23andMe Health Data: What You Can Learn, and What to Do With It!
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By purchasing DNA testing with 23andMe, there are many aspects of your health you can learn about. A simple saliva sample can give you a world of information. However, most users don’t recognize the significance of the results. This article documents what you can learn from a 23andMe test, and explains what action steps you can take to get the most benefit out of your health results!
23andMe Health Data: What Can You Learn?
Carrier Status Reports
Carrier status reports detail any genetic variants you carry which contribute to genetic disorders. These variants, unlike others reported by 23andMe, contribute to disease directly. In other words, these variants cause changes in your cells which lead directly to the symptoms of a disease. This makes carrier reports one of the most important aspects of genetic testing, which can give you a definite, clear analysis of your genetic information.
Many of these are recessive disorders, meaning you need two copies of disease-causing variants to have the disease. However, with only 1 copy you may exhibit no symptoms. But, you still have a 50% chance of passing the bad copy onto your children. Below are some of the more common genetic diseases 23andMe tests for:
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Tay-Sachs Disease
- Hereditary Thrombophilia
- 40+ More!
Knowing that you are a carrier of a genetic disorder means you and your partner can plan for potential children and calculate the possibility of passing on a genetic disorder to them. Carrier status reports are one of the few actionable items found in 23andMe health data.
Health Predisposition and Wellness Reports
While carrier status reports are very informative, the Health Predisposition Reports are less helpful. These reports also measure genetic variants you carry, but these variants do not have a cause-and-effect relationship with disease. Instead, these reports document correlations found between the variants and certain diseases. In some cases, certain variants have been found more often in people with certain diseases.
Unfortunately, these correlations are not as exact or robust as carrier status reports.
In fact, 23andMe was once rebuked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for overmarketing the importance of their tests. Many companies offer this type of genetic health risk report. While they cannot predict whether or not you will get a disease, they can help you make healthy choices to decrease your risk. If you find you are at a higher risk and are concerned, you should seek a genetic counselor to help understand what action you can take to reduce your risk. Below are a number of tests offered by 23andMe:
- Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Breast Cancer
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Macular Degeneration
- Ovarian Cancer
- Lactose Intolerance
- Saturated Fat Metabolism and Weight
- Alcohol Flush Reaction
- And more!
It is good to know if you are at a higher risk for any of these diseases. Although, you should know that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise often have a much bigger impact than your genetic disease risks found in your health report.
How to Protect your Health Data
While 23andMe does charge you for administering a DNA test, they also make a significant amount of revenue selling aggregate, depersonalized DNA data. They are also looking to collect more health information on their customers, so they can sell more data to researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies. This means that, in the end, your health data could end up being sold to another company, sans your name and personal information.
However, 23andMe does allow customers to opt-out of having their data aggregated and sold to researchers. To do so, you must read the fine-print carefully during your purchase and registration of a DNA testing kit.
Does 23andMe Provide Any Other Health Data?
While 23andMe only reports on a number of highly researched genetic variants, there is much more genetic research available. Most genetic testing companies allow you to download your raw data. By downloading your genetic data, you can learn your genetic risk for a number of other conditions. Some of these have not been researched as well as Alzheimer’s or breast cancer, so don’t put too much weight on the results.
To find out more DNA upload sites, check out our article "The Best DNA Upload Sites"