Yes, that would certainly be a real gamechanger. And that’s exactly what’s been fueling the trend toward medical DNA testing. A powerful tool with both preventative and restorative advantages, these genetic sequencing barometers are helping the medical world revolutionize the way we approach our health. Curious about what a medical DNA test is, what you can learn from one, and how exactly it works? We’ve got the answers, so read on to be enlightened.
What is a Medical DNA Test?
A DNA test is a type of test that analyzes your DNA to give you specific information about your genetic makeup. Medical DNA tests prove your genes to give you more details about the health and medical conditions you may have inherited or be prone to thanks to your genealogy. Tests are available in convenient at-home kits, so you can take the test from the comfort of your own home, don’t need any appointment, enjoy non-invasive sample procedures, and get the results in a matter of weeks. DNA test samples can be collected by swabbing your cheek (least invasive), gathering your saliva into a tube, or pricking the tip of your finger.
Fascinating Discoveries You Can Make
Medical DNA tests are becoming increasingly more popular as the science behind them becomes more understood. Now that people are realizing all that they can learn from a simple cheek swab, consumers are embracing this new early detection method that offers a fountain of useful, sometimes even life-saving, information.
So, what can you learn from a medical DNA test anyway? Here are a few of the most important discoveries being made with these at-home kits:
- Disposition to Genetic Diseases
Probably the biggest reason for taking a medical DNA test is to determine whether or not you are a carrier of certain diseases or medical conditions. The list of diseases that are being tested for today is impressive and includes:
- Late-onset Alzheimer’s
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Hereditary hearing loss
Heart disease and cancer are the 2 biggest fatal health risks in the country. With DNA testing, you can find out if you or your kids are at a higher risk for contracting these diseases. Other diseases like Cystic Fibrosis or Sickle Cell Anemia are also genetically transferred, and these kits can tell you if you are carrying these volatile genes as well.
Bringing this down to practical life, many people are using these results to make important decisions about their future. For example, couples who discover that one of them is a carrier of these genes are opting to use IVF to conceive, preventing these genetic diseases from being passed on to their children.
- Other Genetic Health Risks or Traits
In addition to life-altering diseases and prevention, DNA tests can help you see other genetic health traits you may have inherited. Things like lactose intolerance, sensitivity to certain types of food, high cholesterol, and propensity toward obesity can also be uncovered using a simple at-home kit. Using this information can help you make small changes that will make a huge difference in your life, energy levels, and overall health.
- Your Blood’s “Age”
One of the most interesting uses for medical DNA tests, today you can actually see how old your blood is. Well, not literally how old it is, that’s obvious. But these tests show you how well your blood is aging by measuring telomere degradation.
- Nutrition & Weight loss
Finally, medical DNA tests are becoming increasingly more popular for nutrition and weight loss guidance. These tests can give you invaluable insight into the way your body works based on your genes, what type of exercise programs will work for you, and how you should be eating to optimize your nutrition for health and weight loss. This is a real breakthrough in the weight loss industry because it is finally giving dieters a personalized approach to fitness and healthy eating that can yield positive results.
Here Are the Top Medical DNA Tests
23andMe has made a name in the industry by offering a “health + ancestry” package that not only traces your genetic history and ancestry, but can also shed some light on health problems you could face in the future.
The tests include 4 sections that relate to your health:
- The genetic health risks section can tell you how your genetic makeup can affect your risk of contracting certain diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Celiac, among others.
- The carrier status section can tell you if you are a risk of contracting different conditions like Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, and more. It’s important to note, these results are not a substitute for the diagnosis of a healthcare professional, but they can shed light on something that you could have your doctor check out.
- The wellness section can give you information about how your genes can affect different physical traits like lactose intolerance, trouble sleeping, and more.
- The “traits” section can tell you about a number of personal traits like how prone you are to hair loss and if you’re wired to like salty snacks or if you have a sweet tooth.
Vitagene is another company that uses DNA to put together an assessment of your body’s health needs. After taking a Vitagene DNA test, you’ll receive results that can help you craft a personalized fitness regimen, as well as a guide to which vitamins you need and what foods you should (or should not) eat. These supplements can then be ordered on a monthly basis.
Vitagene says that the method “takes the guesswork out of supplements to let you know exactly what you should be taking and how often.”
The company can also help you with a diet based on DNA, while it takes your DNA results and matches you with a nutrition professional, who provides an assessment of your diet and wellness needs.
The pricing plan is broken down as follows - you can order a health report for $49, a health and ancestry report for $99, or a health and ancestry report with “smart supplements” for $149. The vitamins are $79 per mouth and this charge automatically renews every 30 days.
How These Tests Gather the Health Info
DNA health tests work by first gathering a sample from the customer, typically either through a saliva sample or a cheek swab. Lab technicians then begin combing through the sample to find clues about your health, what is known as “genotyping.”
One way the tests gather information is by looking at your Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP), which are variations in your DNA that can be compared to other people's DNA and possibly indicate the presence of a gene associated with a particular disease or physical condition.
Different variants in DNA can indicate all types of potential health conditions, which you may have inherited from your parents. It’s also worth noting that there is a wide variety of diseases which may not be predictable by looking at DNA variants.
Supplements and Recommendations
In addition to predictions of your personal health issues, many companies can also recommend fitness regimens that work for your genetic makeup, or which are more likely to provide optimal results for someone with your genes.
By pinpointing physical traits which are indicated by your DNA, these tests can also recommend a diet that could work better for you. Your genes can indicate a number of things from how your body handles lactose to how it metabolizes alcohol or caffeine, giving you an idea of foods you may be better off avoiding.
Once the lab has created a profile of your health and the issues you may or may not face, it can create a customized recommendation for supplements. With Vitagene for instance, if your test shows that you have problems with blood pressure or that you’re at risk of obesity, it can provide you with monthly supplements to help counter these issues. These tests can also show which supplements your body may have trouble metabolizing or which are unnecessary - so you could potentially stop shelling out cash for pills you don’t need.
With some companies, in addition to dietary assessments and supplements, you can also receive a consultation from a nutritionist who will go over your test results and tell you how it translates to your daily life.
How Reliable and Accurate is the Health Info?
DNA testing companies use a wealth of scientific know-how and precision techniques to analyze your samples.
That said, many nutritionists and scientists dispute the extent to which these tests can create a quick-fix solution, arguing that when it comes to eating and exercising, the importance of balanced meals and regular exercise are basically universal, regardless of the results of a DNA test. In other words, test or no test, you’ll always be better off if you don’t smoke, eat a balanced diet, get ample sleep, and exercise regularly.
Some medical professionals also warn that tests can cause users to worry about potential health risks, without having first seen a doctor who could potentially allay those fears.
Take it With a Grain of Salt
There is a wealth of rigorous scientific know-how that goes into DNA health testing, but the field is still relatively new, and accuracy will continue to grow in the near future. These tests can give important indications about your genetic background and health concerns, but they should not be a one-stop solution. You still need to regularly visit your doctor, and speak to a trained health professional before making any serious life changes.
Click here to read more information about these and other DNA testing companies.