The DNA home test kit industry has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, as millions of people have opted to turn over a cheek swab or some saliva in order to unlock the mysteries of their family tree. But these tests aren’t only a means to trace your history, they can also provide insight into the health problems hidden in your genetic code.
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 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 nutritionist 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.