Should I Count on 23 and Me?

“23 and Me” has become a common phrase as genetic research uncovers more connections between our genes and our health. If you have not heard of it, you likely have a friend of family member who has already looked at it. 23 and Me is a company which takes a sample of your saliva and tests several hundred thousand genetics points of your DNA for changes associated with different health concerns. In about 4 to 5 weeks, you receive a report describing what percentage of your ancestry comes from various people groups. You can learn what percentage is Irish, Chinese, African, Italian, etc. This may only sound minimally exciting, but the “raw data” from “23 and Me” can be uploaded to a variety of genetic processing websites which return useful health reports. These reports inform you if you have MTHFR (enzyme important for folate and vitamin B12 processing, may affect women’s fertility or anyone’s mental health) as well as a long list of other genetic SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms: single letter changes in your DNA which then change the proteins made by your cells). These reports can help answer why health problems may be occurring and how to treat them or help predict future disease risk.

You may be asking yourself at this point, “Should everyone go get this test done?” The first paragraph sounds like all benefit and no downside. As a provider caring for patients who follow through with this testing, I not only want to help them interpret the reports, but help those who have not done the testing to decide if they need it or not. So, if you are considering this test, I want this blog to help you know whether or not you should count on “23 and Me” to help you.

In short, not everyone needs to get genetic testing for a number of reasons. If you are not suffering from chronic symptoms without clear explanation (for example: Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, frequent infections, chronic allergies, autism, children’s developmental delay, and others), you may not need to uncover genetic information that you don’t currently need. Though legally protected, your “knowledge” of this genetic information may affect your health insurance or life insurance in the future. If you don’t have a significant family history of autoimmune diseases or the unexplained symptoms above, you may not need “23 and Me” reports. Without this genetic knowledge, you should still work to live a healthy lifestyle, minimizing processed foods, avoiding toxins, and balancing vitamins/minerals. If genetic results saying you have a higher risk of some illness would not change your lifestyle for the better and you are healthy now, why open this can of worms?

On the other hand, as has been hinted at above, many people can benefit from these genetic answers. Patients who struggle through multiple physicians, searching for answers to chronic mysterious suffering, often learn things which open avenues of therapy for their suffering. The protein enzymes which process your bodily functions are changed by these SNPs. Sometimes they create a higher need for a vitamin or type of protein. Sometimes, they cause people to be sensitive to specific toxins, infections, or foods. Combined with a thorough history and physical, genetic results often allow me to restore a measure of health to patients who have not found relief elsewhere.

So, the answer depends on you. Many readers can answer this blog’s question from what was written above. Others may need to consider this option with their doctor.

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