How Researching Your Ancestry Can Help You Learn About Your Health

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DNA tests are a popular way to pinpoint your family origins and even connect with distant living relatives. But popular DNA testing company 23andMe shook things up when they began offering tests that could not only uncover your ancestry, but also show how your genes may affect your risk for certain health conditions.

Let’s take a closer look at these genetic tests and what they can tell you about your health.

Offering Genetic Clues to Family and Health

Many DNA kits started out with the aim of giving people insight into their ethnic backgrounds or places of origin. But over the past few years, many have added health reports to their list of offerings. Now you can discover important clues about which types of health conditions you may be at higher risk for based on certain genetic markers. That way, you can stay on top of health screenings and watch for early signs of conditions. 

Most tests involve no more than answering a few questions about yourself and doing an at-home DNA sample with a cheek swab or saliva. Then you register your kit online, send in your sample for analysis and wait for the results. Of course, like all genetic info, you may need to talk with a geneticist or doctor to help you understand your results and what they mean for your health. 

And keep in mind that just because the results show that a higher genetic risk for certain conditions, that doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily get those diseases. And the opposite is also true: Just because a genetic test doesn’t show higher risk for disease, that doesn’t mean you can stop going to the doctor for regular health screenings.

It’s also important to know that once you submit your DNA to these companies, there could be privacy concerns around what they do with your genetic information. So it’s a good idea to carefully read the fine print and ask any questions you have before you submit your kit.

And finally, when it comes to medical risk screenings, not all DNA tests are created equal. We’ll check out some popular tests and provide insight into what exactly they offer. 

23andMe Health + Ancestry

23andMe was one of the first DNA testing companies to offer genetic health testing, and it’s still one of the most popular in checking for potential genetic health issues. You still get all the fun features of general ancestry testing, like identifying distant relatives and maybe even famous historical ancestors. But you’ll also get detailed health reports that can help identify your possible genetic risk for several health conditions. 

Some of the conditions covered in the Health + Ancestry kit include:

Of course, you may not want to know about your risk for certain conditions that don’t yet have effective treatments (like Alzheimer’s disease). If that’s the case, you can simply choose not to include those specific results in your report. 

AncestryDNA Traits

Ancestry was one of the first DNA testing companies and is still among the most solid when it comes to ethnicity estimates and connecting with living relatives. Their kits involve sending in a saliva sample that can help you trace your ancestry back to over 1,500 regions. 

But what about the health screening side? While the company used to offer a kit called AncestryHealth, it’s since been discontinued. You can add the “traits” option to a standard DNA test to get a glimpse of 35 different genetic traits. It can give you hints about genes for things like physical endurance and lactose intolerance, but it doesn’t get too specific about health risks. 

Overall, AncestryDNA is a better option for finding out about your origins and connecting with living relatives, and not as focused on finding out about potential medical risks.

Nebula Genomics

While Nebula Genomics offers kits that are pricier than those of competitors, it also offers up more complete genetic information through whole genome sequencing. On the ancestry side, Nebula lets you trace maternal and paternal ancestry, find living relatives and identify ancestors’ migration patterns. 

On the health side, it offers information about your personal predisposition to both common and rare diseases. It also tell you about your carrier status (whether you might pass those disease-related genes down to children). 

While the company offers more comprehensive genetic info, that means the results may take a bit more effort to understand. Nebula does provide access to a variety of research tools that you can use to understand your own results. But you’ll need a subscription to continue using them after a 14-day trial. 

Toolbox Genomics DNA + Epigenetics Test

If you’re more interested in health insights than in tracking your ancestry, then Toolbox Genomics may be a good choice. Previously geared towards doctors, Toolbox is now offering customers the chance to buy their testing kits directly. 

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What makes Toolbox different is that they offer options that look at both genetics and epigenetics. Epigenetics means the way your environment and behaviors affect the way your genes work. So these kits aim to tell you how your lifestyle choices or where you live may be impacting your health. You’ll get info on things like your level of inflammation and how local air quality may be affecting you — and tips to make healthy changes.

Again, like all home DNA tests, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt. No home test kit can tell you with certainty that you will or won’t get a disease. But these kits can offer interesting insights into how your genes may affect your future health risks. And they can provide a helpful starting point for conversations with your doctor