What your home DNA test can (and can’t) tell you
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Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests have become popular over the past few years. These tests allow customers to get a genetic analysis of their own DNA without going through a healthcare provider. In April 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the company 23andMe approval to sell consumers information about their genetic risk for 10 conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, celiac disease, hereditary thrombophilia, and more. In October of 2018, the FDA also authorized them to sell reports about potential medication reactions that may be due to genetic influences.
“Healthcare is becoming more and more consumer-driven over time,” says Mary Freivogel, former president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and cancer expert. “Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is likely here to stay and expand dramatically over the next five years.”
So what exactly can these genetic tests reveal about your health? Several companies, including 23andMe, offer genetic testing (sometimes requiring physician involvement) that shed light on wellness-related factors (like sleep and weight), carrier status (for diseases like cystic fibrosis), inherited cancer risk (like breast cancer), and even inherited traits (like eye color and food sensitivity) as well as your ancestral background.
It’s important to note that the FDA reviews DTC tests that are intended for “moderate to high risk medical purposes.” The agency reviews these tests to analyze clinical validity and the company’s claims. However, DTC tests that are non-medical or for general wellness are not reviewed before they’re offered to the public. The agency warns consumers to be cautious with DTC tests and talk with a health care provider about your results.
Now, read on to learn what your doctor isn’t telling you about these DTC tests. (Here are 7 ways your genes impact your drinking habits.)
Genetic tests can provide explanations for strange medical symptoms
Alix, a working mother in Seattle, had been troubled by symptoms of chronic fatigue, repeated illness, and “stabbing” pains in her abdomen since childhood (here are some possible medical reasons for such stomach pains). Over the years, multiple doctors were unable to find a cause. Often, she was told her the problems must be in her head.
Finally, after bad stomach pains prompted a rush to the emergency room, Alix turned to 23andMe. She ordered a kit that involves collecting a saliva sample that’s sent back to the company for a genetic analysis. The results indicated it was very likely that she has lactose intolerance. This common condition occurs when an individual lacks the enzyme to digest a sugar in milk. A lactose intolerance can lead to gastrointestinal problems. After 40 years of pain, Alix says her symptoms “all made sense.” She changed her diet to eliminate dairy. Now, Alix feels as if she has a “new body.”