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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 and how they work, and it reviews some of the DNA tests available to buy online.

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DNA is the blueprint for the construction of organisms. There are two types of DNA: nuclear and mitochondrial.

Each cell has a nucleus, and the DNA found within the nucleus is called 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. Mitochondria make most of the chemical energy needed to power a cell’s biochemical reactions. All of a person’s mitochondrial DNA comes from their female parent.

Genetic testing, or DNA testing, aims to identify genes that are linked with specific geographic locations and 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 hearing loss, 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 concerning results, they should make an appointment with a doctor.

At-home DNA tests can provide people with information about their genetics and how their genes may affect their health and physical traits.

A person can also use a DNA test kit if they wish to know more about their ancestors and the areas where they may have lived.

In some cases, companies can connect individuals with relatives based on DNA matches.

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.

MNT chooses at-home tests that meet the following criteria where possible:

  • Laboratories: MNT will choose companies that process test samples in CLIA-certified labs. This means they follow state and federal regulations.
  • Budget: MNT chooses at-home tests that suit a wide range of budgets.
  • Privacy: MNT includes companies that offer robust and transparent privacy measures, such as data protection and discreet packaging.
  • Test result speed: MNT selects companies that inform customers when they will receive their test results and whether they will receive them via email, app, or phone.
  • Further support: MNT will indicate whether a company offers further support, such as a follow-up phone consultation with a doctor to discuss test results.

Here are reviews of some of the best DNA test kits.

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

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for ancestry: 23andMe+

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

More specifically, the testing provides:

  • Health predisposition reports: More than 10 reports look at factors including 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 reports screen for factors such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and genetic hearing loss.
  • Wellness reports: More than five reports address deep sleep, lactose intolerance, and genetic weight.
  • Pharmacogenetics reports: Three reports 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 unibrow.
  • Ancestry reports: More than 50 reports look at a person’s ancestry.

This test requires a saliva sample, and 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 the yearly renewal costs $29.

Regulation and privacy

The company has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The company states it does not share a person’s information without their consent, and 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.

According to 23andMe, 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.

Pros and cons

The 23andMe test comes with benefits and drawbacks:

ProsCons
offers premium health reportsrequires subscription to access advanced features
offers health and ancestry informationstores information in people’s database
has a private messaging systemmay take time to generate reports

Best on a budget: MyHeritage DNA Test

MyHeritage DNA offers a test kit that helps people find new relatives, build their family tree, and access historical records.

It matches the individual’s DNA with that of other users, and it determines the DNA percentage they share.

The test requires people to take a cheek swab that should not take longer than 2 minutes. Then, they mail it to the lab and receive their results in 4 weeks.

The company works with laboratories that have the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification.

The test is available for $89, and a person can choose to opt for the 30-day free trial.

Pros and cons

Below we look at some benefits and drawbacks of the MyHeritage DNA test kit:

ProsCons
CLIA-certified labscosts extra for shipping
30-day free trialtakes a long time to deliver results
privacy guaranteed

Best for family trees: AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA has three DNA test kits:

  • AncestryDNA: People can choose this kit to learn where their family is from. It is available for $99.
  • AncestryDNA + Family Tree Package: This kit allows people to learn about their families. Buyers can also benefit from a 3-month world explorer membership. The price is $100.
  • AncestryDNA Traits + All Access Package: It has everything included in the AncestryDNA package, together with personal traits and a 3-month world explorer membership. The All Access Package is available for $199.

Individuals interested in AncestryDNA’s service can order their kit online, active it, collect their saliva sample, and mail it to the company’s lab.

Users can view their results on the AncestryDNA app, and they can also review their ethnicity estimate and build their family tree.

It is important to note that it may take 6–8 weeks to receive results.

Pros and cons

AncestryDNA’s services come with advantages and disadvantages:

ProsCons
has an option to build and save family treestakes a long time to issue results
offers access to other family treesrequires membership to access Ancestry features

Best for personal history: FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA requires people to order their kit online and swab the inside of their cheeks after receiving their order. Then, they use the prepaid envelope to mail the kit to the company’s CLIA-certified lab.

Results are available in 4–8 weeks.

There are four kits a person can choose from:

  • Paternal Ancestry: This is a biological male-specific test that allows individuals to learn more about their heritage on the paternal side. It also shows the migration paths that male ancestors followed. The kit is available for $119.
  • Family Ancestry: A person can buy this kit if they wish to see the origins of their DNA segments. The price is $79.
  • Family Ancestry + myDNA Wellness: This comes with a family finder and provides health and wellness insights based on the person’s DNA. People who subscribe to this package can also access the myDNA Unlocked app. All this is available for $119.
  • Maternal Ancestry: This provides heritage information about the individual’s maternal side and shows any migration paths ancestors might have taken. The maternal ancestry kit is available for $159.

Pros and cons

Let’s have a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of FamilyTreeDNA’s services:

ProsCons
uses CLIA-certified labsreturn shipping not available for international orders
offers four kits availableexpensive
provides prepaid envelopes for test kits

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

These professional tests look for more gene markers, providing further information about current health conditions and those to which a person may be predisposed.

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 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 speaking with 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 processing 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.