risk of developing lung or liver disease related to AAT deficiency. However, if I smoke, I may have a slightly increased risk of developing lung disease (even more reason to stay away from cigarettes!).
- As mentioned above, it's important to have someone you trust help you understand your results. For example, when I shared my results with my naturopathic doctor, she also told me that my “genetic results point towards a few potential gene mutations that can contribute to mood imbalance/anxiety including and especially your homozygous (2 out of 2 copies) COMT mutations as well as heterozygous (1 out of 2 copies) for both MTHFR mutations. These affect the way you metabolize hormones (think thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, etc.) and neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine- the happy, calming hormones.” This makes so sense given my mood and hormonal challenges–I found this really enlightening!
- My wellness reports showed I am unlikely to flush after drinking alcohol (true…though they don't mention squinty eyes which is my tell-tale sign I've been drinking), likely to not handle caffeine well (that explains it! I recently discovered that caffeine makes my heart race, and gives me anxious jitters), likely to weigh about average (yep!), likely tolerant to lactose (pass the cheese!), and unlikely to be a deep sleeper (Matt would argue otherwise).
- I am a carrier for MCAD deficiency, a rare genetic disorder characterized by episodes of very low blood sugar while fasting or under stress. If Matt is too, our baby could have this condition, but if he's not, our baby has no risk. Even if he does have it, too, it's not 100% that our boy will.
- My genes make me unlikely to have cheek dimples (though I do!), red hair (which I don't), or a cleft chin (none here), and likely to have blue or green eyes (check!), wavy hair (check!) and lighter skin (wrong!).
- I'm also likely to prefer sweet over salty (nope!)…so just because you have certain genes doesn't mean you're 100% going to have the condition.
DNA Testing Kit: 23andMe Review + Discount
Ready to get your personalized results and take your health and wellness into your own hands?!
Here's how it works: Order your kit from 23andMe.com, then simply spit some saliva into a tube. No blood, no needles. Easy! Then just wait 6-8 weeks for your results (that anticipation is the harder part!).
FOR A LIMITED TIME: From November 1 – 23 (Black Friday) 2018, you can save up to 50% on Ancestry Kits! How? Just visit 23andMe and pay $69 for one Ancestry Kit (regular price is $99), or get them for just $49 per Ancestry Kit when you buy two or more!
Missed the deal or want the Ancestry + Health Tests? The cost is $199. However, if you order multiple tests for your family members you'll get 10% off each additional Health + Ancestry Service!
Have you ever taken any DNA tests? Let us know about your experience in the comments!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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