Health DNA testing: is it worth it?


Put simply, home DNA testing is most synonymous with a shortcut to knowing your family history. Knowing where we come from, who our ancestors were and even finding family you never knew existed has been an intriguing forever. At no point in history was this uninteresting. It’s just that it’s a long road that takes a lot of time, has a lot of obstacles, and in some instances, has no light at the end of it. Yet, this has become only one aspect of DNA testing.

DNA tests essentially offer route 1 science on the issue. In exchange for $50 or $100, companies will take your DNA via cheek swab or similar, and perform expert analysis on it. There’s no doubt that these are real scientists/real science models to analyse this, though this doesn’t mean there aren’t limitations to the service (see below). After a few weeks of waiting, you will receive a report of the results. If it was an ethnic test kit, you’ll discover a breakdown of percentages that represent your ethnic make-up.

Which kits give you health data and not only ancestry

To be clear, a breakdown on your ethnic patterns is far from the only finding you can receive. As most are aware, many health conditions can be passed down the family. Some conditions can be passed down even when they themselves never suffered from the condition. And if it can be passed down, it must be in our DNA. Afterall, you’re not socialised into Cystic Fibrosis, you’re born with it.

Health kits work in the same way as ethnic ones, only they test different things. A health DNA test kit will result in reports on your carrier status and propensity for certain health conditions. Some can even break down the findings into practical advice, such as what foods you should be eating or what kind of athletics you might be good at. As the market has grown rapidly, there are now many great choices for customers.

23andme’s fallout with the FDA

23andme has had a bumpy road. Having been founded in 2006, it was an early starter in the DNA analysis industry. But despite some early success, in 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration decided that the company needed to stop its DNA operations. This was much to the surprise of CEO Anne Wojcicki, who didn’t believe the company needed regulation.

After taking a few months hiatus, Wojicicki accepted the fate of the company and began figuring out a way in which it could reconcile with the FDA. The problem was that the FDA claims it is very much entering into the heavily regulated healthcare industry, whilst 23andme thought it could offer health insights on the basis of harmless DNA analysis. The two parties managed to compromise and 23andme were allowed to tell customers 10 risks of certain, agreed medical conditions (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and 8 others).

23andme initially wanted to identify 254 diseases, but the FDA found that the implications would be reckless. There would be health issues among many other reactions from the false positives or false negatives that would arise. In other words, they knew the analysis isn’t 100% accurate, and so telling someone they don’t have the predisposition for Alzheimer’s could lead to the customer not identifying their health condition early on and tackling it with professionals.

This limited agreement with FDA and led to a relationship that’s relationship led a huge explosion in their customer base, making them perhaps the most prominent DNA analysis company that customers were aware of.

Bottom line

Currently, there’s no exact data on the accuracy of these DNA health test kits. This is because they’ve not been around for a long enough time yet. What is certain is that many doctors dissuade customers from using them, because their inaccuracies can be dangerous (or even waste their time).

So, it’s not to say that there’s nothing to gain, but about taking the results with a pinch of salt. More specifically, consult with your doctor about the results and ask them to interpret the data, as misinterpretation is a huge issue in this industry.


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