What I learned from 23 And Me

by holli on January 9, 2014

Do I look Asian to you?

Do I look Asian to you?

Ever since I moved back to Seattle in 2003, I have had one person ask me every year, “What kind of Asian are you?” I was even asked by an Asian man accepting donations at a Goodwill truck. So, I’ve always wondered if there is some line of Asian ancestry in my background. Being a little bit of a genealogy and history geek, I knew most of my blood comes from Norway, Croatia and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe (Native American).

So, once I was diagnosed with the MTHFR gene mutation using a blood test specifically for it, I wondered if a consumer level DNA service could tell me more or if it even showed up on the test. After all, filling a tube with saliva is a lot less painful than a blood draw.

Well, at first glance through my results, it’s really not clear at all about if I have the gene mutation. They provide a list of over 60 common health risks like heart disease, cancer to high blood pressure and hypertension. Before you can even look at the most life altering ones like caner, you have to read a statement about how you should be consulting with a practitioner for such results, then you get to actually look at them, and for all of mine, I’m totally in the clear. Even things that are related to MTHFR like Addiction and Depression weren’t showing up except for a high probability to smoke. A little googling revealed that there are services out there to analyze your raw data from 23andMe, costing $20 to see if you have common mutations like MTHFR. I found a free one and tried it.

I was curious enough to get the raw data analyzed as my way of testing the accuracy of the test – it showed I have 2 mutations, when my blood only showed 1. I trust a blood test more than saliva, and think that services like 23andMe are not 100% accurate. But, they are helpful when you want to look into your health and heritage and not pay $400 for a blood test that your insurance doesn’t cover. All that said, if I had MTHFR show up on my saliva test, I would then fork over the cash to get my blood tested to make sure it was accurate.

After I was able to read my results and start learning more about my ancestry, the FDA issued a warning to 23andMe that they are in violation of some things (they didn’t get specific)…basically, the FDA doesn’t approve of any genetic testing. Honestly, I realize they have to do their job, but from a consumer perspective, I didn’t take the results to be totally comprehensive about my health. For example, it said that on average, I have a higher than likely probability to over eat. Well, anyone who knows me knows that while I love food, I do not over eat. Also, it said that if I smoked, I’d be addicted. I really hate the process of inhaling anything but air, so that is not a potential problem in my life. As for the FDA controversy, if you visit the site today you’ll see this notice:

Welcome to 23andMe.

At this time, we have suspended our health-related genetic tests to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process.

We are continuing to provide you with both ancestry-related genetic tests and raw genetic data, without 23andMe’s interpretation.

If you are an existing customer please click the button below and then go to the health page for additional information, including information about refunds.

We remain firmly committed to fulfilling our long-term mission to help people everywhere have access to their own genetic data and have the ability to use that information to improve their lives.

Honestly, I won’t be requesting a refund, and found the service overall to be insightful.  I would say that if you are curious about your ancestry, the https://www.23andme.com/ test will give you a general overview. For example, I knew I was Native American, but they can only show that I’m a certain percentage Native American, not what tribe my blood lines come from. And, yes, I learned that I’m 0.3% Southeast Asian. But, with the inaccuracy of my MTHFR results, I wonder if the tiny bit of Asian is accurate or not. I’ve decided to take it and be able to answer, “Yes, a tiny bit” when folks ask me what kind of Asian I am.

In my opinion 23andme is like the McDonald’s of Genetic Mapping – a quick, fast, fun intellectual view of me, but not as in depth as I had hoped (especially about my ethnic heritage). With FDA regulation, hopefully this kind of testing will be available in the future with better check points for accuracy. Then again, they haven’t done an awesome job of regulating McDonalds so who knows, really?

p.s. A writer who paid for all the current available genetic tests found mixed results too:I Had My DNA Picture Taken With Varying Results


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