I Took The 23andMe Health + Ancestry Test And Here’s What I Learned From My DNA
Mail-in lab tasting is all the rage these days. From saliva swabs that reveal your entire ancestry to fecal samples that tell you everything you need to know about your gut health, people are pretty much obsessed with finding answers hidden inside of their bodies. And I’m no exception.
I pondered the idea of doing a health and ancestry test for years before finally begging my mom in 2017 to consider a 23andMe kit as a potential Christmas present. And thanks to the Black Friday sale that slashed the typical $199 price tag in half, she caved. So at the start of the new year, I spent two minutes spitting into a plastic laboratory tube (cute, I know) and shipped it off to God knows where, excitedly anticipating whatever news awaited me in six to eight weeks.
While a few of my friends and family members were just as excited as I was to see what my DNA revealed, others were genuinely scared for me. The idea of finding out that you’re a carrier for an incurable disease or a serious cancer gene was just too much — and certainly not something they could imagine opting into for fun. I found their concerns to be entirely valid, but my curiosity overtook any potential fear that resided within me.
Throughout my life, my “melting pot” lineage was described to me in vibrant detail and carried as a badge of honor. It was a core piece of how I identified myself and even reasoned my way through certain situations in my life. But how many times have you heard about people finding out through DNA testing that they aren’t at all what they thought they were? Right, too many. So if I was going to continue placing value on my heritage, I wanted 100 percent clarity on where it originated.
The ancestry details obviously aren’t as potentially scary as the health-related ones. However, after you watch multiple grandparents struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it actually does feel better to know where you stand personally in that battle against memory loss. And when you see friends give birth to children with defects they never saw coming, it makes you want to identify all of your carrier genes before ever reaching the family planning stage. For me, knowledge isn’t fearful. Knowledge is powerful.
Needless to say, when my 23andMe Health + Ancestry test results finally arrived in my email inbox, I poured over the pages and pages of data for hours. Here are a few of the best takeaways from my experience.
My health risk information is better off in my hands.
Through the whopping 43 carrier status reports, I presented zero variants for any of the diseases, conditions or syndromes 23andMe tests for. In layman’s terms, this means that, when it comes to my DNA, I will not be predisposing my future children to things like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia or even a fructose intolerance. While my maternal future is still entirely undecided, it’s nice to know where I stand.
The greatest relief came from the seven genetic reports that indicate whether I’m at risk of dealing with certain health problems down the line. Again, I presented zero variants for everything from Parkinson’s disease to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease to celiac disease. Phew.
While this information didn’t end up requiring any further action on my part, I can say with certainty that I asked for this data so I could have the chance to do something with it, should it be necessary. I would have sought additional testing from my physician or changed lifestyle factors if it meant playing an active role in my own health, and this tool makes the next steps you need to take crystal clear.
My intuition is surprisingly keyed into my DNA.
Thanks to my sense of self-awareness, which I’ve worked for years to improve (and continue to do so), I already knew a solid amount about my body before reading my report. So it was actually validating to see what I thought I knew prove empirically true.
More than two cups of coffee leaves me feeling like a jittery mess, so it makes sense that I’m predisposed to having a lower caffeine tolerance. I’ve never felt like a natural long-distance runner and I’ve had to train really hard to reach my marathoner status, so it makes sense that my muscle composition is actually what you would expect in an elite power athlete instead. And I’ve learned through my own diet experiments that dairy and I are in an endless love affair, so it doesn’t surprise me to find that I’m unlikely to end up with a lactose intolerance.
Was I shocked by any of my eight wellness trait reports? No. But it’s nice to have science back up how you feel about yourself. Talk about a confidence boost.
It was just good fun to think about how my saliva can tell you what I look like.
Most of us know that our likely eye and hair color stem from our DNA, but even things like our finger and toe length ratios and whether our earlobes attach to the sides of our heads are determined by these strands of cellular coding. Everything from cheek dimples to cleft chins to a propensity to freckle in the sun can be mapped out with DNA.
Beyond appearances, it can tell you fun things about yourself like whether bright lights likely trigger your sneezes, whether you had a lot of hair as a newborn, whether you’re sensitive to bitter-tasting food and whether you prefer sweet or salty flavors. Again, you don’t need your DNA to tell you that you have these traits or preferences. You know these things about yourself by now. But it’s cool to see that a lot of it doesn’t actually come down to a conscious choice. Your body already did a lot of deciding for you when you were still swimming around in your mother’s womb.
At the end of the day, deciding to look into the health information that can be provided by DNA testing was an abundantly positive experience for me. It made for fun talking points with my family, it showed me I have little to worry about when it comes to future doctor appointments (and if I did, I would at least be prepared) and it helped me embrace my physical makeup for what it is rather than being perpetually annoyed by certain obstacles I face. I’ll say it again — knowledge is powerful, and I highly recommend seeking it out for yourself.