Does DNA = destiny? Part 2

Some of you may recall a previous post related to my experience with genetic composition testing designed to “optimize your daily nutrition and exercise routine to help meet your fitness and health goals.” I learned some interesting things and honestly, I just find genetics a fascinating subject in general. So, it didn’t take much to convince me to dive in again when I received a discount for 23andme’s Ancestry and Health test kit. They were having a buy one, get one half off sale so my husband decided to do it as well. (He’s adopted and has little information about his birth family’s ethnicity or health history, so he thought this could provide some answers in that arena).

This decision once again brought up debate and discussion about how much one really wants to know about their genetic composition, and how it might influence one’s behaviors and actions. I am firmly in the “all in” camp as I believe the knowledge gained would positively influence my life. For example, one of the tests is for predisposition to late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. If I discovered I had the genetic variant that indicated I was at high risk, it would prompt me to get going on my “bucket list” and do things NOW that I might otherwise put off until retirement. My husband was not quite as sure how he would respond to such information, so he let me go first and made his decision after I got my results.

The process and test was easy (for this one you have to provide a spit sample in a tube), and I received my results in less time than the company indicated it would take. The results are provided online through your password-protected account. You also have the ability to connect with other relatives via the 23andme website. I discovered a few (known) cousins who’ve done the test and also other “genetic” relatives in the local area (people whom I don’t know but apparently we share some common DNA. Who knew?).

Here are some highlights from my results:

Ancestry

All my life, I have always stated that I am 50% Italian (as my father’s parents/grandparents emigrated from Italy), 25% German (through my maternal grandfather) and 25% Irish (through my maternal grandmother). Turns out, that’s close but not exact. Genetically, I am about 31% Italian, 22% British and Irish, 8% German and then a smattering of other parts of Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. I’m more of a melting pot than I thought! My parents are going to do the test as well, so I will be curious to see how their results compare to mine.

Health and Traits

I have to say that the health information is quite comprehensive, and the company does give you a choice upfront about which results you do and do not want to receive. I opted into it all. I should note that you also fill out a health history form and other optional survey questions when you register for the test, which I think ties into the “traits” section of the results. If I understand the algorithm correctly, I believe some of the traits are based both on genetics as well as people’s preferences as determined by the survey questions. For example, one of the questions you are asked is your preference for vanilla versus chocolate ice cream. I think they take the answer to that question across all participants and then compare it to the genetic info to determine that people with this gene tend to prefer chocolate (or vice versa).

Health Predisposition

The four major health conditions in this section that you have to opt in or out of include:

  • Breast Cancer (BRCA1/BRCA2 – selected variants)
  • MUTYH-Associated Polyposis (colorectal cancer)
  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease

There are some other interesting conditions such as Celiac Disease, Age-related Macular Degeneration and Type 2 Diabetes. My test indicated that “variant(s) not detected” for all of the tests except Hereditary Thrombophilia and Type 2 Diabetes. It indicated I have a “slightly increased risk” for developing blood clots as I have one of the two genetic variants they test for. I have “typical likelihood” of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Based on the 23andme database of participants, people of European descent with genetics like mine have about a 30% chance of developing diabetes between my current age and 80. Diabetes does run in my family on both sides and I have been acutely aware of how my eating habits, especially my sweet tooth, may impact my risk. I have done well in the last decade or so with reducing my sugar intake. I also try to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, so hopefully that will reduce my risk further.

I should note that there are disclaimers all over the website, both when you register and when you receive your results, emphasizing that these tests do not diagnose any health conditions. They also remind you about other factors, such as lifestyle, environment, and family history, that affect your chances of developing these conditions. I appreciated the fact that they provide suggestions about what to do with the data, such as share it with your personal physician to discuss the risks. They also discuss the potential need for genetic counseling if the results indicate you have the genetic variant(s) tested.

Carrier Status

This section indicates whether you have genetic variants that could affect your children’s health. The list of conditions included Cystic Fibrosis as well as Sickle Cell Anemia along with a host of others I have never heard of. My results indicated “variant not detected” for all of them, which is good news for my daughter (my husband had the same results, so she seems to be in the clear).

Wellness and Traits

The other two sections focused on how your DNA might affect your body’s response to diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as the genetics behind your appearance and senses. The Wellness section was similar to the testing I had done two years ago, and I found similar results regarding weight (predisposed to weigh above average) and muscle composition (I have one genetic variant commonly found in elite power athletes such as sprinters.) I still laugh at that latter result as I hate sprinting.

In my opinion, the Traits section has more lighthearted, “nice to know” vs. “need to know” characteristics such as the ability to detect the odor in your urine after you eat asparagus (I am “likely to smell”) and earlobe type (“likely detached earlobes” which is correct). I disagreed with some of the results in this section. For example, it indicated that I was more likely to prefer salty vs. sweet – nope, I tend to reach for sugary snacks when I have a choice. It also indicated I was likely to not have dimples. Wrong again – some people say they are one of my best facial features.

So, what’s the verdict?

Bottom line, I am glad that I did the test. The ancestry part is fascinating and has sparked an interest in exploring genealogy further. The health predisposition results were reassuring, although I absolutely acknowledge that these results do not mean I won’t develop any of those diseases. I do plan to talk to my physician about the blood clot predisposition as there is some family history with this problem and I want to determine if there is anything I can do to minimize my risk. Overall, I believe there is value in this information and that it could help many people change their behaviors to optimize their health and well-being.  

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