I tried 23andMe and here are the results
How much value would you assign to the possibility of preventing a disease? How curious are you about your ancestry and where you really come from? I was curious enough to buy the 23andMe ancestry and health kit (although I don’t think there is any other option at a comparable price).
The ethos of 23andMe is that individuals should have the power to take action about their health and well-being with science that is readily available today. Also, they know that there are people like me who like graphs and spreadsheets and that couldn’t resist the temptation of analyzing themselves with more data than you thought was possible to produce about a person.
23andMe takes the expression “know yourself” to a whole new level.
23andMe provides ancestry and health reports and all you need to do is send them some saliva. The trade was attractive enough to get me to say yes, and in exchange, I got a wealth of information about myself that I still haven’t had the time to fully process.
The ancestry portion called me because I was born in a small Central American country, Costa Rica, where nobody really knows what race is, since we are a pretty diverse mix of a few races (and everybody’s been told they are white). Costa Rica was conquered by the Spaniards, who encountered civilizations of Native Americans (indigenous people) upon their arrival. In the cases where they didn’t kill the natives, they mated with them, and that’s the story of my side of the world. How much of each broad racial group we all are was a mystery. Until now.
The health reports called me because I want to live a long, healthy life (and because I don’t believe in doctors). If you could know today that you were likely to suffer from a disease based on your genetic heritage, wouldn’t you want to do something about it? This is one of the most compelling reasons why I loved this idea: in the face of failing healthcare systems and unsustainable lifestyle patterns, understanding the likelihood of a certain disease from a genetic perspective gives you the power to control the environmental factors that could also have an impact in the development of a health condition like Alzheimer’s Disease. This puts the power back in the individual and not the hospitals or doctors, who work with very different incentives.
On April 6th 2017, 23andMe received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to offer ten new reports, including Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Parkinson’s Disease. This makes the company the only one in the World authorized to provide personal health risks reports directly to consumers without a prescription. Since I got mine done before this authorization was granted, I was wondering if I would have access to the new reports, but I checked my account recently and all the new reports were there. All the findings are below.
It is very important that you read all the supplemental information that is provided along with your ancestry and carrier status reports. Showing positive results for one or more variants of a certain disease does not mean you’ll develop that disease, similarly, not testing positive for any such variants does not mean you are forever free of the condition. Lile most things in life, it’s all about probabilities
Here are my full results:
First of all, if you have never seen me, this is how I look like (sorry about the selfies):
Ok, this is pretty cool…
This distribution is not surprising, based on the history of the place where I was born, but it’s still nice to know. I always thought I could have more African or Middle Eastern, but my DNA says otherwise.
Overall, it was great to see the different ethnic groups that gave origin to my people. Keep in mind that with a high level of confidence, the breakdown gets less detailed and, as you introduce uncertainty, the breakdown becomes more speculative (less statistical significance=more fun).
If you are thinking of having babies, these reports seem like must-have information, it’s a little surprising to me that people don’t generally do this before they have a baby, but we are not like most people.
It was great to see a 100% “clean” report, of course, but again, this doesn’t mean that I will not have any of the above conditions, it just narrows the probabilities in my favor a little bit. If something had showed up as a risk, though, for me or my husband or both, I’m sure we would be researching all the things we can do to help our odds. Living healthy in general is probably your best bet anyway, and I’m already trying to do that.
Any flags detected here can also give you the initiative to consult a physician and take further action.
New genetic health risk reports
There are two bad boys in there that most of us understand the general implications of (Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease), so it was a little scary to check these out. I only had access to them a couple days ago and I was glad I didn’t see any flags. My husband, on the other hand had one variant for AD, if you get this kind of result, do not freak out, it just means that you might have a slightly higher risk for your demographic group.
My grandmother had AD and it was a heavy experience. New research comes out constantly to help us understand the factors that matter in developing AD. Multiple drugs that aim to prevent or minimize the symptoms will be worth millions when fully tested, but we have the power to stay healthy in body and mind in all the ways we can control, so that’s what we’ll do. My father passed away at a relatively young age and he suffered from multiple health conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes. I know that family history can be an indicator of future health, so for me, those data points are only additional reasons to try to be healthier.
I am glad there weren’t any flags on my reports and knowing is totally worth the price of the 23andMe kit. Some friends and acquaintances seem to not understand why we did this, but it’s so clear to me that if there was something you could do to have a better life, you should do it, and this highly specialized information about your body is simply another tool you can use. It’s like a fitbit but for nerdier people. I predict that this type of research will be even more prevalent in the future and that companies like 23andMe will revolutionize the way we understand disease and preventative care.
When I say you can learn more about yourself, I mean it. Although some facts you probably already knew…
So, is it worth it?
Absolutely. When we decided we wanted to spend our money on this, we thought that this could be one of the best uses for it, due to the potential impact in our approach to our health going forward. I want to spend more on things like these and less in tangible goods.
In memory of my grandmother, Gema and my father, Jorge. Thank you for that good DNA and all the life lessons.