Home DNA tests are, perhaps, one of the hottest health trends! They’ve proved to be a fun gift, but are they really worth all the hype?
What’s the draw?
With the rising popularity of at-home DNA tests, companies like 23 and Me, Ancestry, Viatgene, Orig3n, Helix, etc. have gone beyond using DNA data to track down distant ancestors and have expanded to offer more services, including personalized nutrition plans and health risk assessments. While each testing company may offer slightly different services, they all are united in the belief that understanding your genetics will give you the crucial information needed to make important choices about your future.
For example, 23and Me claims to offer insights into your health, including analyzing your risk for developing a number of serious illnesses such as Breast Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Orig3n also offers nutrition and fitness recommendations based on your genetic results. Vitagene pledges to help “find a diet that’s right for your body.” In short, these companies assert that knowing your genetics can help you plan a diet, or focus on your health in a way that is tailored to you.
The Science Behind It:
First, it’s important to know that 99.9% of all DNA in humans is basically identical. The remaining 0.1% that is responsible for making us unique individuals (well, that, combined with our varied environments and experiences). As such, genetic tests do not look at the entire genome, but rather, they look at small, specific regions of DNA that vary among humans. Markers within these regions are used in paternity & maternity testing, ancestry tracking, and even the DNA identification used to solve crimes.
Potential Limitations & Risks of DNA Testing:
It can be difficult to interpret the results of genetic tests alone. Just because a genetic test has determined some risk for a particular condition, does not necessarily mean that you will later be diagnosed, and vice versa. Therefore, relying on genetic testing results alone may be misleading, leaving participants feeling either blindly relieved or needlessly panicked. Genetic specialist, James Evans, says that since such tests are still new the results are often unclear and inconclusive, and don’t offer the whole picture.
Across the board, experts warn DNA test users to take all results with a grain of salt. Even the companies themselves advise clients to speak with a genetic counselor for help accurately interpreting genetic results. DNA kits can be fun when used recreationally, but genuine concerns about health and nutrition should always be taken up with a healthcare professional.