The truth about at-home DNA tests

Genetic testing is easier and more popular than ever. Swab tests and saliva tests can be sent to your home, making them easily accessible. Many people are making the most of this and taking the opportunity to discover important genetic indicators and learn things about their background that they didn’t previously know.

When you take a DNA test, it’s important to go about it with measured expectations. For one, there is no way to ensure that all of the information you have received is accurate. You may intend to take the test out of curiosity or for fun, but while not all of the results are necessarily true, you may learn things about your own risk factors or your family and lineage that you would prefer not to know.

Risks not certainties
You may be curious to learn about your risk factors for a number of conditions and diseases, especially if you don’t know a lot about your family heritage. However, while these tests can indicate that you may have a genetic predisposition that increases your likelihood of developing conditions such as cancers or Alzheimer’s disease, they cannot tell if you will develop them. A huge range of factors influence your risk of these conditions, so a DNA test is not decisive. These tests may also only look for certain genetic risks and information.

Siblings aren’t the same
If you’re looking into members of your own family tree, your results will only show you people who have already used the same company to do genetic testing. Each DNA testing company has its own, private collection of samples, so the results you find will be far from complete.

Be mindful of insurance rates
Insurance companies may be able to gain access to your test results and use them to deny life insurance cover or charge you more for health insurance if you have genetic risk factors for some conditions.

You and your siblings can have different results
If a sibling of yours has a test, looking at their results won’t be a clear indication of your own. We each receive 50 per cent of our DNA from each parent, but what makes up that 50 per cent can be different in each child.

Don’t trust nutritional information
Some DNA tests will try to recommend or even sell you supplements based on the test results. However, there is no research to suggest that genetic testing can actually offer any useful information about your nutritional needs, so these ‘findings’ are best ignored.

Read the fine print
When a company says that it intends to keep your personal data ‘private’, make sure you read the fine print to work out what this really means. There are a number of industries that would be interested in gaining access to your DNA, including health insurance companies and the police. 

Before taking a DNA test, you may want to speak to a genetic counsellor. They can help you decide if you really want to take the test in the first place. If you do decide to go ahead with it, then they can help you interpret the results.

Have you ever had a DNA test? Would you be curious to learn more about your own heritage?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.