Where do my ancestors hail from? Am I likely to get a specific disease? Do I carry a genetic variant that could affect the health of my descendants? Am I likely to have wet or dry earwax?
These are just some of the questions to which users of at-home genetic testing kits may hope to get answers.
At Persevera, we insist on creating a blueprint for health and wellness that is customized for each of our members. When it comes to at-home DNA test kits, then, we are primarily interested in whether— and how— genetic test results might help our members make better-informed decisions about their training regimen, recovery time, diet and sleep habits.
To shed some light on the matter, we purchased at-home genetic test kits offered by two different companies. This blogpost describes our year-long experience with 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry kit, which was originally ordered in June of 2016. In a related blogpost, we describe our experience with DNAFit’s at-home service.
Persevera manager and personal training client since 2009
23andMe analyzes genetic data from an individual’s saliva sample and generates personalized reports based on scientific and medical research. 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry reports provide information in a variety of categories:
Ancestry reports provide information on an individual’s origins and genealogy, including ancestry composition.
Carrier Status reports provide information on variants that may not affect the user’s health but that could affect the health of the user’s offspring.
Genetic Health Risk reports provide information about genetic variants that may increase an individual’s risk of developing certain health conditions, such as late-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had previously imposed a moratorium on the release of such reports, but, as of April of 2017, allows 23andMe to make reports on certain conditions available to users.
Traits reports provide predictions on an individual’s physical responses and physical appearance. Such reports introduce a bit of levity into the at-home genetic testing experience by predicting, for example, whether an individual is likely to be able to smell the asparagus metabolite in his/her urine and whether an individual is likely to have back hair.
Wellness reports provide information on how DNA influences a body’s response to environmental factors like diet and lifestyle. On the diet front, one report provides information on the likelihood that an individual is lactose intolerant, while another report predicts whether the amount of saturated fat intake is likely to affect an individual’s weight (assuming total caloric intake remains constant). On the athletic performance front, a report predicts whether an individual’s muscle composition is more in common with that of elite power athletes (such as sprinters, throwers and jumpers) or with that of endurance athletes (such as distance runners).
Pricing and Process
I paid a total of $208.95 for 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry kit in June of 2016. The cost of the kit itself was $199, and the cost for standard shipping to New York City was $9.95. Express shipping was alternatively available at the time for $36.95.
I received the sample collection kit in New York City six days after I had placed the order.
I then created my online account, registered my kit, and completed an online personal survey whose questions related to ancestry, ethnicity, weight and height, blood test results (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides) and prior treatments for diseases and other conditions. The total time required to create the account and complete the personal survey was approximately twenty minutes.
I next collected my saliva sample. The instructions were easy to follow and the collection process took fewer than five minutes.
Four days after returning my sample to 23andMe, I received notice via email that my kit had arrived at the lab for processing. The notice stated that my results should be available in six to eight weeks, and provided a link to my online account so that I could check the processing status of my sample over time.
Two days thereafter, I received an emailed request from 23andMe to participate in an optional genetics survey. According to 23andMe, answers provided in the online survey are used in combination with genetic data to help researchers better understand how genes affect our bodies. To ensure privacy, 23andMe states that personally identifying information would not be used in the research. I completed the survey on two separate occasions, which took nearly two hours in total. Over the next year, I periodically received requests to respond to additional survey questions online, most of which took five or fewer minutes to answer.
My initial results became available one month after I had sent my sample to the lab. Throughout the following year, I periodically received emailed notices stating that new reports had become available for review. As of the date of this blogpost, I have online access to five ancestry reports, forty-two carrier status reports, twenty-two traits reports, and eight wellness reports. Following the FDA’s approval for their release in April of 2017, I additionally received genetic health risk reports on four distinct health conditions. According to 23andMe, reports on a total of ten genetic health conditions will ultimately be made available, including one on celiac disease.
On the one-year anniversary of my original order, I received an emailed request from 23andMe to complete a short survey to bring my health history up to date. 23andMe expects to send such a request to users annually. The update survey took approximately ten minutes to complete online.
What I Liked
I was able to choose which types of reports to view and which to ignore when I set up my online account. I opted to view all available reports.
The process was well-explained and the instructions were easy to follow.
I received additional reports over time as new information became available (at no extra cost).
23andMe’s Health + Ancestry reports are varied (covering five categories) and comprehensive (with eighty-one total personalized reports available to me online as of the date of this blogpost).
The eight reports that I received under the wellness category provided the most helpful information to me when it came to evaluating my training regimen, diet and sleep habits.
While most of the reports in the traits category are unlikely to offer any new information (for example, you already know what color your eyes are), I enjoyed reviewing these reports as a test of accuracy. Most reports were spot on in my case.
Individuals can link their results to those of family members and friends to share and compare results. I easily linked my results to those of my sibling.
Application to MY Regimen
One of my wellness reports indicates that my muscle composition is likely to be more in common with that of power, rather than endurance, athletes. This finding validates my choice of training regimen at Persevera, which consists of one or two thirty-minute, high intensity strength training sessions per week. My results since beginning this style of training have been far superior to those that I experienced previously when I was exercising at a lower intensity level for longer periods of time.
What to Know
Some individuals may not wish to view certain reports. This can be particularly true for genetic health risk reports that indicate if a variant has been detected that may increase the risk of developing a specific health condition.
While 23andMe does provide dietary, muscle composition and sleep reports under the wellness category, they comprise just under 10% of reports available to me as of the date of this blogpost.
Potential users may wish to visit 23andMe’s privacy center prior to purchasing a Health + Ancestry kit to review the company's disclosure relating to its third-party data sharing policies and data security measures.
I did not encounter any problems with the service over the last year. I therefore did not contact, and cannot comment on, 23andMe’s customer service. As of the date of this blogpost, the website provides a telephone number and an online email form for individuals who do have questions or encounter issues.
Updated Pricing and Product Information
Details provided in this post are accurate as of the dates and locations stated. Information is subject to change by the manufacturer/service provider, and Persevera undertakes no responsibility to update the details of this post. Visit 23andMe's website for the manufacturer’s/service provider’s updated pricing and product information.
additional resource and Feedback
If you decide to use an at-home genetic testing kit to help refine your health and wellness regimen, we would love to hear about your experience! Email us your feedback.
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