Wednesday, August 28, 2013

23andMe... Yes, Me!

I've done something kind of interesting!

 I've always found genetics to be fascinating and now I've discovered a really fun way to find out more about my own. Earlier this summer I saw a brief news clip about a company called 23andMe. For $99 I could find out a LOT of hints about my health and ancestry. I didn't ponder long before I decided it was worth $99 to me to do this. When I mentioned it to one of the doctors with whom I work, he knew of this company and said it was a legitimate DNA test.  I don't want to mislead you. It isn't total and complete but rather only tests for certain markers. It's pretty cool, though. It's been featured on PBS's series, Who Do You Think You Are, the show where they track some celebrity's family line.

When I went online to read about 23andMe I found a nice website absolutely full of information. It told me that I would get reports on hundreds of health risks or traits. I also learned I could find out information about ancestry. So, I ordered my test kit.

My test kit arrived in only a few days. I was required to register my kit online and then directed to spit into a tube, seal it and mail it back in the prepaid packaging they provided. The instructions were complete. It was all very simple and required only a few minutes of my time. The hardest part was the waiting. It took about 4 weeks to see my results.

There are lots of cautions and such along the way, both when ordering the kit and later when choosing which reports I wanted to see. As they put it, "knowledge is irrevocable". 23andMe can provide information that leads a person to know they are adopted or that maybe they have a half-sibling somewhere. I can see where this information could be hard for some families to learn.

Maybe you would see that you had a really high risk for developing Alzheimer's Disease or something. That knowledge might be devastating! Would you want to know? The way the results are set up, you may choose to keep some of the information locked while viewing the more general results. No one should take this without being fully informed. The site gives a lot of thought-provoking information.

However, the results may tell you that you are at high risk for developing a heart condition. Maybe it would help you be motivated toward better health. Some of the results tell you if certain medications will work well for you or not. You will also learn a lot of ancestry information. It identified over 900 members who are related to me, most quite distantly. By choosing to communicate through their message system I have made contact with some of those people. One of the first turned out to be a third cousin. We were able to identify our common ancestor. It amazed me that this company could identify all those relatives just by our spit!

My results, so far, haven't been too hard to take. There are some things for which I have a higher than normal risk. A few of them I already knew about as I've already been diagnosed with them. I also found I have a lower than average risk for Parkinson's Disease. That was good news. The results do NOT diagnose anything. They just come back with a percentage number for you. It may be something like telling you that you have a 23% chance of developing some disease or ailment for which the average person only has a 3% risk. They also give you information on how to change health habits to perhaps lower your risk or at least to identify it earlier, perhaps when it is more treatable.

This company is heavily involved in research. All of its members, over 300,000 of them so far, are offered a chance to be a part of that research. Some of the results you receive won't come with a percentage because they need more results from more people before they feel sure of their answers. As more people become involved, those results will be updated. You don't have to pay to get those updates.

There are fun results on this report as well. It will make some guesses about you, based on your DNA. For instance, mine said my hair is likely slightly curlier than that of the average person, which is true. It said I was likely to be a person with blue eyes, which I am. It told me I was likely blood type AB, which I am.

As for the ancestry information, the more relatives you have who do the test, the better for your results as well.  Women, for instance, get a more complete result if a close male relative (brother) takes the test and allows you to link as being a known relative. That helps fill in some information gaps due to us women not having a "Y" chromosome.

I did have one really big disappointment when I got my results. I found out that I'm pretty vanilla. I am likely over 99% European, almost all Northern European. I was kind of hoping for something more exotic!

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