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DNA tests can provide useful information about ancestry and health factors, such as an increased risk of developing certain conditions.

DNA tests look at an individual’s saliva to screen for the likelihood of developing specific diseases, such as cancer, and to identify a person’s ancestry.

This article discusses what DNA tests are, how they work, and reviews one of the DNA tests available to buy online.

DNA is the blueprint that constructs organisms. There are two types of DNA: nuclear and mitochondrial.

Each cell has a nucleus, and the DNA in there is nuclear DNA. A complete set of nuclear DNA is called a genome. A person receives half of their nuclear DNA from their male parent and the other half from their female parent.

Mitochondria also contain small amounts of DNA. This part of a cell makes most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions. All of a person’s mitochondrial DNA comes from their female parent.

Genetic testing, or DNA tests, aim to identity parts of DNA linked with specific geographic locations and the likelihood of developing specific diseases, such as breast cancer.

Learn more about at-home DNA tests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe several types of genetic testing:

  • Single-gene testing: A doctor may order this if they suspect that a person has a certain condition, such as sickle cell disease, or if the person has a known genetic mutation. This test only looks at a single gene.
  • Panel testing: This looks at several genes. A doctor may order this if a person has low muscle tone, a shorter stature, or epilepsy. Panel tests can also identify genes linked with an increased risk of certain cancers, such as breast or colorectal cancer.
  • Exome sequencing: This looks at all the genes that may be responsible for certain conditions. Doctors may order this for people with more complex medical histories.
  • Genome sequencing: This is the most comprehensive genetic test, and it looks at all of a person’s DNA. The findings can point to genetic causes of health conditions, and there may be unrelated secondary findings, as well.

A person may use an at-home genetic test to learn more about their ancestry, their risk of developing certain health issues, and their likely responses to certain medications.

However, as the CDC notes, home and professional genetic testing differ. An at-home DNA test cannot replace one performed by a healthcare professional. If a person receives any results that are concerning, they should make an appointment with a doctor.

People might consider these factors when purchasing an at-home DNA test:

  • Information: Not all DNA tests look at the same genes. It is important to find a test that offers the desired information.
  • Privacy: Review a company’s privacy policy first, because some services may sell a person’s data and results to third parties.
  • Security: Ensure that the company only allows authorized people to access personal information.
  • Follow-up care: Some services provide extra information about test results and guidance about next steps.

At-home DNA tests are not replacements for advice and testing from a healthcare professional.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried this product. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

This is the company’s most comprehensive genetic test, featuring 170 reports on factors, such as ancestry, heritage, traits, and pharmacogenetics, which indicate how well a person responds to medication.

More specifically, the testing provides:

  • Health predisposition reports: More than 10 look for factors that include the BRCA gene (though it isn’t a comprehensive genetic BRCA test), late-onset Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Carrier status reports: More than 40 screen for factors such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and genetic hearing loss.
  • Wellness reports: More than five examine deep sleep, lactose intolerance, and genetic weight.
  • Pharmacogenetics reports: Three look at how the body processes certain medications.
  • Trait reports: More than 30 reports screen for factors such as male pattern hair loss, sweet versus salty tastes, and a unibrow.
  • Ancestry reports: More than 50 reports look at a person’s ancestry.

This test requires a saliva sample. 23andMe notifies a person when their results are ready, usually within 3–4 weeks of sending the sample.

23andMe+ is a subscription service. At the time of publishing, the first year costs $228, and while the yearly renewal costs $29.

Regulation and privacy

23andMe has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The company states it does not share a person’s information without their consent and that it complies with federal law to protect information from employer and health insurance discrimination. The company also does not provide information to law enforcement without a subpoena.

23andMe says it uses separate databases for personal information and genetic results. It also uses firewalls to restrict unauthorized access and secure sockets layer, better known as SSL, encryption throughout its website.

A person can also undergo genetic testing in a healthcare setting.

These professional tests look for more gene markers and provide more information about current health conditions and those a person is predisposed to.

It is important to note that an at-home DNA test does not replace one performed by a healthcare professional. Anyone who receives a concerning result should contact their doctor for further guidance.

Below are some frequently asked questions about at-home DNA tests.

How accurate are DNA tests?

The FDA stresses the importance of following instructions carefully to ensure accurate results.

Consumer Reports warns that at-home DNA tests may not be as accurate as professional tests because they may not look at all the necessary gene markers when determining risk.

Anyone who suspects that their results are incorrect should contact a healthcare professional for advice.

Who should purchase an at-home DNA test?

Anyone interested in their ancestry may wish to purchase a DNA test. These tests may also provide information about factors that increase the risk of developing certain health conditions.

The FDA recommends taking these precautions:

  • contacting a healthcare professional about which test to choose
  • not making any dietary, medication, or lifestyle changes without contacting a doctor
  • remembering that genes are just one factor in health
  • remembering that a test result does not guarantee that a person will develop a certain health condition

What are the privacy concerns?

Some companies may not protect a person’s privacy when they process DNA tests. Third parties may receive access to personal information and use it for their own purposes.

However, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prevents employers or health insurers from discriminating against a person on the basis of genetic testing.

At-home DNA tests can provide information about ancestry and certain genetic factors that make developing specific health conditions more likely.

Many types of DNA tests are available to buy online. Carefully consider the company’s privacy policies before making a purchase.